Since breaking out a decade ago on Arrested Development as Gob Bluth, the very definition of masculine overcompensation, Will Arnett has struggled to find a vehicle that will launch him from supporting stalwart to leading man. After helping make Netflix’s BoJack Horseman a cult hit, Arnett has created (with Mark Chappell) his own existential comedy, Flaked, for the streaming network to showcase both his dramatic chops and dry sense of humor.
Set in L.A.’s Venice neighborhood, where long-haired types are quickly being displaced by Silicon Beach start-ups, Flaked stars Arnett as Chip, a recovering alcoholic whose sparsely stocked furniture store is in danger of closing when the owner of the building — who also happens to be Chip’s overly generous, non-rent-collecting ex-father-in-law — decides to sell the Abbot Kinney property to developers.
I’ll give this to rich white guys who make TV: Sometimes they come up with some real good shit. And sometimes — whether hobbled by laziness or self-pity or commercial forces or a simple lack of talent — they don’t. Whatever combination of those factors is responsible for Flaked, the end result isn’t entirely insufferable — but it’s pretty close to it.
Take the show’s stakes: Whereas Arrested Development ardently lampooned the freeloading habits of the wealthy Bluth clan, Flaked asks us to sympathize with Chip because he’ll soon lose the customer-devoid store for which he’s never had to pay the rent. (Arrested creator Mitchell Hurwitz serves as an executive producer here.) The first two installments of the eight-episode season — and several scenes thereafter — revolve around feeling sorry for Chip because he’s attracted to London (Ruth Kearney), the significantly younger waitress his best friend, Dennis (David Sullivan), has a crush on. Poor Chip thus has to console himself with the even younger musician (Lina Esco) who’s inexplicably willing to have sex with him. (In this middle-aged dude's fantasy version of Venice, all the men are sun-baked, gray-flecked townies in faded Hawaiian shirts, while all the women, save the occasional ballbuster, are half-naked hotties who look as if they’re on perpetual Spring Break. Nearly everyone is white, which might come as a surprise to the third of actual Venice residents who aren’t.)
Ten years’ sober (or so he tells others), Chip introduces himself in the opening scene through his origin story: He killed a man while driving drunk, then realized he had to get his life together. The order he found for his existence is a self-serving hierarchy: He surrounds himself with people he can easily outsmart and spouts AA clichés to admiring acquaintances with the persuasive-enough conviction of a veteran politician. Until he signs on to become the sponsor of a twentysomething tech baron (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who might help him keep his store, Chip refuses to get a cell phone, lest anyone depend on him for anything. Adept at deceiving women — the hallmark of a man who knows he’s lacking in some fundamental way — Chip is most compelling (and Arnett most watchable) when he artfully slips into manipulation.
Arnett’s best roles — Gob, BoJack, Devon Banks on 30 Rock, and Batman in The Lego Movie — all exploit the actor’s gift for comic outlandishness. Together with Chappell, the actor wrote all the episodes in Flaked's first season, but the show’s naturalism does him no favors. The droll jokes aren’t funny enough to endure the show’s self-indulgence; the closest I came to laughing out loud during the first season was a half-chuckle, probably during the first time Chip points out that he sells stools for a living.
Flaked’s initially laid-back attitude toward plot — it’s a lot of Chip and Dennis in shorts and sunglasses walking and talking while getting coffee — gives way to a few dramatic plot twists toward the end of the season. But as the series gets more serious, it only becomes more implausible; so much so, in fact, that Chip’s character becomes utterly unbelievable and his hesitant relationship with London patently ludicrous. The show’s emotional bedrock is gradually revealed to be Chip’s testy bond with Dennis — and it’s legitimately heartbreaking when the latter begins to understand how many layers of sedimented lies their relationship is built on — but Dennis isn’t developed enough as a character for the most important moments to really land.
Flaked might be best in its small observations of the new Venice: the "boxercizing" class for pampered idiots that mimics a grocery-store clerk hauling crates, or the confusing $5 "free coffee" at the new hipster café (it’s "free of all bad stuff"). But it disappoints even as a love letter to the place Chip calls home and is about to be moneyed out of existence; the series never convinces us of what’s so great about the stereotyped stoners and burnouts who are being forced out. Nor does the hyperlocalism — it helps to know the difference between neighboring Mar Vista and Marina del Rey — contribute much to the show’s sense of place. I’d love for Arnett to find or create another show worthy of his talents, but I just can't drink Flaked's kom-bullshit.