Flaked

Thoughts on, and a place to discuss, elements of the special we can’t reveal in our review.

When, at the end of Flaked’s first episode, it’s revealed that Will Arnett’s Chip is secretly swigging red wine (stolen from best friend Dennis’ locked stash) from the carefully labeled kombucha bottle in his fridge, it plays like nothing more than another of the irresponsible Chip’s many failings. But while his surreptitious drinking certainly flies in the face of the platitudinous AA image he’s crafted for himself all around his Venice stomping grounds, Flaked later reveals that Chip—while a daily victimizer in all manner of small ways endemic to self-involved arrested male protagonists everywhere—is more victim. It’s a surprising turn the show makes around its halfway point—but hardly the revelatory one Arnett and co-creator Mark Chappell intend.

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On a stiff dinner date with David Sullivan’s Dennis later on, new-in-town waitress (and rather blank love object) London (Ruth Kearney) throws up a plot flare when she blanches at the revelation that she has a dead brother. And while the eventual reveal that it was her brother killed in the drunk driving accident that brought Chip to Venice works to explain London’s sudden presence in Chip’s life, it doesn’t do much for Kearney’s portrayal, which remains a slightly different sort of blank once she tearfully confesses her ruse to Chip after she’s, yes, fallen for him. “I needed to know how you lived with it,” explains London (actually Claire) in the show’s sixth episode, a platitude on par with Chip’s stock-in-trade, and about as close as London gets to actual character-hood, rather than the more unforgiving roles of plot device and girlfriend she attains thereby.

That’s of a piece with Flaked’s treatment of Heather Graham’s Tilly, Chip’s almost ex-wife (he refuses to sign the divorce papers after a decade) who, it’s later revealed, was actually the one who was driving the car. Like London, Tilly is introduced in the show’s first act as yet another pretty adjunct to Chip’s pain, pitying her ex while lording over him in her palatial, high-gated home before succumbing to his charms for one final tryst in a beachfront hotel room. When it’s revealed that she is, in fact, the author of that pain—she forced her landlord father Jerry to let Chip’s business-free store squat in its Venice storefront for a decade before working with her new lover to kick him out and build a luxury hotel—it similarly strands Graham in another thankless role. At first, Chip’s attempt to extend their agreement (thus scuttling her deal) snaps Graham into icy dragon lady villain mode, before she, too, caves in to both the threat of exposure—and Chip’s shuffling, long-suffering charms. “I think he thought he was doing the right thing,” she counsels the shocked Dennis after he learns his best friend has been lying to him for 10 years, a potent sign of Flaked’s equivocation with regard to its antihero. (And its shaky depiction of women either as sexual objects, schemers, or, in the case of Tilly and London, both.)

In its transformation from low-energy male navel-gazing comedy to full-on melodrama, these twists don’t recontextualize Chip so much as canonize him. (He’s not even really a drunk.) Chip’s decade-long crafting of his role as Venice’s playboy slacker AA saint might be a self-serving deception, but Flaked wants us to know, again and again, that it’s a martyrdom as well.

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