All episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
Will Arnett stars in Netflix’s newest comedy, Flaked, which charts the laid-back problems of a former alcoholic as he wanders the streets of Venice Beach on a bicycle. If that description doesn’t do much for you, don’t worry, you aren’t in the minority – the show is neither a comedy, nor a drama, nor much of a TV show. Sure, characters fight, love triangles form and season-ending twists aim to shock, but Flaked never escapes a feeling of falsity.
It’s a show that feels like a textbook’s idea of a show: each character has the perfectly redeemable flaw, episode structure grows repetitive by the half-way point, and attempts at unfolding the mystery around certain individuals universally end in a brick wall. It’s a dull addict drama, a humorless buddy comedy, and an unromantic romantic comedy all bundled into eight episodes of the one thing it excels at – monotony.
Perplexingly co-produced by Arrested Development‘s Mitch Hurwitz, Flaked opens with Chip (Arnett) doing his round in AA with a story about his drunken vehicular slaying of a kid one night ten years ago. He’s the kind of off-the-grid, flip-flop wearing resident of Venice Beach that doesn’t have a cell phone, car, or his own house. What he does have is a furniture store called “Tri” with a non-existent customer base browsing its singular creation: custom three-legged stools, because three legs are the minimum required appendages needed to stand up (it’s a metaphor).
His best buddy Dennis (David Sullivan) is slightly more on-the-grid, and falling for a new mysterious waitress working at their favorite restaurant. Dennis calls dibs on her (not literally, but it’s annoying enough), citing Chip’s “swooping” of past love interests. Eventually, they meet London (Ruth Kearney) and Chip promises that he has no feelings for her but still invites her to stay in the loft above his store when she debates hiking it out of Venice. He somberly crafts a secret alcoholic concoction at the pilot’s end; a song with lyrics that go something like “I’ve never been so alone” plays over the credits, daring you to watch more.
As a vanity project (it’s hard to see it as anything else – Arnett co-wrote every episode, and he is shirtless a lot), the awkward self-indulgence is only magnified by the shoddy framework of the show. Arnett and his co-creator Mark Chappell just don’t give him much to do in his own creation. He rides a wave of aloof sarcasm for most of its run, occasionally attempting to fly higher when things get “serious,” but he barely breaches anything above a cumulonimbus cloud of disconcerted constipation. It’s also exhausting when the show tries to get you to like him. A running joke centers around Chip’s stern, questionably homophobic opposition to riding a bike with Dennis – and it’s one of the better ones.
On the slim bright side, the community built around Chip’s neighborhood makes your stay there more bearable: there’s annoying third-wheel Cooler (George Basil), tough-but-sweet cop George (Robert Wisdom), tattooed coffee clerk Stefan (Travis Mills), and even a character incisively referred to as “That Fucking Guy” in the credits. They’re all given little to do, but successfully populate the streets of Venice with sprightly color, fighting (and mostly losing) against Flaked‘s dullness everywhere else.
The show’s main drama centers around Chip and Dennis’ battle over London, and it drags maybe the most likable character on the show (Dennis) through the mud with vigor. He’s reduced to such a catty, annoying cardboard cutout of jealousy that it’s hard to see why the two are friends, even when their tragic history is revealed later in the season. To make matters worse, Arnett and Chappell give Dennis one of those dumbly ironic TV jobs – he’s an alcoholic sommelier – that only exists to exacerbate conflict. Both are two of the poorest examples of the trendy middle-aged man-child screaming against the dying of the light in recent memory. Dear Hollywood: it’s getting old.
Kearney works overtime as London, trying to justify the feud between Dennis and Chip, and she’s the center of a half-way decent twist, but she gets the brunt of the most brutally ineffective dialogue on the show. She, and fellow female lead Cara (Lina Esco), can’t survive the onslaught of a series obviously prioritizing the self-discovery of its bumbling male leads over shaping up believable relationships. That’s especially rough coming off of the heels of Love, which sucked the damn marrow out of its characters’ neuroses and awkwardness; Flaked just flounders.
Most of that lethargy stems from the show’s plotting, which successfully mimes the wandering, sun-baked lifestyle of the Southern Californian neighborhood but does little to infuse Arnett’s series with anything nearing the territory of binge-worthy oomph. Early on, it’s suggested the story will be an underdog hoo-rah middle-finger to the man when a real estate development is threatened to overtake the town; it is a little towards the end, but the show mostly never follows through in that department. That plot would have been redundant as anything else on the show, but perhaps at least such an arc would have given it a livelier skeleton.
As it stands, Flaked is about two forty-something men circumnavigating the hipster sidewalks and shops of Venice on various degrees of self-propelled transportation – a bike, a tandem bike, a longboard – and occasionally staring thoughtfully into the distance after a fight. Pop-in guest stars sort of spice things up (Kirstie Alley, Heather Graham) and sometimes only underscore its worst, grossly sexist, unfunny attributes (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).
A road trip in episode four benefits the wayfaring feel of the show more than any other, and some story developments towards the end of the season entice, but such little redeeming side notes do not a TV show make. “It’s like an online community,” Mintz-Plasse’s tech start-up wunderkind Topher observes while walking around Venice with Chip. “So, like a community?” Chip asks. To give you the level of humor and drama Flaked offers: that’s the one line I laughed at in all of its eight episodes. It observes the self-indulgent ridiculousness of its overly cute crunchy granola setting, but justifies that it is, actually, the most endearing creation on a show otherwise preoccupied with positing Big Questions to little effect.
Any potential saving graces of Flaked - and boy is it a small few - are completely and enthusiastically negated by the show's desultory, spiritless tone, which makes its four-hour story feel 40 hours long.