Penned by eminent profiler Taffy Brodessor-Akner, based on her debut novel, this eight-part series excels as a transparent adaptation that adjusts perfectly, it feels, to the demands of television. Brodessor-Akner creates a literary feel with a light meta approach that's neither elliptically oppressive nor tediously academic. She embraces the city-wide, sporadic multiplicity of a New York populated with intelligent and entertaining middle-class characters – taking after the Manhattanite movies of Noah Baumbach and Woody Allen.
Left to right: Meera Mahoney Gross, Jesse Eisenberg and Maxim Swinton as Hannah, Toby and Solly Fleishman. Photo: Disney
Straight away, an omniscient, third-person voiceover narrates the life of newly divorced dad and doctor Toby Fleishman (Jesse Eisenberg). Always a red flag. However, you warm easily to this angle. Every word and turn of phrase slaps you with such articulate energy, perfectly suiting the sensory overload of a city dweller. Now single, Toby dives into the online dating scene and discovers he’s desired more now, in his forties, than he's ever been before.
But his divorce from social-climbing theatre agent Rachel (an abrasive Claire Danes) literally rotates the camera to an upside-down existence. Toby tries to figure out what went wrong while striving for a promotion, while looking after his kids Hannah (Meera Mahoney Gross) and Solly (Maxim Swinton), and while reuniting with his old college mates Seth (Adam Brody), a 40-something party animal, and Lib (Lizzy Caplan), a dissatisfied ex-journalist revealed to be the series’ all-knowing narrator.
Toby is an intensely social creature; he can’t bear minutes alone to himself and constantly moves forward. Despite a familiar and densely worded neuroticism, he's worlds away from Eisenberg’s early nerdy, virginal roles.
Claire Danes as Rachel. Photo: Disney
On top of that parental and hedonistic chaos, his life collapses when Rachel disappears one day after dropping off the kids. Much of the plot is consumed with trying to find her and piecing together what happened via flashbacks. But, as becomes clear, these flashbacks are skewered towards Toby’s point of view.
Without revealing too much, the penultimate episode challenges everything you’ve been told (via Toby via Lib) in a brilliantly devastating shift of perspective. The twist is predictable, but the way in which it unfolds is a thrilling feat in televisual storytelling. Like a joke that takes your breath away, the best episode in a show called Fleishman is in Trouble largely excludes its titular character.
It’s the Claire Danes Hour, and it reminds you of her excellent mettle as an actor: delivering such raw anger and anxiety that screams into your soul. The result speaks a lot about male ego and narcissism, about the kind of self-absorption that can ruin lives without the guilty party really being aware of it.
Lizzy Caplan as Lib. Photo: Disney
For the most part, you’re on Toby's side and grow irritated by Rachel’s impatience, her constant need for approval from the upper class, and her intolerance for the more liberal middle-ground. ‘Money doesn’t buy you happiness,’ Toby says to her. ‘Of course it does!’ she shouts. ‘What are you, crazy!?’ He's not perfect, but he does his best and he’s an enviably wonderful father.
Or is that the distorted, male-favouring lens that Toby and Lib have unreliably built? The truth fractures from his perspective to Rachel’s and to Lib’s – deconstructing the storyteller as much as the story with precise, humanistic skill.
Fleishman is in Trouble is a funny, devastating, erotic, heartfelt and accelerated experience that drops into the biased anarchy that divorce engenders – spreading through everyone it touches. The cacophony of well-off modern lives on the threshold of middle age, punctured by ennui and castigated expectations, enlivens every scene. Fleishman is certainly in trouble, but Brodessor-Akner is utterly successful.
Fleishman is in Trouble is available on Disney+ from Wednesday 22 February.
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22 Feb 23 – 22 Feb 24, ON DISNEY PLUS
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