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Madcap murder mystery: ‘The Flight Attendant’ is a wickedly funny black comedy

Griffin Matthews, left, and Kaley Cuoco in a scene from the series “The Flight Attendant.” The eight-episode series is streaming on HBO Max. (Phil Caruso/HBO Max)

“One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster, the bars are temples, but the pearls ain’t free …” – “One Night in Bangkok,” a hit single from the musical “Chess,” which you probably never saw, and I didn’t see either.

Kaley Cuoco gets the role of her career in the HBO Max limited series “The Flight Attendant,” and she absolutely nails it as the title character, a hot mess who wakes up one morning in a luxury hotel suite in Bangkok with a handsome near-stranger in bed next to her, and he won’t be getting up anytime soon, given he was murdered in the dead of night and is covered in the blood that gushed out from the slash across his throat.

And yes, this is a comedy. Mostly.

Kaley Cuoco, left, and Michiel Huisman in a scene from “The Flight Attendant.” (Courtesy of Phil Caruso/HBO Max)

Presented with great style and an abundance of split-screen and quick-cut flourishes and based on Chris Bohjalian’s dark comedic novel of the same name, “The Flight Attendant” moves at a breakneck pace, befitting the lifestyle of Cuoco’s Cassie Bowden, who works international flights for the fictional Imperial Atlantic airline and takes advantage of the perks of the job, i.e., she hits the bars and nightclubs in glamorous locales, getting totally wasted and often hooking up with a colleague or someone she just met. Even when Cassie’s on the job, she’s on the prowl for a good time, as when she downs a quick vodka on a flight bound for Thailand, starts flirting with the man in Seat 3C, makes out with him in the bathroom and connects with him in Bangkok for a night of club-hopping, binge-drinking and hot sex back at his hotel suite.

When Cassie’s phone alarm goes off the next morning (her phone alarm is set to “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham, and her ringtone is “Two of Hearts” by Stacey Q), she feels the familiar aftereffects of a night of hard partying, tries to shake off the cobwebs, takes a look at the guy from the night before – and has a major freakout, with his throat having been slashed and his upper body soaked in blood.

Rosie Perez, left, and Kaley Cuoco in a scene from “The Flight Attendant.” (Courtesy of Phil Caruso/HBO Max)

Shaking and in near shock, Cassie phones her attorney friend Annie (Zosia Mamet from “Girls”) and says, “Who’s the girl, the Italian girl, actually she was the American girl with the murder thing, she was obviously innocent?”

“Are you talking about Amanda Knox?” comes the reply.

“Yeah! Did she call the police, the Italian police, did they come, do you know what happened there?”

“They arrested her. Cassie. Why are you asking me about Amanda Knox?”

Kaley Cuoco, left, and Michiel Huisman in a scene from “The Flight Attendant.” (Courtesy of Phil Caruso/HBO Max)

Off we go on a madcap and lurid murder mystery, as Cassie makes one bad decision after another, starting with a frantic and failed effort to clean up the crime scene before fleeing the hotel without contacting the authorities. With each passing episode (I’ve seen four of the eight total), Cassie bumbles and stumbles about, playing private detective even as the FBI targets her as the main suspect. Along the way, Cassie tries to piece together the events of that fateful night with the help of the murder victim, Michiel Huisman’s Alex, who lives on inside her head and acts as a sounding board and confidant. It’s a strange gimmick, but it actually works, thanks in large part to Huisman’s deadpan performance as the dead man, who keeps on reminding Cassie anything he says is actually a manifestation of her thoughts.

Rosie Perez livens things up as a fellow flight attendant with some dark secrets of her own, and T.R. Knight lends a grounded presence as Cassie’s brother, Davey, who keeps giving Cassie another chance to spend time with his partner and their two children, and is forever disappointed by her drinking, her irresponsible ways, her … Cassie-ness. At times, “The Flight Attendant” is a little too zippy and visually self-indulgent for its own good, but it’s a wickedly funny black comedy with some poignant domestic drama, and Cuoco is a marvel to watch every second she’s on-screen.

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