There are a handful of these revelatory moments in Flack, a six-episode show that’s part Veep, part The Devil Wears Prada, and part Scandal, with a lot of Britcomic nihilism thrown into the mix. Set in London, the show revolves around Robyn’s job fixing celebrity messes, burying real scandals under fake ones, and spinning atrocious antics into tabloid gold. The first scene sees her gamely performing CPR on a closeted, superstar soccer player’s underage, overdosed hookup; after reviving him, Robyn snorts a mystery line on her way out of the hotel room to reward herself for a job well done. Later, it’s revealed that Robyn’s troubled mother ended her own life a year prior, and that Robyn’s gift for tidying up other people’s messes stems from an insatiable need to fix things, to be in control.
One day there might be a television show about a complicated woman with a morally problematic profession whose personal life isn’t a train wreck. Flack, however, is not that show. Like Homeland, it seems stuck on the idea that only a hopelessly damaged woman could do such grim work, which the series itself then contradicts by making Robyn’s efficiency in the face of her onerous tasks seem oddly satisfying. Flack’s ideas about women are sometimes tediously rote, and its writing, while snappy and caustically funny, tends to rely on long, Sorkinian expository monologues that always feel overly theatrical on television. (Oliver Lansley, who created the show, is an actor and a playwright.) And yet the series also touches on subjects and themes that feel vital and underplayed in drama right now. Like: What compels people to do awful things? Does the nature of celebrity itself create monsters? Is genuine rehabilitation for people in the public eye even possible?
In its best moments, Flack is a bleak workplace comedy studded with talent. Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda) revels in her role as Robyn’s boss at the PR shop Mills Paulson—she plays a monstrous, serpentine bully in the Miranda Priestly mold who spells out her agency’s moral compass in no uncertain terms. (“I don’t care if you lie,” she hisses, “or get innocent people sent to prison, or go round kicking away the crutches of polio-ridden children. As long as you’re in control.”) Robyn is the good cop to Lydia Wilson’s irresistibly obnoxious Eve, a glacial blonde with geometrically defined bangs and flawless one-liners. Rebecca Benson plays Melody, a sweet, unpaid intern at Mills Paulson whose naivété inevitably throws Robyn’s cynicism into sharper relief.
Outside the office, Flack engages in the most exasperating kinds of story lines about women written by men, namely those involving fertility and reproduction. Pregnancy, babies, and the anxieties around both make up the single most repetitive theme in the series, with Robyn’s status as a 30-something woman apparently superseding any other characteristics she might have. Her sister, Ruth (the excellent Genevieve Angelson), has two kids at 29, and Ruth’s unglamorous, staid lifestyle is supposed to make Robyn look like more of a hot mess by comparison. It’s the kind of false binary (pick one life or the other) that feels both tired and counterproductive at this point, not least because Ruth’s stifling existence only ends up making the challenges of Robyn’s toxic job seem more interesting.