Live in Los Angeles for more than a few years, and you’ll discover that it’s a hard place to escape. It’s not necessarily one specific thing — the people, or the weather, or the Hollywood glitz and glam — it’s every little facet of the city, every nuance which makes it, ultimately, an easy place to live your life.
For one thing, you can wear shorts every day, if you want to. At least, that’s the first major bit of propaganda sold by “Flaked,” premiering today on Netflix. Not so much set in Venice as it is deeply embedded in the beach neighborhood just south of Santa Monica, every character gets a chance to show off their gams at some point. They all have very nice gams, of course. It is, after all, Los Angeles, where the beautiful people live, even while they do un-beautiful things.
“Flaked” stars favored Netflix son Will Arnett (in his third starring role on the platform, following the “Arrested Development” revival and his voice work on “BoJack Horseman”) as Chip, who we first meet in an AA meeting, then get to watch cruise around Venice on his bike. While struggling with the guilt of his actions as an alcoholic, Chip has a decent life going. He makes a living making furniture, helps other addicts find their place in the world and most definitely does not struggle with the problem of sleeping alone.
But peril threatens his semi-content life; forces internal, like his addiction issues, and external. The major thrust of the first season is around a real issue many communities are dealing with: the ever-growing threat of increased development, which does represent progress but also chases out businesses like Chip’s because landlords can cash in huge by selling off property.
Gentrification might serve as a central theme for “Flaked,” but there’s a lot about the series that feels a bit confused. For example, it’s a show that seems to think its core love story is between Chip and London (Ruth Kearney), a mysterious beauty who comes to town and immediately intrigues Chip. But as the episodes proceed, it’s Chip’s best friend Dennis (David Sullivan) who the narrative emphasizes, more and more. There are plenty of jokes made about how Chip and Dennis essentially operate as a married couple with relationship problems. No homo, except not really… The thing is that they really are the show’s most important pairing, and it’s their bond which undergoes the most important shifts and changes of the series, especially as big secrets begin to seep out of the woodwork.
The most unexpected thing about “Flaked” is that it’s a show driven not by character development, but by plot — a number of major twists hit in the latter half of the season which deliberately shake up the status quo. There’s a fair amount of drama rooted in that classic cliche line, how could you not have told me? And that wears on the nerves.
But one benefit to the show’s reliance on twists is that what might have been otherwise a sprawling, chaotic universe ends up, by the end of Episode 8, seeming relatively insular and well-connected, thanks to the way so many different elements are brought together. Does Season 1 feel like a strong enough framework upon which to build many seasons to come? Not necessarily. But there are at least some support beams for a Season 2.
Indiewire’s Ben Travers, after watching a few episodes, remarked, “It makes me feel bad inside,” and it’s not hard to understand why he feels that way. “Flaked” is a show about unhappy people, people who lie constantly for the sake of dignity or self-preservation. In that respect, it captures a lot of nuances that come with dealing with addiction. But that doesn’t make it super-fun to watch, all the time.
While it does lean harder on the “dram” side of “dramedy,” the execution on a technical level is strong, with some beautiful cinematography and a steady tone that really lets the cast breathe on screen. Beyond Arnett, who does incredible and sensitive work here, it’s a cast loaded with standout players, including Sullivan, Kearney, Robert Wisdom as Chip’s former sponsor and Lina Esco as Chip’s one-time ladyfriend Kara. And those are the people you might not be familiar with — Heather Graham, Annabeth Gish and Christopher Mintz-Plass also show up in supporting roles that reveal them as solid, steady performers.
There’s an advantage to reviewing the series with a deep knowledge of Los Angeles — the ability to recognize street corners, and understand jokes about how the neighborhood of Mar Vista is not part of Venice and how dare you presume as much. But it also serves as a disadvantage, one that affects both you and your perception of the series. Who cares about the attractive yet flawed residents of yet another small Los Angeles neighborhood?
That leads into one of “Flaked’s” biggest flaws, which is that it feels so tragically familiar to so many things, such as the massive glut of relationship dramedies set in Los Angeles right now. In the last few months we’ve seen “You’re The Worst” on FX, “Transparent” on Amazon, “Togetherness” on HBO, and — just three weeks ago — Netflix’s own “Love.”
All of these shows feature incredibly different approaches and points of view, but while “Love” might be geographically about 25 miles away from “Flaked,” that means nothing to someone scraping ice off their windshield in Wisconsin right now. All of the shows mentioned above are great and unique, but we might be facing a glut.
“Flaked” is to be commended for really capturing its setting, shooting very clearly on location and focusing on the issues facing this community right now. The Venice it depicts, living on the razor edge of full-on gentrification, is recognizably genuine, and thanks to its committed cast has the breath of authenticity to it.
But its biggest problem might be a factor in its setting. When it’s easy to live somewhere, it’s easy to ignore bigger issues and gloss over real problems. “I need real!” someone shouts late in the season, an exclamation that’s easy to empathize with. But Venice isn’t a place you really find reality. Reality is tough, and “Flaked,” all too often, is glib, gliding over incredibly tough issues. Is that approach a meta-commentary on the community? Or is “Flaked” just incapable of looking beyond its own limited borders?
It’s the sort of question a Season 2 would maybe answer. Here in Season 1, we’re a bit hung up on the superficial.
“Flaked” Season 1 is streaming now on Netflix.