Ask anyone for a list of 80s cult movies, Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction will be on it. It became a gold standard for subsequent erotic thrillers to live up to (casting Michael Douglas in similar roles seemed the way to go), put the mental health condition erotomania on the map of popular culture and coined the term “bunny boiler” for a vengeful femme fatale. After a 2014 West End adaptation starred Natascha McElhone and Sex and the City’s Kristin Davis, a Paramount+ Original series based on the 1987 classic is now coming to home devices.
With the 15 years of his “15 to life” sentence up, Dan Gallagher (Joshua Jackson) is now up for parole. Once granted, the former judicial candidate is determined to prove that he didn’t commit the murder of his mistress Alexandra Forrest (Lizzy Caplan).
The action of the show jumps back and forth between timelines and perspectives, and details the brief affair from his side and hers, but the main focus lies on investigations and court proceedings. This approach removes most of the salaciousness that made the original film so absorbing. Instead of depicting baser human instincts, we operate on an intellectual level through dialogue-based storytelling.
The why is evident – and laudable: the show didn’t want to rehash the old pattern of the evil vixen, who seduces, destroys and takes advantage of the poor man incapable of resisting his own animalistic drive. Dan is much more fleshed out in the series: his level-headedness screechingly emphasises his hypocrisy. The viewer may be more likely to understand where Alex could have mistaken attention for affection, because Douglas’ version of the character would never have placed his hand on the edge of a table to keep Glenn Close from bumping her head. Joshua Jackson’s portrayal of these facets is utterly enticing; even if one is hard-pressed to differentiate his appearance in the then and now segments.
Unfortunately, Alex was not given the same attention and empathy. Sure, there is a little backstory thrown in, we have some superficial readings of Carl Jung to remind the audience that psychology is a complex field that concerns all of us, but making her more unhinged does not equate to rounding her out. It doesn’t help that Caplan is given the short end of the script with some outright painful one-liners.
Considering the series was produced at a time where, despite a more sophisticated understanding of sexism in media, a celebrity trial saw an outpouring of misogyny, Fatal Attraction missed a crucial opportunity to place its finger on that pulse. Instead of exposing gender bias in the legal system, critically engaging with victim blaming, perhaps even giving Alex a little vindication, it chose a destiny to fall by the wayside as a run-of-the-mill whodunnit.
Fatal Attraction is released on Paramount+ on 30th April 2023.
Watch the trailer for Fatal Attraction here: