Now that I’m done with Fuller House (Thank God, I was about one episode away from having a stroke), we’re going to be diving into another Netflix original, this one flying a little below the radar. The show is Flaked, and it stars the consummately talented Will Arnett as a recovering alcoholic trying to keep it together in Venice Beach. The first episode follows Chip (Arnett) as he tries to track down Stefan, a young alcoholic who he’s sponsoring. He also is attempting to help his friend woo an attractive young lady named London, though he may have a crush on her as well.
Here are some thoughts.
1. There is an immediate sense of melancholy
That makes a lot of sense. The story is centered around alcoholics, people who are struggling to get their lives together. It would make sense that there’s an aura of sadness that pervades the show. The characters seem to interact listlessly, as if they don’t really care about the outcome of any of the conversations they’re having. It’s a little bit indicative of shows set in California. It always feels like people are bored with each other and never come out and say how they really feel about anything. That’s especially true of Flaked, where nothing seems to be of particular importance.
2. Directed by Wally Pfister!
That wasn’t a name I was expecting to see in the credits. Wally Pfister is best known as the cinematographer for most of Christopher Nolan’s movies. He won an Oscar for his cinematography on the film Inception. It’s a little strange to see his name attached to this show, as Pfister is mostly known for his visual flair. His directorial debut, Transcendence, was a commercial and critical flop, so I guess it’s not too surprising to see him reduced to a TV director. But this show is shot rather blandly, not even taking advantage of the beauty of Venice Beach.
3. The show is ambling, perhaps a little aimless
I mentioned a plot in my intro, but that would be giving the writing a little too much credit. There really is no plot, and the story that does exist is flimsy and extremely low stakes. I get the sense the show wants to be a character study, but Arnett’s character isn’t especially interesting yet. It’s only the first episode, so I won’t pass judgment on that front. I get the sense that he’s repressing a lot of things under his veneer of good health and stability. As he is now, it’s not very compelling, but there’s potential.
4. Characters seem to pop in and out of the story without purpose
There’s a moment of ominous foreshadowing as Chip is biking through the streets where a police car drives by behind him and slows down before speeding back up. As Chip pedals down the street, he is blocked by that police car and is told to dismount his bike. It appears that Chip has been partaking in some sort of illegal activity, and my interest is piqued. Could it be drug running? Prostitution? Nope. It turns out it’s a friend of his, his former AA sponsor, giving him a hard time. They talk briefly about the guy Chip is sponsoring, then they go their separate ways. It doesn’t add anything to the story. It does introduce the cop, George, who may be a major character going forward. But it’s indicative of the pilot as a whole. All the characters seem incidental, as if we’re just watching a day in Chip’s life unfold without any real sense of who these people are to him. And perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps this is meant to be a slice of life comedy (although calling it a comedy is being a little generous).
5. There are some laughs, but they’re sparse
Like I just said, the show is ostensibly a comedy. It has that loose feel of low stakes situations that are supposed to yield laughs. And it does, occasionally. There’s a running Frida Kahlo joke that the script gets some mileage out of, though it begins to wear on you after the fifth time it’s brought up. There are one or two sight gags that land satisfyingly, one involving a tennis ball. And every now and then, a joke will elicit a guffaw. But mostly, it’s listless. I can’t say it’s unfunny, because most of the time it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be funny.
6. The show depicts a semi-healthy male friendship, a rarity on television
The relationship between Chip and his roommate seems to be solid. They are (mostly) honest with each other and cop to various transgressions with something like humility. It’s nice to see a male relationships on TV that isn’t just some variation of dick measuring. Although, it does almost immediately tumble into a story about fighting over a girl, whose name is London. If that relationship is fostered and grows, it could be compelling to watch.
7. I want to like this show
I really do, for a number of reasons. It’s a show about recovering alcoholics, something that we don’t see enough of. Sure, plenty of television characters are alcoholics but it’s rarely the focus of the show in the way that it is here. I think that’s important. The show doesn’t feel self-satisfied or pretentious. There’s an earnestness at it’s core that’s very charming. It feels like everyone involved wants to make something resonant and honest. The problem is that the detachment almost all of the characters exhibit make the show feel distant and cold. There might be some heat and life bubbling under the surface, but as of yet it hasn’t appeared. Again, it’s only the pilot, so maybe that’ll change.
8. Will Arnett is doing something we haven’t seen before
This is perhaps the best thing the show has going for it. Will Arnett is an immensely talented comic actor. And while the specter of Gob, his character from Arrested Development, hangs over everything he does, it feels like he’s really trying to move away from the manic selfishness that defined that character. And for now, it seems like there’s some potential in it. He is yet to show us anything that blows the viewer out of the water, but it seems like there is some true potential to do so.
9. I’m not sure what I was supposed to gain from this pilot
There’s just not much that goes on. Basically, it feels like it’s trying to show us a bevy of characters who are all struggling to keep a normal front. Other than that, I didn’t really glean much. Except…
10. It’s a show about people blowing off their responsibilities
The show is called Flaked, after all. The last shot of the episode is Chip pouring wine into a bottle labeled “kambucha.” So he’s still drinking, despite his work in AA. As everyone else around him blows off their friends and shirks their responsibility, it seemed like Chip was the only one following through on anything. But of course, he’s still drinking. I’m not sure how sustainable it is to make an entire show about people blowing each other off constantly. It seems like a recipe for annoying and insipid characters. But, like I said, I’ll be holding off on judgment.
+ Will Arnett gives a promising performance
+ There’s a charming earnestness about it
+ The show tackles important themes
– It’s aimless and wandering
– It has the potential to be filled with unlikable characters
– For a comedy, it’s not particularly funny
Tags: flaked, Netflix, Netflix Original, Wally Pfister, westminster, Will Arnett