Fatal Attraction was a huge box office hit back in 1987, but it didn’t age all that well, with Glenn Close’s spurned mistress turning into a crazed horror movie villain intent on hacking her former lover to bits. Paramount+’s new series adaptation — debuting this Sunday; I’ve seen the first four episodes — aims to right that wrong by reexamining the central affair through modern eyes and showing us there’s more to the story. It’s an intriguing idea, but unfortunately, the misguided revamp only manages to lose what made this story exciting in the first place. The result is a thriller that’s light on thrills and heavy on moralizing, with a second timeline gumming up the works that proves fatal to any entertainment value.
We get to know Joshua Jackson’s Dan Gallagher back in 2008 — which we can tell, because he’s still using a BlackBerry. Dan is a hot shot L.A. prosecutor on track to be a judge, all easy smiles and sly winks. He’s also happily married with a young daughter, but he shares some fleeting glances with legal aide Alex Forrest (Lizzy Caplan), and those glances turn into flirting, which turns into a steamy weekend liaison. When Dan tries to go back to his former life, though, Alex starts to get clingy and angry… and Dan starts to regret ever sharing those glances with her.
But Fatal Attraction also hops forward in time 15 years where a haggard Dan has just been granted parole after spending more than a decade in prison for killing Alex. His daughter Ellen (Alyssa Jirrels) is all grown up now and a psychology student, and Dan wants to reconnect with her — and prove that he’s actually innocent. (Because this is a TV show in the year 2023, and therefore it has to give us a season-long mystery to solve.) These flash-forwards are a bummer, leaden and preachy, and actually deflate the main narrative before it even starts — like turning to read the last page of a novel before even starting it.
It’s clear that showrunner Alexandra Cunningham (Dirty John) wants us to look beyond the initial heat of Dan and Alex’s affair to trace the ripple effects it has on everyone around them. But the series seems to be masochistically obsessed with paying the price for Dan’s sins, which makes it not very fun to watch. It’s also determined to provide a backstory for everything from Dan’s infidelity to Alex’s mental illness, when it’s actually more dramatically interesting if we don’t have every detail spelled out for us. Is a little ambiguity and suspense too much to ask? Plus, the film’s greatest hits are clumsily woven into the scripts in a way that feels almost obligatory. Ooh, look, there’s the bunny! Ooh, she said “I’m not going to be ignored, Dan”!
Jackson and Caplan are great choices to play Dan and Alex, and they do what they can here, but they’re left adrift by hazy characterization and stilted dialogue. Jackson has considerable swagger in the flashbacks as a highly privileged white male — when Dan crashes his company car while driving drunk, they just hand him a new one — but he’s morose in the present-day scenes. Caplan’s Alex, meanwhile, is tough to connect with as a character; we spend more time with her than we did in the film, but we don’t gain any additional insight. (Admittedly, it is hard to measure up to Glenn Close.) Amanda Peet is comically frumpy as Dan’s hapless wife Beth, and Jirrels’ Ellen is just a drag. Her scenes are loaded up with ponderous psychobabble that make the series feel like a grad-school thesis about itself, somehow. It made me yearn for the simpler approach of the original Fatal Attraction, actually. That movie wasn’t perfect, but it had a vital spark to it that this watered-down version just snuffs out.
THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: Paramount+’s Fatal Attraction takes all the thrills out of the classic thriller, with leaden flash-forwards and stilted dialogue.