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The New Fatal Attraction Still Fails to Do Right by Alex Forrest

At eight egregiously-padded hours, this modern update of the '80s sex thriller is merely longer, not better.
  • Lizzy Caplan in Fatal Attraction (Photo: Paramount+)
    Lizzy Caplan in Fatal Attraction (Photo: Paramount+)

    When Paramount+ announced it was remaking Fatal Attraction — in a statement that included plans to reboot a host of former properties like Love Story and Flashdance, in the aftermath of TV shows based on Grease and the making of The Godfather — the reactions were largely skeptical, when they weren't overtly mocking. Reboot overload was already a concern, even before Paramount went all in on pillaging itstheir own intellectual property. What would be the point of remaking Fatal Attraction for TV? One answer came from the original film's star, Glenn Close, who wanted her character Alex Forrest to come to the forestep forward. "I do think it would be interesting to take the exact story basically, and do it from her point of view," she said back in 2019. "I think she’d become a tragic figure, rather than perceived as an evil figure." In 2022, after the remake was announced, Close again expressed that she "hope[d] they tell her backstory, her side of the story."

    Watching the new Fatal Attraction, which premieres on April 30th, there is a clear effort to deliver the alternate take on Alex Forrest that Close was looking for. Unfortunately, the resulting show is a bloated, scattered, and thematically incoherent revisitation of Adrian Lyne's 1987 that ultimately doesn't end up serving Alex much better.

    The update comes from Dirty John team Alexandra Cunningham and Kevin J. Hynes. Joshua Jackson (back in the thick of another TV drama about infidelity, only five years after The Affair) steps into the cheating shoes previously filled by Michael Douglas, while Lizzy Caplan has the daunting task of living up to Glenn Close's Oscar-nominated performance as the deceptively unhinged Alex Forrest. Caplan in particular brings a lot to the role, especially as the series plumbs deeper into Alex's psychology and the reasons behind her unhinged actions, though ultimately neither she nor Jackson can recapture the crackling chemistry or sense of danger that Douglas and Close possessed.

    At its root, the new Fatal Attraction is a failure of adaptation. Thematically, there are reasons to take another crack at a story that, with over 35 years of hindsight, plays as troublesome, even misogynistic. Anybody who listened to the "Erotic '80s" season of the Hollywood-history podcast You Must Remember This is aware of the myriad ways in which Lyne's Fatal Attraction conflated Alex Forrest's sexual forthrightness with a (barely) latent psychopathy. It seems obvious that any remake of this material would seek to, if not redeem the Alex character, at least contextualize her in a way that doesn't have the audience rabid for her demise. Unfortunately, the remake fumbles the ball on this in some truly baffling ways, while at the same time showing all the telltale signs of narrative bloat that plagues the streaming era's "eight-hour movie" concept of the limited series. What results is a TV show that is certainly a longer version of Fatal Attraction, but not nearly a better one.

    Most of the major adaptation choices are designed to extend the narrative to series length, starting with a frame story that flashes ahead to Dan, out on parole after having been convicted of Alex's murder, trying to prove his innocence and reconnect with his now college-aged daughter, Ellie (Alyssa Jirrels). Once again, modern TV can't resist a narrative that operates on two timelines.

    Ellie is studying Jungian psychology and seeing a therapist to work through her feelings about her father, which gives the show innumerable opportunities to pause the narrative and check in for some thematically connected bit of therapy jargon or factoid about Jung. The dominant mode on this show is treading water as it finds more and more narrative canals to travel down instead of just telling the story. Dan and Alex haven't even had sex by the end of the first episode. By the third episode, the show is already indulging in that most irksome method of narrative padding: doubling back to re-depict what we've already seen from the perspective of another character. This happens multiple times with multiple characters.

    At some point, the present-day storyline takes over, as Dan tries to prove his innocence post-parole, an investigation that has all the urgency of a true-crime podcast revisiting a decades-old crime. He's aided by his former cop friend Mike, played by reliable character actor Toby Huss, delivering the series's most spirited performance. His energy, along with a few cameos by horror-movie luminaries like Jessica Harper and Dee Wallace, injects a much needed bit of fun into all the seriousness. Amanda Peet also delivers solid work as Beth, Dan's wife who was played memorably by Oscar nominee Anne Archer in the original film.

    Yet despite these welcome performances, the show collapses as the present-day investigation takes precedence. The more the story verges on whodunit territory, the more it seems like the creators got really into Mare of Easttown while they were plotting out the season. This shift in focus pushes Alex farther away from the center of the narrative, which in turn makes the show's frequent looping back into Alex's backstory feel almost perfunctory. It' feels like there is a general acknowledgment among all involved with this production that Alex's actions need to be understood and humanized. But the mechanism for that ends up being both shallow (oh, her parents must've done a number on her!) and, once again, designed to pad out an eight-episode order.

    Meanwhile, in a nod towards some kind of post-#MeToo reckoning about victim-blaming and the way the system treats women, the show delivers a parade of characters who take turns telling present-day Dan what a piece of sh*t he is (and was), not just for the murder he's presumed to have committed but for his entitlement and his poor treatment of a mentally unwell woman. This would be fine, if a bit reminiscent of a Twitter pile-on, if the Dan that existed on this show weren't depicted as a relatively bland man who ended up on the wrong side of a psychopath. Ultimately, no matter how many times we circle back to Alex's perspective, the nature of the relationship between Dan and Alex remains unchanged from the movie: man has ill-advised affair with a woman who becomes dangerously, violently obsessed.

    The original film is actually less sympathetic to Dan because he's played by Michael Douglas with all the 1980s sleaze he could muster. The 2023 Fatal Attraction can't stop introducing characters to tell Dan he's a slimeball who got what he deserved, but without the characterization to back that up, we just end up feeling sorry for him every time someone shows up to tell him off, when feeling sorry for the Dan character was one of the problematic aspects of the original film to begin with.

    If the Fatal Attraction remake was meant to humanize Alex Forrest, then somebody needed to tell the people in charge of the plot. For all the work that goes into depicting every last bit of Alex's backstory, it's undone by the final few episodes, which rely on several gratuitous twists that are not only perplexing, but also snatch back any sense that Alex's demise is the tragic end of a woman done in by her circumstances, if that indeed was ever the intention. Without giving anything away, by the finale, Alex is both a supporting character in her own sad story and a malignant force in the lives of everyone she touches — literally.

    It’s tempting to say the conclusion to the new Fatal Attraction must be seen to be believed, but that would require encouraging people to see it, and they shouldn't. There are too many good shows on TV these days — even ones that manage to overcome TV's creatively bankrupt need to remake everything — to be rubbernecking at the bad ones. Alex Forrest doesn't emerge from this updated telling any more realized than she did the first time around. This time, you'd think we'd know better.

    The first three episodes of Fatal Attraction premiere on April 30 on Paramount+, with subsequent episodes premiering on Sundays. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Fatal Attraction, Amanda Peet, Glenn Close, Joshua Jackson, Lizzy Caplan, Toby Huss