Fleishman Is in Trouble, review: a wickedly funny revel in messy divorces and awful snobs

Jesse Eisenberg as Toby Fleishman in Fleishman Is in Trouble - Michael Parmelee/FX Networks
Jesse Eisenberg as Toby Fleishman in Fleishman Is in Trouble - Michael Parmelee/FX Networks

The Disney brand is all about kids, which is why it seems alarming that Disney+ has dramas in which people have sex and send underboob selfies to strangers on dating apps. Both of these things happen, a lot, in the opening episode of Fleishman Is in Trouble. Just make sure your account has a child setting, is all I’m saying.

It’s an adaptation of a comic novel by US writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner. The Fleishman who is clearly in trouble at the beginning of the series is Toby Fleishman, who is currently existing in the no man’s land between the breakdown of his marriage and the establishment of a happy new life. We begin with Toby waking to a text message from his estranged wife, Rachel, informing him that she has gone to a yoga retreat and he will be looking after their two children.

Rachel fails to return, but this isn’t a thriller about a missing woman. As the timeline moves between Toby’s current predicament – trying to juggle his job as a hospital consultant in Manhattan with emergency parenting – and flashbacks to his years with Rachel, it becomes a smart dissection of marriage, money and class.

The skewering of the Upper East Side set is deliciously done. Toby is considered embarrassingly poor by his theatre agent wife, his spoiled daughter and the fellow parents at school who make up their social set, despite earning $300,000 a year. “Todd says you don’t play tennis or golf?!” asks one confused mother. These ladies who lunch and their multi-millionaire husbands are caricatures, but very funny ones.

Jesse Eisenberg is nicely cast as the neurotic, despairing Toby. Claire Danes is super-ambitious Rachel, furiously networking on behalf of their children and urging her husband to get a decent job that doesn’t involve helping people. But what you will find if you stick with it – and the first episode may not appeal to you, concentrating as it does on Toby’s X-rated adventures in dating – is that the perspective gradually changes and so, perhaps, will your sympathies.

What stopped me falling in love with the show was the decision to stick so closely to the structure of the novel: an ever-present narrator (Toby’s journalist friend, Libby, played by Lizzy Caplan) essentially reading the book to us. The narration is sharp and there are countless good lines – “Toby liked to say that the end of his marriage happened like the fall of Rome – slowly, then all at once” – but it keeps the audience at a certain remove. But maybe that’s a good thing: best not to get totally immersed in these awful lives.