If Emily in Paris ever crossed paths with Robyn in London, Robyn would eat her alive in the time it’ll take you to read this review of “Flack,” a British TV series that made its way across the pond for a Pop TV run and premieres Friday on Amazon Prime Video.
Emily and Robyn work in related fields and have superficially similar background stories — Lily Collins’ Emily left Chicago for Paris to give a millennial American flavor to an established French marketing firm, whereas Anna Paquin’s Robyn left Philadelphia to join a London-based PR company — but whereas Emily’s job is primarily about positive branding and her hijinks are played mostly for comedic effect, Robyn is a damage-control specialist who spends her days and nights keeping her clients’ names OUT of the tabloids and the entertainment shows and the gossip websites, and Robyn’s “hijinks” are much, much darker.
“Flack” is “Scandal” on recreational drugs — lots of recreational drugs. And while it’s a slick, often entertainingly lurid, well-acted series, it’s also deeply cynical and occasionally nasty, and features storylines and character decisions that make it increasingly difficult to become involved with the main players, let alone root for them. Of course, it’s possible to make great television out of material with a plethora of distasteful characters; shows such as “Succession” and “Mad Men” and “Billions” and “The Crown” come to mind. “Flack” is nowhere near that league.
Each episode of “Flack” has Paquin’s Robyn swooping in to mastermind damage control for her firm’s celebrity clients, whether it’s a closeted British football great with a naked and very young man passed out on his hotel suite floor, a famous TV chef and family man who is a serial philanderer, or an American movie star who confesses to Robyn during a trans-Atlantic flight he has committed some heinous sex crimes that could be coming to light. (Often Robyn’s solution is to manipulate or even manufacture events by any means necessary, e.g., when she orchestrates a breast cancer scare for the TV chef’s wife so he can come across as the understanding and supportive spouse.) The wonderful Sophie Okonedo is wasted in a thinly drawn role as a boss from the “The Devil Wears Prada” school, while Lydia Wilson scores some edgy laughs as Robyn’s razor-tongued partner in PR hijinks, who is just as messed up as Robyn is in her own life but isn’t nearly as conflicted about it.
And make no mistake, Robyn IS a mess. She’s unfaithful to her caring and sweet-natured boyfriend (Aeinze Kene) and though she truly loves her younger sister Ruth (Genevieve Angelson, in a fine performance), she’s not above deceiving her along with just about everyone else in her personal life. Time and again, Robyn looks into the mirror, as if she’s finally ready to come to terms with the terrible person she’s become; then she shakes it off, does another line of blow and gets back into the game. When Robyn finally gets her comeuppance, it’s too little too late, and we know it probably won’t really change her — and even more damning, we don’t really care that much if it does.