With the current taste for remakes of erotic-thriller movies of the Eighties and Nineties, these are certainly good times for TV intimacy co-ordinators. Just two weeks ago, we had Netflix’s Obsession. Now Paramount+ has come to the slightly weird party, turning the daddy of them all, Fatal Attraction, into an eight-part series.
In the original film, you may remember, high-flying married lawyer Dan Gallagher had an ill-advised weekend fling with Alex Forrest, who didn’t take him ending it terribly well. Instead she posed such an unhinged single-female threat to the nuclear family (and its pet rabbit) that cinema audiences famously cheered when Dan’s wife Beth did the decent thing and shot the mad cow dead.
Unsurprisingly, this isn’t quite how things are in the twenty-first-century version — where the first sign of a thorough plot overhaul came in the opening scene of the three episodes released so far. After fifteen years in jail for Alex’s murder, a shaggy-headed Dan (Joshua Jackson) was up before a parole board where he accepted full responsibility for the crime and movingly expressed his remorse.
I’m afraid I can’t spare you the chilling words ‘but it really takes off in episode three’
We then cut back to happier days for both him and his hair. At home, Dan was a much-loved husband and father. At work, he radiated an immaculately coiffured rectitude that bordered on prissiness, berating one colleague for defending a drink-driver and another for marital infidelity. But that was before he was turned down for what he’d thought was a guaranteed promotion to judge — a disappointment that caused him to drink a load of booze, drunkenly crash his car and realize he was on for it with his toothsome co-worker Alex (Lizzy Caplan).
Not that this happened as quickly as I’m making out here. The first episode, in fact, was a distinctly languorous affair which showed a maybe foolhardy trust in its viewers’ patience, as it continued to alternate between past and present, dutifully setting up several decades-straddling plot strands. Only in the second did Dan prove himself the latest male TV character not to favor a pre-coital neat folding of the trousers.
Yet even then the pace didn’t pick up much. Considerably less time was given to the sex than to Dan and Alex going for a nice long walk on the beach — or to his student daughter in the present day studying Jung, with particular reference to the idea of a shadow self that we must acknowledge or be dominated by.
Sadly for my purposes, though, just as I was imagining a concluding gag about how all this would work much better as a two-hour film, the required viewers’ patience suddenly began to be rewarded — and to such an extent that I’m afraid I can’t spare you the chilling words “but it really takes off in episode three.” With the focus shifting to Alex, those plot strands starting to interweave intriguingly and some properly unnerving stuff finally happening, it seems as if Fatal Attraction might turn out to be a fine show after all — at least for those of us who’ve made it this far.
Hitting its stride straightaway, by contrast, is the second series of Perry Mason. I must confess the first passed me by completely, but the consensus seems to be that as an origin story turning Mason from a traumatized World War One soldier and down-at-heel LA private eye (is there any other kind?) into a budding lawyer, it was basically OK. Now it’s been given a new pair of showrunners in Jack Amiel and Michael Begler and, if Tuesday’s opener is anything to go by, it’s all set to be a triumph.
Matthew Rhys, achieving impressive levels of rumpledness, plays Mason, who when we join him, is not enjoying his new role as a civil lawyer. Much to his self-disgust, he spends most of his time driving small companies out of business at the behest of bigger ones. He also owes an obvious (and always welcome) debt to Philip Marlowe, complete with hipflask, neat one-liners and a world-weariness that never quite curdles into cynicism.
The characters around him are great too: among them his tough-broad boss — like Mason, a possible romantic on the quiet — and a villainous oilman (is there any other kind?) who, when not running his self-glorifying Depression-era soup kitchens, is destroying his rivals and hoping to bring a professional baseball team to Los Angeles.
But, as we critics say, perhaps the real star is the city itself: at this stage — realized here in perfect period detail — the fastest growing in the world, where any number of competing interests (some good, most bad) are seeking to control what happens next. As you might expect, the result often brings to mind the film Chinatown — but as you might not, the comparison does it no disfavors.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s UK magazine. Subscribe to the World edition here.