Netflix’s latest series flakes on human element
Where to watch: Netflix
Starring: Will Arnett, Ruth Kearney, David Sullivan
If a television show is aware of its pretension, does that make it less pretentious? Unfortunately, in the case of the new Netflix original series “Flaked,” its self-awareness only makes it more frustrating.
“Flaked” follows the life of Chip (Will Arnett, also the show’s co-creator), a recovering alcoholic living in Venice, Calif. as he spews platitudes to everyone around him and hooks up with women who are easily 15 years younger than he is. In the opening scene, we meet Chip at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, telling the story about how he ended up where he is today. Ten years ago, he murdered someone while driving under the influence. Ten years later, he is in Venice working at a furniture store that seems to specialize in stools and hanging out with a motley crew of seemingly unemployed man-children.
If my distaste for this show comes across in my summary, please know that I entered into my watching experience of the first three episodes (out of eight) with an open mind. As a general fan of Arnett–his Devon Banks on “30 Rock” remains one of my favorite side characters on television to date–I hoped this new series would allow for Arnett to shine as the lead character. Unfortunately, my favorite qualities of Arnett’s–smug, sarcastic, yet somehow charming–do not bode well as leading man qualities. In a show that wants me to be on Chip’s side as he struggles to keep his store afloat and find happiness in his recovery, I find myself turned off by his lack of commitment and lack of interest in the people closest to him, despite his dedication to helping people he hardly knows. He avoids confrontation and communication at all costs, as evidenced by his unsigned divorce papers…ten years later.
Aside from the opening scene of Chip at an AA meeting, we get little exposition, and I found myself constantly reading situations incorrectly because I didn’t have enough information. While I do not believe that a show needs to give viewers all of the background material right up front, I found that “Flaked” relied too heavily on the element of surprise in its storytelling. A name mentioned casually in conversation turns out to be his ex-wife (although technically they are still married) and characters’ pasts are referenced but never explained. Why was Chip’s neighbor Dennis in Europe when Chip moved into Dennis’ mother’s house? Who are these people, and how exactly did they get to Venice? This seems to be central to their identities, but we are kept from understanding them.
Perhaps my largest critique has to do with the show’s awareness of the problems inherent in a place like Venice. In a land of hipster coffee shops and unpopulated furniture stores, there is little focus or drive in many of our characters. They complain about Venice as a place, but no one seems to be able to get out if it. Many of the characters are recovering alcoholics. Venice provides a place to recover, but also a place that keeps them from facing the real world. It’s unhealthy, but they’re stuck, just like Chip.
The series also calls attention to Chip’s age. He repeatedly reminds those around him that he doesn’t have a cell phone, alerting us that he’s an “old man” in this town. The women in his life, however, all appear to be under 30 years old. And here lies one of my biggest complaints about Hollywood: why are all the pairings of men and women between men in their 40s and 50s with women in their 20s? Are there no younger men in Venice? Is Chip, the depressed stool-maker, the best we’ve got? “Flaked” puts these issues front and center, yet the show offers no alternative or solution, just a depressive, snarky lead in a town full of pretension.