Finding oneself can take place at any age. HBO’s latest miniseries, “Mrs. Fletcher,” takes Tom Perrotta’s novel of the same name to the small screen. The transfer provides the characters with many pregnant pauses and moments of reflective silences. However, quiet moments of reflection are exactly what the characters need. “Mrs. Fletcher” starts as a slow burn, but in the end becomes a richly rewarding experience.
Eve Fletcher (Kathryn Hahn) finds herself unsure of her next chapter in life. Her son, Brendan (Jackson White), is off to college and Eve is left alone at her home for the first time ever. She strategizes on some things to do to keep her busy. In addition to her job at a retirement community, she takes a local creative writing class. While the class provides her with a social outlet, Eve discovers more about herself from the comfort of her own home. Eve discovers new porn sites that allow her to explore her sexuality in ways she never considered.
Kathryn Hahn’s name feels synonymous with upper-middle-class women exploring their sexuality. It speaks to Hahn’s talent that Eve Fletcher comes off as a unique, clearly defined protagonist, distinct from her characters in “Afternoon Delight” and “I Love Dick,” among others. What Hahn brings to life in Eve is her hesitancy. Eve doesn’t wake up one day sexually awoken. With her newfound free time, she lets her mind wander to ways in which she could be more sexually fulfilled. The power of her characterization comes when Eve approaches with parts of her fantasy but doesn’t pull the trigger. She’s a woman learning how to go after the things that she wants. Yet, that’s a skill that takes time to develop. This also makes for a quiet, yet compelling arc.
Writer Tom Perrotta is no stranger to writing about the desires of suburban women. “Little Children” is the best modern portrait of suburban discomfort and sexual desire (sorry “American Beauty”). His previous HBO program, “The Leftovers,” remains one of their oddest, bleakest but most rewarding experiences on the platform. He continues this hot streak with “Mrs. Fletcher,” which feels well-defined, but loose enough to leave moments of spontaneity.
This leaves plenty of room for the all-female directing team to leave their mark on the story. Nicole Holofcener directs the pilot with a skilled hand. She introduces us to Eve on her own terms and approaches her dilemma with warmth and heart. The rest of the episodes are directed by Liesl Tommy, Carrie Brownstein, and Gillian Robespierre. Each of those women finds the honesty and joy in Eve’s self-discovery. Yet, they also empathize with the messiness that happens along the way.
This same empathetic perspective extends to Brendan, who experiences his own sexual frustration upon going to college. A popular, high school jock, Brendan grows accustomed to being the object of desire. With that, he feels he can treat people any way he wants, including bullying Julian (Owen Teague), his former classmate who now takes creative writing with Eve. At college, Brendan goes through a rude awakening. He struggles with not being the alpha male and can’t find his place in this new world that requires him to grow up. We’re never asked to excuse his behavior, but merely to understand his misunderstandings. He wants to do the right thing, but his experiences are shaped by his absent father (Josh Hamilton) and the privilege of being a white, male hunk that he doesn’t quite understand.
Hahn’s writing workshop also introduces us to a whole group of individuals who are looking to find ways to express their new, complicated emotions. The most interesting bond develops between Margo (Jen Richards), her teacher, and Curtis (Ifádansi Rashad), a fellow student. Margo finds dating is especially hard as a trans woman and approaches Curtis’ advances with healthy skepticism. This provides an essential subplot to the main storylines with Eve and Brendan, which could feel all too familiar. While they are trying to accept their sexual desires, Margo just wants to find someone to accept her. Her journey provides some of the best moments of the season.
By the seventh episode, unexpected emotional resonance sneaks up on the audience. So many of the episodes can feel repetitive on the surface. Eve and Brendan both bungle an interpersonal situation due to sexual frustration. Eve watches porn. Rinse and repeat. Yet, the joy of “Mrs. Fletcher” comes from the character’s progress, which slowly develops over seven episodes. The name “Mrs. Fletcher” comes into sharp focus. Through opening herself up to new desires and situations, Eve finds a new version for herself. Watching “Mrs. Fletcher” week over week, rather than binging, allows for one to meditate on each step of the characters’ growth. Like a fine wine, “Mrs. Fletcher” deserves to be savored.
“Mrs. Fletcher” premieres on HBO on Sunday, October 27th. Seven episodes were screened for review.
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