So, we have Flaked, a new Netflix Original series created by and starring Will Arnett, linking up with Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz, with episodes directed by Wally Pfister and music by Stephen Malkmus.
But is it any good? No, really… that’s not a rhetorical question.
In March 2016, Netflix released all of the second season of a little show called Daredevil for your binge-watching pleasure. My fellow Usher Welshy has reviewed it here and picked out all the references you might have missed, while Dan had a few questions about what happens next. However there were two other shows released recently as well, to slightly less fanfare – on this side of the pond anyway. In February, the Judd Apatow-created Love premiered, and that review can be found here, but in this article I’ll be looking at Will Arnett’s new show Flaked.
I almost combined the two shows into one article. As well as being released within a month of each other, both deal with dating and relationships in a “real” way despite having some very unreal characters and settings, have characters dealing with sobriety, and both seem to drift in the first half of their seasons and rely on guest stars to kick it up a notch. However, both Flaked and Love pick up in their last few episodes, so I’ve got two separate articles.
Lead star, co-writer, and co-creater Will Arnett has already got one great show on Netflix, the animated BoJack Horseman, about a washed-up sitcom star struggling to come to terms with his life after fame, who happens to be a horse. I would recommend that show without hesitation, it grows more confident throughout its first season, and has a fantastic Christmas special. He’s probably best known however as Gob, terrible magician and the oldest brother of the disfunctional Bluth family in Arrested Development. He also starred with his then-wife Amy Poehler in the excellent Blades of Glory as one half of the brother-sister ice skating team rivaling the heroes, and is the voice of Batman in The Lego Movie. He also co-writes all of the episodes with Mark Chapell, who among many other projects wrote My Life In Film, a comedy show from 2004 that starred Kris Marshall, Andrew Scott, and Alice Lowe that is a treat for cinema fans. It really is a forgotten gem (even I missed it on my BBC Three Top 10 list) that I would recommend anyone reading this to go find it.
I mentioned (in great, slightly boring, length) in my w/Bob & David Review (which stars another Arrested Development alumnus David Cross) that Netflix’s comedy output could be stronger than any of the tradition networks in American television. Shows like Aziz Ansari’s Master Of None, Bill Burr’s F Is For Family, and the already mentioned w/ Bob & David have given a platform to writers to produce shows with a level of freedom impossible on normal network TV. Shows like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Gracie and Frankie are more traditional in structure (as in a group of writers, rather than one star having total control), but Netflix is the only place a comedy shows about a women escaping from a cult and two middle age divorcees whose husbands decide to marry actually get time to breath.
The same has to be said about Flaked. I can’t imagine it would find an audience in time, and would be cancelled after about 3 episodes in the cut-throat network TV world. Arnett plays Chip (the flake of the title I suppose), an alcoholic who is ten years sober and is a respected figure in his AA group. It’s never specified if he leads or organises these meetings, but lots of people come to him for advice, and he has become a “self-help guru” in his community of Venice, in sun drenched South California. The problem is… it’s all lies. He doesn’t have any answers. He makes stools, and while in this bohemian world he is lauded as an artisan, doing something real, he in fact doing nothing. I avoid spoilers in my reviews, but he doesn’t make, or sell, a single stool in this season. His help and advice is all just meaningless slogans he has overheard. He lives rent free in his friend Dennis’ house, while Dennis (David Sullivan) stays in the guest house. Seemingly his only other friend is Cooler (George Basil), who has dogs and gets stoned, and is a truly terrible stand-up comedian.
In the first episode, Chip is involved in a sexual relationship with Kara (Lina Esco), a much younger woman. There is no real connection between the two, and Chip uses the excuse that she is still in her first year (recovering alcoholics are told not to make any major life decisions in their first year of sobriety) to not commit to a proper relationship with Kara. When Dennis confides in them that there is a new waitress at their favourite restaurant, Chip can’t stop himself from hitting on her, using random quotes from the book on Frida that Dennis is reading to try impress her. This angers Dennis and put their friendship at risk, but they get through it with Dennis basically caving and Chip carrying on as before.
Flaked kind of meanders along with these interactions. Chip is a mess, and says he wants to do the right thing – but never actually does. There are some very funny moments, little interactions between the friends that are real gems, but they are buried in a rather slow-
moving, free-wheeling beginning. It’s so laid back to almost be stagnant for the first few episodes, before picks up in the middle with some very enjoyable guest stars – with Heather Graham as Chip’s ex-wife and Kirstie Alley as Dennis’ mother two highlights of the show. In fact, the group’s trip to a health spa with Dennis’ mother may be the best episode of the lot, and is probably the closest to a traditional sitcom episode. Mark Boone Junior as the owner of the building that houses Chip’s business is fantastic as well.
But in the latter half of the season, the little threads from the season start to come together and give the show direction. A throwaway line about being Venice locals, a SaVenice poster, the seemingly simple waitress London (who caused the friction in Chip and Dennis’ friendship) are all actually much more important than first impressions suggest. Ruth Kearney does really well with her role as London, being more than just a enigmatic dream girl. Christopher Mintz-Plasse as a new member of the AA group is also a very enjoyable late season addition to the cast.
Flaked isn’t for everyone. I’m a big Will Arnett fan, but this show still annoyed me a lot of the time I was watching it. Chip is an almost impossibly annoying man-child and it’s very difficult to get a handle on what the show is, because of how simply unlikable the main character is. It feels like they are trying to pitch the character as enigmatic, and for us to be sympathetic to him for it, but revelations later on show that this confused presentation is part of his presentation to the world. The confused characterisation that we see is actually part of the confused characterisation that the other characters see. Chip is playing us, as well as the people he hangs around with in Venice.
For example, Chip doesn’t have a mobile phone. At first seems like an annoying character trait, later becomes an annoying plot device, but when he finally does get a phone, it actually makes sense. This is indicative of the show (and the lead character), seemingly aimless but actually reaching some sort of meaningful conclusion. At least that’s how I read it – if you were to say I was rationalising away some rather poor storytelling, I wouldn’t argue too much.
Wally Pfister (director of the beautiful looking but flawed Transcedence and cinematographer on most of Christopher Nolan’s films) directs 4 of the 8 episodes, and they all look fantastic. The vintage, sun-drenched, almost bleached out pictures in this article sums up the look – and in turn the tone – of the whole show. The music comes from Stephen Malkmus, who was the frontman of Pavement, so the show sounds great as well, adding to the easy-going, laid-back vibe. There are some interesting support characters (Robert Wisdom as George is one of my favourite TV cops), but like I said earlier, it would be cancelled within a few episodes if it was a regular “sitcom”. However, the joy of Netflix means that we get to see the whole season, and when you get to the last few episode, the plotlines do start to come together and the resolution is actually pretty satisfying. Would I watch a second season? Maybe. I’m not sure if they could pull it off again, but this is just about an enjoyable enough show so far – if you can stick with it. But… I can totally understand if you can’t.
Recommended for fans of: Master Of None (Aziz Ansari’s excellent show really is the gold standard for any show that deals with relationships and the problems this generation of men seem to face), Arrested Development (there is plenty of Gob in Chip), BoJack Horseman, those slightly annoying indie films about people who don’t have real jobs and live in places that aren’t real.
Flaked is available on Netflix now.
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.
PS As a special treat for reading all the way to the end, here’s the teaser trailer for The Lego Batman Movie (with Will Arnett reprising his role from The Lego Movie)