Party scenes make up most of my favorite moments in both TV and movie history. Big parties in classic teen flicks like Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You, Mean Girls, Euphoria, and Booksmart are so fetch. The intimate dance sequences in Lovers Rock blew me away. Who could forget the pool jumping scene in La La Land? And, of course, there’s my personal favorite: the “expectations vs. reality” split screen in 500 Days of Summer.
Fleishman Is in Trouble has entered the party hall of fame with its most recent episode, “This Is My Enjoyment.” The title even refers to the party sequence. For most of the FX on Hulu series so far, we’ve witnessed a mosaic of Toby Fleishman’s (Jesse Eisenberg) suffering—from divorcing his wife Rachel (Claire Danes), to her disappearance, to losing a promotion at work. But finally, with this party scene, we get to witness Toby smiling. Wild!
In its first batch of episodes, Fleishman is in Trouble has proven its strength to be mind-bending, individualistic storytelling that hits every side of an argument. The unraveling of Toby Fleishman has been shown through the eyes of Rachel, his old college pals Libby (Lizzy Caplan) and Seth (Adam Brody), and even his two young children.
Intaking information from Libby’s constant narration, or embracing all of these hateable New York narcissists can occasionally be headache-inducing. There’s a lot going on at once. But in Episode 6, the series masterfully pits two sides of Toby’s life against one another in the same screen: his life with Rachel and his life with his “real” friends.
For the first time since marrying Rachel, Toby attends an annual college reunion with pals from his study abroad trip to Israel. Throughout the scene, the show cuts back and forth between this party and the ones Toby once hosted with Rachel, full of wealthy braggarts and passive aggressive comments about furniture.
“In the intervening years, the only get-togethers he had been to were terrible ones with Rachel’s friends,” Libby intones in narration, as Toby exits a yellow cab at the Israel party. “When he walked into the Israel reunion, he hadn’t remembered the purpose of people gathering was to be fun.”
Recalling 500 Days of Summer, Fleishman is in Trouble then carries us into a whirlwind of two very different parties. At one, Toby faces down a herd of hive-minded Upper East Siders ravenous for gossip and ready to spit cruel comments at him, with fake smiles and ugly Rag & Bone sweaters cascading into his apartment. At the other, he’s given endless chalices of pinot noir and attentive listening ears, all eager to support him and laugh at his misfortune—but laugh with him.
This perfect juxtaposition of New York’s peaks (a room full of friends, drinking good wine, smoking the occasional cigarette) and pitfalls (massive wealth disparities, the Uptown status quo, bitter arguments about careers) results in a thrilling sequence of Toby’s life. Here we are, oscillating between botoxed blondes, who can’t stop raving about SoulCycle and barre, and Brooklyn folks, who have a swing in their house. Their only similarity: having cool wine glasses. It’s the difference between people who talk about The White Lotus versus folks who want to stay at a hotel just like The White Lotus.
It’s inspiring, in fact. Some parties, especially ones in New York, can be so draining. What’s the purpose? Libby poses this perfectly in her narration ahead of the dichotomous party. The purpose of people gathering is to have fun. Now, I’d like to throw one of those quaint shindigs like the one we see at the reunion celebration (with good lighting, might I add), the one with friendly folks, the one that’s fun.
(Side note: There’s another entertaining party scene earlier in the season, in which the show takes us back to Toby and Rachel’s college days. They give Claire Danes a terrible wig to make her look 22. Jesse Eisenberg looks like Mark Zuckerberg again. It’s brilliant.)
Fleishman Is in Trouble has dedicated itself to showing every angle of life—including in this episode, which gave us portraits of New York parties, and the next episode, which promises to share more of Rachel’s side of the story. Where has she been?
The final two episodes of Fleishman is in Trouble will premiere on the next two Thursdays, Dec. 22 and 29.