Most of the episodes of Fleishman Is in Trouble, the adaptation of Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s book of the same name, begin with the world upside down. The skyscrapers of New York City hang like stalactites as the camera searches for Toby Fleishman (Jesse Eisenberg), a doctor in his early 40s whose world has been overturned by a divorce. For the characters and world of Fleishman, this feeling is everywhere, whether because of its setting in 2016 which hints at the political change to come thanks to the omnipresent Hillary Clinton election signs, or the summer that is causing the city to either abandon the rising temperatures or suffer through the heat. But through the eyes of Toby and the other characters in Fleishman Is in Trouble, we see the resilience of people, the good and bad within the connections that we believe will last forever, and the difficulties and joys of starting anew halfway through life.


Early on in Fleishman Is in Trouble, Toby discusses his profession as a doctor specializing in the liver, stating that he loves the organ’s resilience, how it evolves, heals itself, and improves over our entire lives until we eventually die. As we first meet Toby, we see this resilience within him. Single for the first time in 15 years after his divorce from his extremely successful wife Rachel (Claire Danes), Toby has found that he is very successful in the world of online dating. Through these encounters with new sexual partners, he seems to have found a new side of himself he didn’t know he had. But when Rachel leaves their two children at his apartment one night and then subsequently disappears, Toby’s new life is also flipped upside down, as he attempts to balance his new romantic possibilities, his family, and the potential of getting a promotion at his job—all while trying to find out what happened to his ex-wife.

Fleishman Is in Trouble isn’t so much a mystery about what happened to Rachel, but more of an introspective look at how we’re capable of massive change while also staying fundamentally the same at our core, the longing for times that have passed, and the aching desire for something more with our lives. This is also seen through Toby’s old friends who he’s reconnected with post-divorce. Libby (Lizzy Caplan) is a former journalist who never got ahead in her career the way she wanted, and who has slowly turned into a stay-at-home mom who longs for her days as a writer. Meanwhile, Seth (Adam Brody) is almost like a kid in an adult’s body, partying all night and with no real entanglements to bind him to another person in the way that Libby and Toby have—to them, he’s free. Through this trio, we see how even though their experiences are fundamentally different, they all still manage to find ways to feel trapped by their situation.

Image via FX


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Created by Brodesser-Akner, who also writes seven of the show’s eight episodes, Fleishman Is in Trouble manages to be largely about self-pity, personal desires that often negatively affect those around these characters, and the regrets these characters have made along the way, yet in a way that never feels whiny or irritating. Brodesser-Akner centers this story around very real, very personal feelings that we’ve all held, making us both sympathize with these characters, while also recognizing ourselves in them even at their most negative.

This also works beautifully because of how Brodesser-Akner slowly disseminates information to the viewer, shifting our viewpoint on various moments, but again, without ever making us lose our sympathy for the other character’s perspective on things. Throughout Fleishman Is in Trouble, Toby is working with his son Solly (Maxim Jasper Swinton) on a project that explores how we each see the world differently, and Brodesser-Akner does exactly that with this story, showing how the slightest changes can alter our experiences, whether it’s something as simple as the way a person talks to another, or the different viewpoint on a major life event like giving birth to a first child. Brodesser-Akner presents a world where people aren’t inherently good or bad, they’re complicated, ever-changing creatures who are doing the best they can through their own point of view.

Bringing Brodesser-Akner’s words to life beautifully is this incredible cast, particularly the trio of Eisenberg, Caplan, and Brody. Their scenes together, as longtime friends getting reacquainted with each other, feel lived in and as if they truly have a deep history together. Eisenberg’s take on Toby is one that is both neurotic, as one might expect, but also with layers of hope, nervous optimism, and a desire to learn from his divorce and move forward. Eisenberg is excellent at making us feel for the trials of his character, understand his chilling outbursts, and yet still end up rooting for him on the other side. There’s an undercurrent of fear and uncertainty that runs through Toby’s veins that Eisenberg brings to life perfectly.

fleishman is in trouble poster claire danes lizzy caplan
Image via Hulu


Brody is also extremely charming in a way that reminds us why audiences fell in love with him in the first place, as the most free member of this trio, yet he still longs for the connections that the other two have. And while she doesn’t have the same level of screen time as the rest of the cast, Danes as Rachel makes her time count, as the series begins by treating her like a villain, until Brodesser-Akner slowly unravels her truth in a way that opens up this character greatly. Danes is asked to be the center of some of the show’s most emotional and powerful scenes, and naturally, she knocks these moments out of the park. It’s a testament to her performance that Rachel has the impressive shift that she does as a character.

But the real gem here is Caplan, who not only narrates Toby’s story throughout the series with a great wit and comedic timing but also has the most nuanced and difficult story to explore. She loves her kids, she loves her husband (Josh Radnor), but she longs not just for the life she used to have, but the life that she hoped she would eventually get to in that former life. Libby is arguably the most difficult character to play, as there’s a deep uncertainty as to what this character wants, but Caplan makes these feelings of helplessness and apprehension palpable to the audience. If Fleishman Is in Trouble is primarily about how no one is inherently one thing, Caplan embodies that viewpoint through her performance as Libby.

Fleishman Is in Trouble Review: Jesse Eisenberg Leads Story of Fresh Starts
Image via FX


Fleishman Is in Trouble is also brought to life in a way that seems to play with its inspirations, but also plays with the awareness that these characters would’ve also lived in a world where these inspirations exist in some ways. For example, one episode ends with a character listening to Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up” from the Magnolia soundtrack, almost as if this character remembers how that moment in the film made her feel, while the episode itself also wants to summon that same feeling. For someone in their late 30s or early 40s, the pop culture touchstones not only evoke the feelings that these characters have but make us understand that they’re living with the same culture we grew up on as well. This is mostly done in subtle ways, like Libby going to see The Virgin Suicides, or Regina Spektor and Ray LaMontagne playing at a party thrown by Seth, but in other ways, it feels more direct. One motif throughout the series involves Toby trying to go to a museum exhibit called the “Vantablack,” a dark room that recreates the feeling of a never-ending abyss, and it’s hard not to think about Garden State’s own endless abyss. And c’mon, someone had to know that getting Adam Brody to play a character named Seth would immediately make the audience think of his iconic role on The O.C.

Fleishman Is in Trouble is a fascinating and contemplative show that hits on some hard truths with an exceptional cast that brings Brodesser-Akner’s story to life with grace and specificity. In a show that asks how we got to this point in our lives, Fleishman Is in Trouble shows that life doesn’t need an ending to make a new start.

Rating: A-

Fleishman Is in Trouble will debut its first two episodes on Hulu on November 17, with a new episode each subsequent Thursday.

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