Though the Boiled Bunnies Are Lacking, Fatal Attraction Has Intrigue in Spades: TV Review04/29/2023
A curious Anne Archer lifts the lid off of a boiling pot only to discover the body of her young daughter’s mangled and bloated bunny. It’s a film scene that still echoes in the minds of cinephiles and physiological thriller enthusiasts alike. However, unlike the 1987 film starring Archer, Michael Douglas and the incomparable Glenn Close, Paramount+’s new series, “Fatal Attraction,” is void of boiled mammals. What it does have is a more intricately fleshed-out narrative of a pompous and ambitious district attorney Dan Gallagher (Joshua Jackson), whose tawdry affair with a young woman, Alexandra Forrest (Lizzy Caplan), quickly spirals out of his control.
“Dirty John” creator Alexandra Cunningham and writer Kevin J. Hynes’ series opens in the present day in Los Angeles, with a frazzled and bearded Dan pleading his case for parole. He’s served 15 years for killing Alex, a crime he attests to, before being granted his freedom. A young woman, whom the audience later learns is Dan’s estranged daughter, Ellen (Alyssa Jirrels), listens to her father’s confession, intrigued since he’s always maintained his innocence. Just as suddenly as the audience gathers their bearings, the series catapults back to 2008.
“Fatal Attraction” introduces a clean-shaven Dan who serves as the head of major crimes. He’s turning 40, and is slated for a big promotion. With a young daughter (Vivien Lyra Blair) and a devoted wife, Beth (Amanda Peet), at home, Dan seemingly has a perfect life. However, as powerful men tend to do when they have everything they want at their fingertips, Dan begins to self-sabotage. It’s how the privileged keep things interesting.
Alex (a disarming Caplan), a victim’s advocate assigned to one of Dan’s cases, comes waltzing into his life like a dream. She is just the temptation and distraction that he’s been looking for. The pair embark on a steamy but quick affair that comes to a grinding halt when Dan notices Alex’s emotional instability, and tries to distance himself from her. However, as fans of the film know, Alex is not a woman that will be ignored.
Despite the casting — and working from screenwriter James Dearden’s original script to create the expansive world in this adaptation — the first two episodes of “Fatal Attraction” are a drag. The series flits without warning from the past to the present, there are many characters to keep up with and Dan’s entitled attitude and actions are boring and predictable. When he begins to falter, it’s clear that Beth and Ellen will feel the brunt of his poor choices. The world Beth thought she’d built with Dan implodes, though she desperately tries to hold it together, and an impressionable young Ellen learns a valuable lesson about trust. Moreover, moving the setting from New York to L.A. initially takes away some of the grittiness of the story. Yet, as the third episode begins, the series’ pace, tone and direction all meet harmoniously, making for a wildly enjoyable remaining six episodes.
The main distinction between Episode 3, “The Watchful Heart,” and the initial episodes of “Fatal Attraction” is that the point-of-view shifts from Dan to Alex. The series begins to follow Alex from her childhood through her time in law school, and even the months before her move to L.A., which puts her in Dan’s orbit. The third episode runs along the same timeline as its predecessors, but Alex’s motivations and inner thoughts are suddenly made plain. She is no longer reduced to an unhinged woman fixated on a married man who tried to dispose of her. With a cunning Caplan in the driver’s seat, Cunningham and Hynes have created a woman much more compelling than that.
Moreover, since the season spans eight hours, the audience gets to linger with the people in Dan’s life, including Beth; his best friend Mike (Mike Gerard), who also happens to be an investigator; Beth’s business partner and friend, Arthur (Brian Goodman) and the adult Ellen, who is trying to come to grips with the man she knew as a child while trying to rebuild a connection with her father in the present.
Still, “Fatal Attraction” is not without some hiccups. Storylines and characters get convoluted, the series takes far too long to hit its stride, and costuming truly should’ve let Jackson keep the beard as Dan in the present. (No one in their right mind will be convinced Pacey Witter is inching toward 60.) Additionally, there’s no one to root for here. Everyone, except for Beth and Ellen, is pretty vile.
As the series presses toward its conclusion, seemingly all of the puzzle pieces leading to Alex’s death and Dan’s subsequent murder conviction appear to slide neatly into place. However, in the final hour, the picture formulated for the audience shatters, and something else altogether unveils itself. Furthermore, when it all comes to a head, some questions remain that leave the door open for an even more chaotic second season.
Unlike the film, Paramount+’s “Fatal Attraction” is not simply a story about an obsessive woman who doesn’t want her fling with a married man to end. Instead, it’s a character study about how the past (including childhood) shapes the present and the human desire to be seen and recognized. The series is a narrative about several people who all have one mission — to not get destroyed by others: Even if that means allowing their rage to eviscerate the people around them.
“Fatal Attraction” premieres April 30 on Paramount+. The first three episodes will be available at launch, with new episodes of the eight-episode season available to stream weekly on Sundays. The final two episodes will be available to stream on Sunday, May 28.
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