Oliver Lansley’s Difficulty with Difficult Women: A Flack Review

Amy McQuaid-England
4 min readJan 30, 2021
Poster of Flack on Amazon Prime with Anna Paquin

Flack aims to be an edgy story about complicated women and the underbelly of celebrity public relations. Even with a cast full of powerhouse women, from Anna Paquin to Sophie Okonedo, it, unfortunately, is a hot mess. Just like their characters, they are in damage control, trying to conceal the stale female characters Oliver Lansley created.

This show is about Robyn (Anna Paquin), who can barely manage her personal life and works for a cutthroat PR firm in London. Every episode begins with a warning, “The celebrity culture you see is highly manipulated. Behind the scenes, it is sordid, shocking and salacious.” It is condescending as if the audience is living under a pop culture rock and is completely unaware that everything we see is fake. It was annoying, but explaining the obvious would be a running theme in this show.

I could barely get through the first episode. It felt like being stuck in a 42-minute conversation trap with a mansplainer who confessed every detail of the plot and story. It was infuriating to feel that way, primarily when most of the dialogue was delivered by amazing women. According to Lansley, he was inspired to write Robyn as a “difficult woman” after reading Brett Martin’s book called: “Difficult Men Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad.” It is about Hollywood’s third golden age, guided almost exclusively by white men, and their stories of male angst took centre stage. I remember it as a time when we were force-fed vapid women characters devoid of any authentic complexity. Lansley seems to lack understanding of what truly makes women intense, complex and complicated. Robyn is pretty basic when it comes to characters. She is just a shitty person with a coke addiction who apparently only has one pair of shoes and spends a lot of time looking in the bathroom mirror.

In the first episode, Robyn is in a hotel room with a philandering celebrity Chef named Anthony (Matt Beesley). This scene was described as a “mic drop moment” by Prime on Twitter. However, it was not that impressive. Robyn and Anthony were discussing the reality for men in the post-me-too era. Anthony is rambling about how utterly terrifying it is to be a man these days. With a stern clap back, Robyn asks him if he was done. She then launches in to monologue on being a woman in the pre, and post-me-too world. It seems more like a woman itemizing a grocery list than accurately representing her reciting the traumas women face.

I wish this were the only shitty storyline in this show. The entire first season has everything from faking a teenage lesbian sex tape, spousal abuse allegations to cover up a facelift, having a straight man coming out as gay, and a gay man pretends he is straight, a transphobic comedian, and even a pedophile. But, of course, these are just Robyn’s clients.

I get these characters are horrible people, and we aren’t meant to like them. Maybe in the late ’90s to early ’00s, I would have been impressed with this series. Now I expect more. I have been exposed to genuinely complicated and difficult women on the screen created by talented, exceptional writers like Shonda Rhimes, Sarah Streicher and Kerry Ehrin. These writers could do what Lansley couldn’t: they created complex and difficult women in shows like Scandal, The Wilds, and The Morning Show. Lived experience matters, and in this case, women are mastering the nuances that bring complicated woman characters to life.

Unfortunately for Flack, it seems all the women who were writers were only credited for additional materials. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, so I asked on a screenwriter’s Facebook group. Bob Saenz, a writer known for Extracurricular Activities, replied, “When they went into production, they found they were missing scenes or things in some scenes, so they hired a writer to write them…that was the additional writer.” It got me thinking about how different this show would have been if women were not brought in as an afterthought to try and fix mistakes but instead led the creative direction. I guess we will never know. It seems season two is going to be much of the same.

Poster of Flack on Amazon Prime with Anna Paquin

One thing is for sure; Pop TV was right to cancel it. Prime picked it up to add more content, and like the bargain-basement products they sell online, this show was added for the quantity, not the quality.