In military terms, “flak” is the product of anti-aircraft artillery, exploding shells hurled skyward, not so much aimed but designed to rattle, disrupt and misdirect enemy aircraft.
A “Flack” is the nickname journalists give publicists, professional image managers whose job is to guide flattering coverage of their clients, shoot down or at least misdirect and bury image-shattering news that careless, clumsy and oh-so-human “stars” cannot help but generate about themselves, their lives and their careers.
The British dramedy “Flack” stars Anna Paquin, an Oscar winner (“The Piano”) and TV mainstay (“True Blood”) as a troubled but never rattled American PR queen in scandal-sheet/gossip-crazed London. That where armies of women just like her — shock troops in Little Black Dresses — try to keep TV, music and film stars and pro athletes from losing it all after one indiscretion too many.
We meet Robyn as she’s purposefully pounding on the chest of a rent boy hired by a closeted famous person, a lover who has overdosed in a swank suite at a posh hotel.
“Purposefully” describes her work, not frantic. She’s not panicking. The star (Lloyd Everitt) is doing enough of that for them both. She literally has to drop her resuscitation efforts to peel pills out of the naked hunk’s mouth as he’s sprinted to the bathroom screaming “I’m finished.”
“If you kill yourself I’ll f—–g KILL you” she barks. And then finishes what she started, deals with threats by the prostitute and stops to take a little coke toot herself before leaving.
In that one scene, series creator Oliver Lansey answers decades of questions the public has, establishes Robyn as “the best” at what she does and adds a “Nurse Jackie” edge. She’s messed up, too.
Want to know why so many celebrity deaths recount the first person who finds this or that overdose victim calling their publicist? This is why. Helpless famous people don’t know who to call and who’d be discrete rounding up medical help.
Robyn’s the best because she’s unflappable. Over the course of the pilot, she will deal with that, join her sister (Genevieve Angelson) for a sad personal memorial, not bother hiding her drugs from that sister, put out the fire a womanizing chef (Max Beesley) has started with his latest family-man-TV-star “fling,” and ignore warnings from her sexy, amoral colleague Eve (Lydia Wilson), who never takes her own advice.
“Don’t shag him!”
We learn about Robyn and her business via her interactions with clients and snarky exchanges with Eve, her explanations to her very young and new intern (the viewer’s surrogate), Melody (Rebecca Benson) and her empress of a boss (Sophie Okonedo), a sage in the mold of “The Devil Wears Prada.”
“The world keeps turning, Robyn. We just help push.”
So that’s the high concept pitch of the series, “Devil Wears Prada” meets “Absolutely Fabulous” by way of “Nurse Jackie.”
“Flack” has a knowing amusement with all things PR — journalists who can be bought off, or convinced to bury a bad story if you give them a juicy enough “positive” story to take its place; the errands, big and small, veteran publicists and the low-woman-on-the-totem pole (Intern Melody) are forced to perform for clients who pay them a lot of money to not let on how awful, corrupt or just plain stupid they are.
I’ve heard a flack relate having to fetch a traveling action star’s herpes medicine from the pharmacy, listened to an entire team of theme park Little Black Dress warriors relate how each and every one of them was hit on and surrendered her phone number to a “family man” baller who cheated at sport and life and still isn’t in the Hall of Fame.
The action star who insisted on multiple hotel rooms on a tour, all the easier to abandon a one-nighter and slip off to get some sleep down the hall, and on and on — stories that never made the light of day.
Word gets out, and some version of empress Caroline (Okonedo) is there to order “get this in the ground. Today!”
The show is new to Amazon, but the British audience for this blend of gossip, sex, drugs and “issues” ate “Flack” up. It was just renewed.
Look forward to a nice long wallow with the formidable Anna P. coping with the shallow and the surreal, and messing about with her own issues (she’s not “single”) as she flings up the “Flack.”
MPA Rating: TV-14, drug abuse, sex, profanity
Cast: Anna Paquin, Sophie Okonedo, Lydia Wilson, Rebecca Benson, Genevieve Angelson, Rufus Jones.
Credits: Created by Oliver Lansey. Now on Amazon Prime.
Running time: 12 episodes @42 minutes each