You see the title “Mrs. Fletcher” and it sounds like a “Masterpiece Classic” series about the housekeeper of a 20th century British aristocratic family — but it’s actually a very 21st century look at an empty-nester mom experiencing a sexual awakening.
She hooks up with a man she’s just met at a party. She has a threesome with a female co-worker and a 19-year-old who went to high school with her son. If she uses her laptop for anything other than surfing porn web sites, it’s news to us.
Hey. Good for Mrs. Fletcher. She’s put her love life on hold for the last 10 years to work full-time and raise her son while her ex-husband started a new family with his second wife, and she’s entitled to spread her wings and fly.
But it’d be nice if she emerged from at least some of these vignettes not feeling so melancholy and adrift. (Or in one case, horrified.)
The wonderful actress Kathryn Hahn stars in this new comedic miniseries from HBO, and she’s her usual likable, quick-witted, lovely and natural presence as Eve Fletcher, who has just sent her petulant, thick-skulled, boorish son Brendan (Jackson White) off to college and finds herself to trying to fill the void in a myriad of ways.
She takes a creative writing class. She drinks goblets of wine with her friend Jane (Casey Wilson), who tells her, “You’re a skinny MILF goddess” and urges her to get out there and live a little. She sings along with pop tunes as she drives her minivan around town. She eschews the mom sweatpants and the comfy sweaters for more flattering outfits.
And she practically wears out that laptop.
Each episode of “Mrs. Fletcher” is sitcom length and traffics equally in comedic hijinks and heavy drama. We toggle back and forth between Eve’s adventures and the collegiate experiences of Brendan, who is discovering his good looks and dopey jock sense of humor don’t play as well on a bigger stage. (On the night before Brendan leaves for college, he attends a beer blast with his high school buddies and engages in one last act of bullying. His victim looks him in the eye and says: When you get to college, everybody’s going to see exactly who you are. He’s not wrong.)
Eve’s giving nature extends to her job at a senior citizen center, whether she’s organizing movie night or helping the residents make dream catchers or gently and kindly dealing with a man in the early stages of dementia. She’s so great, we instantly resent her ex-husband Ted (Josh Hamilton) before we even meet the guy (and our instincts are justified when we DO meet him).
The “Eve” segments of the show are funny and intriguing and involving, thanks to Hahn’s razor-sharp comedic timing and an excellent supporting cast including the aforementioned Wilson as Jane, who has just discovered a stunning truth about her own marriage; Jen Richards as Eve’s creative writing teacher, and Owen Teague as Julian, the young man who was bullied by Brendan and has become friends with Eve.
Unfortunately, we spend almost as much time at college with Brendan, and that’s when “Mrs. Fletcher” shifts tonal gears and becomes a downbeat melodrama about this irredeemable, snide and smug lout. From the day Brendan arrives on campus, we can see certain incidents coming a mile away. It’s not actor Jackson White’s fault that by the midway point in the series, we don’t want to spend another minute with Brendan. As written, he’s terrible AND uninteresting.
Another unsuccessful subplot involves Eve’s ex-husband Ted and his autistic son — the latter used primarily as a plot device to further illustrate Brendan’s self-centered immaturity. Every moment we spend with Ted’s family and his new family, or Brendan and his collegiate peers, is a moment that would have been better spent with Mrs. Fletcher and her journey of self-discovery.