When a stranger at a party asks the title character of HBO’s new comedic miniseries Mrs. Fletcher what she does, she replies, “I watch a lot of porn.” She’s not joking.
Eve Fletcher (a wolfishly perfect Kathryn Hahn) has a day job working at a senior center, but the moment her son Brendan (Jackson White) heads off to college, her imagination and most of her spare minutes are consumed by the same activity for which she once scolded him. (Alternate title suggestion: Hahn If You’re Horny.)
Tom Perrotta, adapting his gently satiric novel, tells parallel coming-of-age stories about Eve and Brendan. Brendan’s faculty advisor points out that “In college, every single minute of your existence is entirely up to you.” This proves true for Eve as well, with her son out of the house, and her useless ex-husband Ted (Josh Hamilton, once again expertly channeling his inner man-child) preoccupied with his second wife and the special needs of Brendan’s half-brother. With limited responsibility and limitless free time(*), the mother mostly flourishes, while the son flails.
(*) There’s a parallel (if minor) third story in the form of Roy (Bill Raymond), one of Eve’s elderly charges at the senior center, who shows no interest in anything but videos of naked women online. The Internet is for porn, regardless of your demographic.
After her friend Jane (Casey Wilson) describes her as “a skinny MILF goddess,” a bored and lonely Eve decides to Google the term, and is at first horrified, then fascinated, by the abundance of readily-available videos on that and every other fetish. It inspires her to do far more than masturbate — though she does a lot of that throughout, in amusingly creative ways. Soon, she’s out of frumpy sweats and dressed far more confidently as she enrolls in a creative writing night class taught by Margo (trans actress Jen Richards, charmingly wry), studying alongside Julian (Owen Teague), a former classmate — and bullying target — of Brendan’s.
At a party on the last night of summer, Julian warns Brendan, “You know you’re gonna get to college, and everybody’s gonna see exactly what you are, right?” He’s not wrong, as Brendan discovers that being a straight white man with good abs and better hair is no longer enough to get by after high school — and that the misogynist, porn-influenced way he treats women gets a very different response in a more enlightened new environment.
“I’m a nice guy, and I’m funny, and in high school, everyone liked me,” he laments at one point. “And now I’m just, like, the bad guy. I don’t know how that happens.”
Perrotta and company (including a murderers’ row of directors like Nicole Holofcener, Carrie Brownstein, and Gillian Robespierre) take some degree of pity on Brendan, presenting him as a product of his porn-soaked environment who assumes a woman will want to be called “dirty fucking slut” in the middle of sex. And the writing smartly moves back and forth between showing how Eve feels liberated by her new hobby and how it can just be a slightly different kind of straightjacket from single motherhood. But the miniseries is clearly on Eve’s side. It gives Hahn all the most explosive bits of comic business, as well as the most endearingly vulnerable moments, recognizing (as many filmmakers thankfully have of late) that she can do anything. (You haven’t lived till you’ve seen her exuberantly belt out “Divine Hammer” while driving a minivan through suburbia.) Each episode is only 30 minutes, which feels right for Eve’s story, even if it leaves the Brendan portions of the show feeling underfed. It’s clear how the two halves of Mrs. Fletcher reflect one another, but one shines so much brighter than the other that it’s all you want to look at. Still, it makes sense: Both mother and son are moving through their respective sexual primes; she just has a much deeper understanding of what to do with it than he does.
Mrs. Fletcher debuts October 27th on HBO. I’ve seen all seven episodes.