Picture the scene: A celebrity’s clean-cut, marketable facade is about to slip. What’s underneath is either a terrible human being, a dark secret, something ruthless and unpleasant, a potential vulnerability, or all of the above. A crisis looms. But never fear — behind the scenes, a team of amoral masterminds are working overtime to spin the bejesus out of it, and save the day. For a fee, of course. Crisis averted. Celebrity goes on as they did before. PR masterminds celebrate with cocaine.
This is the world of Flack, where Fake News rules the gossip pages, and nothing is off limits in a PR guru’s quest to control the public’s perceptions. Control is everything. Getting ahead of the story whatever it takes. Lying, blackmailing, threatening; these are the essential tools of the trade. Nothing is unfixable, so long as you have Anna Paquin’s Robyn and her team, developing, uh, ‘creative solutions’ to ‘challenges’.
Robyn’s fixing skills don’t extend to her personal life, which is a complete mess. Her co-workers aren’t much better; her partner in crime, Eve, is like Emily from The Devil Wears Prada but with much sharper edges. Joining the team as an unpaid intern is Melody, quickly losing her wide-eyed naïveté and wrestling with whether to be ambitious or nice, a choice that will inevitably make you roll your eyes. But this isn’t the normal world; she is in an office full of well-groomed evil geniuses, and though there is initially an Ugly Betty vibe with Melody (with Eve as the Amanda of that analogy) that passes really quite quickly.
Ruling the roost is Sophie Okonedo’s Caroline, a boss who makes Miranda Priestly look warm and fuzzy. Okonedo is having an absolute blast in the role, stealing every scene she is in, and savouring every terrible, caustic line. This is a show where the writing will make you wince and feel bad for laughing. Everyone in the PR firm gets ridiculously, improbably, sharp dialogue. Characters often monologue, and there is a tendency to dump exposition, but there is such a brutal (and often horrendous) frankness to this that it becomes the right kind of jarring. Naturalism is not the aim; no-one really talks like this. (At least, I hope no-one really talks like this.)
The overall feel is of an office full of Iagos, transplanted from Othello to a shiny office in modern London; you know they are awful, but damn, it’s entertaining to see them at work, even if you hate what they are doing. Journalists and celebrities are their puppets; they know everyone’s secrets, and how to spin a narrative out of thin air. Principles are all for sale, if the price is right. Is there a line they won’t cross in pursuit of control? Maybe. They come close to finding one in episode 2, though a truly horrific workaround saves their bacon, and asks the question: Who’s worse, PR guru or pushy stage mum? They come closer still in episode 5, in a superbly claustrophobic episode, guest-starring Bradley Whitford as possibly the world’s worst celebrity client, with a secret so heinous it’s never explicitly stated.
The PR problems feel very real, as do the solutions, which makes Flack horribly uncomfortable much of the time. The domestic troubles feel ploddy and mundane in contrast. But the savage spectacle is so gripping that I binge-watched all six episodes in one sitting.
It’s a rotten business, with rotten people, but Flack is entertaining nonetheless. It shines a light on the grotesque nature of fame, and although it humanizes some of the players, and makes you laugh, it doesn’t let you forget that they are terrible.
Flack is on Pop in the US, and W in the UK.
Header Image Source: W/Pop