Why Mrs Fletcher is the most underrated show on TV right now

The HBO limited series starring Kathryn Hahn provides a fascinating commentary on sex, online porn and existential uncertainty

Mrs Fletcher is not a show likely to inspire a rabid fanbase.

The HBO miniseries, based on the 2017 Tom Perrotta novel of the same name, is a small show, in the vein of Ramy, Shrill or Fleabag: half-hour series whose worlds revolve around one deep, rich well of a character surrounded by a knockout supporting cast. But where, say, Shrill rocket-launches one millennial womans self-acceptance (and writing career) and Fleabag shatters, well, everything, Mrs Fletcher is decidedly more understated, indecisive, moody.

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Its namesake, Eve Fletcher (Kathryn Hahn), is a mid-40s single mother in suburbia whose attempts to bond with and discipline her teenage son, Brendan (Jackson White), ring so hollow in the first episode, she demands he helps load the van for college, then sweatily does so herself while he gets one last blow job inside that his absence leaves her a shell. Brendans journey from confident lax bro douche to loser isolated by his own outdated expectations of sex and consent in college forms the shows surprisingly refreshing and tricky B plot. But Mrs Fletcher belongs to Eve, which is to say, the brilliant Hahn, as she tries to rediscover herself after years of glomming to the influence of her son or perpetually disappointing ex-husband (Josh Hamilton).

Promotion for the show has prominently featured Hahn in bed with a laptop, and fittingly, both characters worldviews are shaped by online porn for Brendan, its a limitation, an assumed set of degrading expectations for language and sex (his mom, in the first episode, is horrified to overhear him call the aforementioned hookup a dirty fucking slut). But for Eve it offers potential liberation, a pass into a world of unfiltered desire and a chance to unlock parts of the self long battened down. Much of that process is internal; the show has a habit of communicating what I imagine would be interior monologues in the book (which I, like probably most of HBOs viewing audience, have not read) with small studies of Hahn or dream sequences. Eve stumbles on explicit Milf pictures and slams the laptop shut, only to warily reopen it; a steamy fantasy with a saleswoman starts and ends with a free popsicle sample at the grocery store.

In other words, Mrs Fletcher leans heavily on the thought of sex, less on the action. Several critics have pointed out that Mrs. Fletcher is uneven, at times unsatisfying, a messy misfire. But that messiness is what, for me, makes Mrs Fletcher the most underrated show on TV right now. Its ambitious in its understatement, trying to convey the gravitational pull of the uncensored internet or the wooziness of IRL fantasy. At a dinner party, she is halting and unsure, deflecting a potential date with flashbacks to the porn she watched on her couch hours before. Her motivations are, to be fair, scattered but that scatteredness, even as she still performs the duties of competent senior center employee and mother, feels more real to the mundanity of self-discovery than the drama. (It helps that shes played by Hahn, whose portrayal of sloppy sexiness and hard-won resilience is truly spectacular.)

Kathryn Hahn in Mrs Fletcher. Photograph: HBO

Mrs Fletcher may lack the narrative propulsion of most TV shows she flirts with a 19-year-old classmate of her sons (Owen Teague) in her community college writing class (one of the more unlikely romantic subplots to root for but it works!), then catches herself, or imagines walking into a massage parlor of the Robert Kraft variety but doesnt leave her minivan in the parking lot. But it allows its characters to be inconsistent in a way that feels disarmingly human, and refreshing at a time when the work of publicly presenting the self steers more and more toward artificial consistency, a strong personal brand.

In the second episode, Eves writing teacher (Jen Richards) asks each of the students what they fear. You know that feeling that youre convinced you left the oven on even though you havent? says Eve. Ive been having that feeling a lot since my son went to college. The teacher, warmly, asks what its about. I dont know, Eve replies. Thats what scares me.

Mrs Fletcher offers few answers to that fear; no one names it. The class ends, and Eve continues to swing in and out of that ring of identity crisis. The ambivalence of Mrs Fletcher is admittedly a tough sell, which is not to say that Eve doesnt transform over the course of the season, take some risks and tell some more men to fuck off. Or that the ending (sans spoilers) is ultimately a letdown (of the was this actually the last episode? type) especially given the news that there still likely wont be a second season. But that not knowing, pausing the drive for resolution to explore ones messy present, feels like a more revelatory endpoint in itself.

  • Mrs Fletcher is now showing on HBO and will be available on Sky Atlantic in January

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