Flaked is a lousy TV show.
The new Netflix comedy, which stars Will Arnett as a recovering alcoholic trying to put off an inevitable divorce, makes several errors in judgment.
The first, common among Netflix series, is that it spends roughly half of its debut season doing nothing of consequence; the show's early episodes are full of long, aimless scenes that chronicle Arnett and his pals' lo-fi, scuzzy adventures around Venice, California.
We have lots of TV shows like this, many of them set in Southern California. We don't need another one that doesn't seem particularly innovative, especially one where only one episode out of eight is shorter than 30 minutes (by seven seconds).
The second problem is that Flaked, created by Arnett and Mark Chappell, often doesn't seem to have a point beyond making Arnett seem cool. Women throw themselves at Chip, his character, for no particular reason. Late in the series he's dubbed the "mayor of Venice." He's constantly told he's a good man. And so on. Most of Chip's character development relies on other people telling him things about himself, rarely a great sign.
But there's one especially big mistake Flaked makes, late in its first season, that takes it from merely a mediocre television show to an outright bad one. It abruptly shifts from a show about bros hanging out into a weird melodrama, and it probably doesn't need to.
Regardless, in the process of doing so it transforms Chip from a guy with some problems into someone who's all but a saint. Spoilers, obviously, follow.
Flaked's repeated plot twists ruin the show
Fairly early on, Flaked establishes two things: 1) Chip decided to join Alcoholics Anonymous and get sober after he killed someone in a drunk driving accident, and 2) his new love interest, a woman named London (Ruth Kearney) has a dead brother. The second I learned both of these things, alarm bells went off in my head.
Yes, as it turns out, Chip's accident was responsible for London's brother's death. But instead of letting this connection remain a coincidence, Flaked reveals that she came to Venice to seek out the man responsible for her brother's death. And then after finding him, she fell in love with him, even though we have no real sense of what draws Chip and London together beyond him being sullen and her being a woman who "just has something."
But still, it gets worse. Far worse.
While all of this is happening, Chip is forced to confront his wife, Tilly (Heather Graham), from whom he has been separated for years. (He has yet to officially file the divorce papers.) Her father owns the building in which Chip's stool shop — yes, he owns a stool shop, because Flaked is that kind of show — is located. And now he's trying to push Chip out. Chip asks Tilly to get her father to cut him some slack, and says he'll file the papers so she can be with her new lover.
But Tilly and her new lover (a woman with the stupid pun name of A. Weiner) are in league together to turn the building holding the stool shop into a hotel and/or dog park. She's the one trying to have him kicked out.
So Chip threatens to tell the truth about the accident. Twist! We learn that Chip wasn't behind the wheel of the car when London's brother died — Tilly was. Indeed, Chip isn't even an alcoholic, which is why we've seen him secretively sipping wine throughout the season.
So Chip has been lying — but he's been doing it to protect people, not because he has issues. Flaked tries to suggest that he's profited too much from his lies (by becoming a big muckety-muck in his AA group, for instance), but this comes off as a weak rationalization.
Why these twists are so damaging
As with most shows of this ilk, Flaked is, on some level, about a wounded man who's trying to become whole. That's not exactly a new story, but it's at least a story that sort of makes sense. After all the revelations about what really happened, Flaked becomes a show about a man who does nothing wrong, takes the fall to be noble, and then has the only major impediment to a relationship with his new girlfriend — her belief that he killed her brother in a drunk driving accident — fall away entirely.
Maybe this would work if any of Flaked's other characters (especially the women) functioned as anything other than symbols. But for the most part, the series is content to let everybody in its universe function mainly as a reflection of Chip. The men throw Chip's flawlessness into relief, while the women show him that he's a good person who can be strong again.
If Chip had any legitimate flaws beyond than ones the show tries to tack on hastily at the end, Flaked might make for a compelling story about a guy who's putting his life back together. (Probably not, but just go with it.) As it is, the show becomes a story about a man who has always been good, finally getting everybody else to realize he is.
There's also some goofiness about preserving the real Venice in the face of gentrification (which Chip's stool shop is presumably a major part of), and the show attempts to tell a few stories about some of Chip's friends and lovers. But the overall effect is that it feels like Flaked is propping up Chip for no good reason.
It's tempting to read Chip's character in the face of Arnett's own life. Arnett, too, has been through a separation recently, and he and his character are around the same age. It's not a huge leap to believe that Arnett might occasionally miss his youth, too. But a real examination of these themes would require self-awareness and a light touch, two elements Flaked lacks. As such, it's a leaden, soggy mess that only gets messier as it goes.
Flaked is streaming on Netflix.