Roush Review: ‘Fleishman’ Examines a Relationship and Family ‘in Trouble’
A marriage made in Manhattan hell ends in ambivalence and mystery in Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s unsparing and unsubtle adaptation of her 2019 novel Fleishman Is in Trouble. There’s no doubt that Dr. Toby Fleishman’s world has been turned upside down, because that’s how we see the upended metropolis in the opening credits.
Toby is the story’s sort-of hero, played by Jesse Eisenberg with sensitivity — as expressed by a perpetual scowl of confused hurt. We first meet him after his 15-year marriage to “ambition monster” Rachel (Claire Danes, queen of the ugly cry) has imploded. Toby already knows plenty about bile, being a proud and dedicated hematologist by trade. But Rachel, so contemptuous of his idealism as she devotes her energies to taking her talent agency to the next level, proves herself a master at venting one’s spleen.
At first, you might mistake this eight-episode series for a big-city romcom, after Dr. Toby’s interns introduce him to the dating apps, and this mensch of a one-time loner instantly finds himself as sexually active and apparently desirable as your average Grey’s Anatomy physician. But the fun is short-lived.
During a heat wave in Toby’s first summer of sensual freedom, Rachel suddenly goes off the grid, leaving him with their two baffled kids: spoiled princess Hannah (Meara Mahoney Gross), 11, and sweetly needy 9-year-old son, Solly (Maxim Swinton). Days go by without a peep, or a returned text, from Rachel. And what begins as Toby frantically reacting to an extreme case of passive-aggressive neglect festers into concern, fear, anger, and a dose of necessary introspection.
Fleishman picks up narrative steam when a spiraling Toby leans on his one-time best friends, whom he hasn’t seen much since being married to Rachel. (True to form, she seems to hate his buds as vehemently as Toby scorns her elite crowd of cackling hens and capitalist-douchebag alpha males.) Lizzy Caplan shines as Libby, the series’ narrator, a stalled magazine writer and restless suburban mom who begins to neglect her own family and marriage (to a likable Josh Radnor) the more she gets caught up in Toby’s dilemma. The O.C. alum Adam Brody provides some much-needed comic relief and warmth as Seth, an unshackled bro who begins to show signs of long-delayed maturity during this summer of change.
The more we get to know Toby, we begin to sense that his self-righteous and unyielding virtue snobbery may be as much to blame for the broken marriage as Rachel’s careerism. Late in the series — almost too late, actually — we see things from her point of view, and it’s heartbreaking.
While it’s all splendidly acted and at times even entertaining, here’s my visceral response to Dr. Fleishman’s time of trouble: I couldn’t wait to hug my spouse after every depressing episode.
Fleishman Is in Trouble, Series Premiere (first two episodes), Thursday, November 17, Hulu (from FX)