The first episode of Flaked revealed that Will Arnett’s Chip is a broken man. He’s a man who’s all performance and very little genuineness. For the most part, “Westminster” painted Chip’s social failings as inseparable from his alcoholism. The premiere is fascinating in part because it doesn’t push Chip as a completely sympathetic character. Rather, “Westminster” showed that while he’s certainly trying his best to get sober and not let addiction run his life, he’s also perhaps using it as a crutch of sorts, as an excuse to be terrible to people and manipulate them into doing what he wants.

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Where “Westminster” found a nice balance between interrogating Chip’s behavior and garnering some sympathy for him, Flaked‘s second episode, “Horizon,” veers into more troubling territory. Chip’s behavior throughout the episode moves from questionable but forgivable to rather insidious here. It’s troubling not because Chip can’t be an asshole, but because pushing the character too far in that direction moves the story away from some of the more rewarding elements in the premiere.

Red flags abound when the episode opens on Chip laying his bullshit on thick after an AA meeting. He’s talking to two young girls—probably half his age, as seems to be his preference—about acknowledging the truths in his life and finding his way to them. It’s all self-help garbage, and Chip knows that, but he can’t help himself. It’s in that interaction that Flaked exposes some of its problem. Are we supposed to find the interaction funny? Cringeworthy? Sad? All of the above? I’d argue that Flaked can’t decide, and that’s an issue. If the show is unsure of how to feel about its main character, how are the rest of us supposed to decide?

Things are complicated further when Chip’s best friend Dennis calls him on his bullshit. “You’ve got a serious platitude problem,” he says after Chip tries to give him some empty advice. It’s a telling moment, as Dennis is clearly used to dealing with his friend’s halfhearted advice, and yet it’s he obviously feels indebted to him because of their shared sobriety. So that’s where things get really complicated. There’s something interesting in the idea that Chip uses his sobriety—lapsed, unbeknownst to anyone—to keep people close to him. It gives him purpose, and his life meaning. If he doesn’t believe the platitudes, if he doesn’t think they can shed light on someone else’s struggle, how are they supposed to help him? He’s clinging to a façade because it’s all he has, but there’s a serious risk of seeing that desperation turn from sympathetic in terms of character to detrimental in terms of actually enjoying Flaked.

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The reason it’s important that Flaked figure out how to define these characters in terms of their likability is because the romantic conflict at the heart of the show isn’t all that intriguing as of yet. The love triangle developing between London, Chip, and Dennis—with Kara somewhere on the outside—feels listless and contrived, more of a way to insert some sort of conflict into the story than anything else. Flaked doesn’t exactly excel at being a sad drama because there’s so little backstory built into these characters. It’s hard to connect with Chip’s desire for London because we don’t know where it comes from. It doesn’t help that both London and Kara, unfortunately, seem to be mere bodies in the narrative, inserted to add some drama to Chip’s life.

With that said, “Horizon” does show that Flaked‘s comedic elements are working on a level that far exceed the show’s dramatic aspirations. “Horizon” is a hell of a lot funnier than the premiere, but embodies the same low-key style of comedy. There’s small moments, like Chip staring out the window of his friend’s police car and muttering “I can’t do this,” the typical sadsack protagonist line, before clarifying that he literally can’t get out of the backseat of the police car. Then there’s Chip’s response to London asking if the studio apartment he’s suddenly renting comes furnished: “Well, it’s above a furniture store…but no.” Arnett certainly knows how to deliver these punchlines.

Of course, the strange and wonderful scene where Chip visits the store’s landlord, Jerry, anchors all the comedy. Chip finally decides, after it’s clear he’s not taking Dennis’ place on his date with London, that he needs to see what the deal is with his store. The following scene is wonderfully absurd. Jerry, it turns out, is just a middle-aged stoner. He’s hilariously oblivious to why Chip is even visiting him, mostly talking in non-sequiturs and hushed proclamations. The best of the bunch is Jerry musing on his missing pet: “I haven’t seen my chameleon in quite some time.”

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The scene straddles the line between comedy and drama perfectly. Jerry is a fun presence, but the news he brings isn’t good. When he informs Chip that he’s considering selling the building, and that Chip can’t afford the $4 million asking price, Chip’s face drops. He looks pained that the thing that anchors his life, which often defines him (outside of his pending sobriety), could suddenly slip away. When he unknowingly helps Dennis on his date with London moments later, it’s just another emotional punch to the gut.

It’s telling that at the end of the episode, Chip, having seen Dennis and London having a good time, heads to Kara’s place. When he sees her he says, “I love your new haircut,” an observation made by Dennis earlier in the episode. Chip isn’t aware, present, or connected to those around him. Instead, he’s performing as a “good person,” saying what he thinks he needs to say, whether it’s meaningless platitudes, Dennis’ observations, or quotes ripped from a Frida Khalo biography. Who is Chip? Flaked might not know, and that could be a problem.

Stray observations

  • Part of me was hoping that Jerry would never show up and remain this elusive character, but that scene was a solid payoff to his absence in the premiere.
  • “You have plenty of time to lose her. First you have to get her.”
  • “He was looking to kill it; at least eat it!”
  • “So you’re telling me I got 10 years?”
  • So when does Kara get rid of Chip? I don’t see her putting up with him for too much longer.

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