What to Make of “Flaked”?

I felt ambivalent watching Louie and Maron. The characters are so insufferable. Did I want them to be happy? But in Flaked I want Chip to win.

One Netflix original series I’ve followed with some ambivalence is Flaked, starring Will Arnett as Chip. It’s beautiful to look at, from the tone and tanned actors to the quirky streets of Venice, California. My biggest take from watching both seasons so far has been a queasy mix of feelings.

On the one hand, I can’t believe that such a collection of low-energy, slothful man-children can manage to feed themselves — much less find younger, better looking women who’ll date them, and buy them groceries. Can you really make a living by selling hand-made wooden stools? It’s painful to watch sometimes. But a little part of me can’t help wondering … is Venice some magical place where I could get away with that too?

Of course, each season so far has ended with a life-altering exposure of the main character’s slick lies and manipulations. Still, he seemed to skate by in Season 2 despite what got revealed at the end of Season 1. So I can’t help wondering how the writers will let him off the hook next time, too. So I’ll probably watch it….

Critics differ about the series. Dustin Rowles of Uproxx (in a useful, opinionated take on many top Netflix series) says:

Flaked is aimless, dreary and moves like molasses. There’s a decent cast here (Annabeth Gish, Kirstie Alley, and Heather Graham also show up), and a great deal of talent behind the camera. Unfortunately, little of that talent translates into what’s onscreen.

Brian Moylan of the Guardian went further, writing of Season One:

Flaked is yet another television show about intentionally insufferable, middle-aged man-boys who think they are cute when they are really just so smug you want to hit them with a bag of kale chips. Chip is a furniture maker and Dennis is a sommelier, two jobs that only exist in shows like this. Needless to say, these two guys live rent-free because neither of them does any work. Chip owns a store that never has anyone in it, either working or shopping. He only keeps the lights on because his ex-father-in-law owns it and he doesn’t charge him rent. All in all, it’s a middle-aged fantasy created by middle-aged entertainment executives who are foisting their insecurities on a public who would surely rather watch anything else.

Well, maybe some of us want to watch it, if only to indulge those middle-aged fantasies! Somewhere there’s a golden land where standards are low, life goes by slowly, yet somehow the mini-fridge is always stocked with San Pellegrino!

Willa Paskin of Slate cuts Flaked more slack. She writes that Flaked

is not as original, lacerating, or self-aware as Louie and Girls, the progenitors of this trend, or as good as Transparent, the perfector of it, but it contains a deep and precise character sketch. The series, created by Arnett and Mark Chappell, sees Chip very clearly as a man more devoted to appearing decent and sober than to being decent or sober. He revels in his status as an Alcoholics Anonymous wise man, the spiritual mayor of Venice Beach, while behaving like a narcissistic pussy hound who relies on the infinite patience of the people unfortunate enough to care for him.

Flaked is irritating exactly to the extent that it takes Chip’s plight too seriously. Unlike Girls or Transparent—or The Mindy Project or Curb Your Enthusiasm, for that matter—Flaked half-heartedly frames Chip’s behavior as comic while believing it is fundamentally tragic. The show creates situations that are meant to be amusing but stomps all over them with a subtext that insinuates Chip is a tortured soul, not a dysfunctional comedic personality.

I think she hit the nail right on the head. I felt the same ambivalence watching Louie, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Maron: the characters were just so insufferable that I wasn’t sure I even wanted them to be happy. But in Flaked I want Chip to win, though I know that he shouldn’t. Why? Precisely because Will Arnett manages to show a suffering soul beneath the surface. And that makes it hard to watch when he gets his comeuppance, where you’d just sit back and watch it happen to Marc Maron and mutter, “The guy deserves it.”

So if Flaked has a Season 3, I’ll probably watch it, if only to see how Chip reinvents himself yet again, and how many people decide to believe it.

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John Zmirak is Senior Editor of SCENES. He has sold screenplays, published a graphic novel ("The Grand Inquisitor") and taught writing at several...
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