Flaked: Seasons 1 & 2 (Netflix) — a review

This is another one of those series that my wife watched before I did. I don’t think Sharon watched all of the episodes. She’s been known to binge-watch a show until she no longer has any interest in watching even one more episode.

We followed this same pattern together while watching Orange is the New Black (I still need to go back and finish this one someday). I’ve learned more about my own tolerances over the years. I’m not a fan of binge-watching anything. Familiarity with the material highlights its patterns and tropes, leaching all of the spontaneity and surprise from the story itself. It’s like seeing how a magic trick is done prior to watching the illusion performed for the first time.

When you become aware of how an effect is achieved, it loses some of its verisimilitude. When you begin to think of an episodic series (or, even a serialized series) as something manufactured—something created by mere mortals—it begins to lose its mystique.

My life is a series of routines (and sub-routines), and I create rules for myself to follow.

One such rule, only occasionally violated, has been to watch no more than two episodes of a series per week. This allows me to remain invested in the story without worrying about the nuts and bolts of the show itself.

Once I begin thinking about a show in terms of narrative structure and scene composition, I am no longer enjoying the story as it was meant to be enjoyed. Familiarity, as someone once said, tends to breed contempt. Once I’m hyper-aware that every episode employs a teaser, four acts, and a brief outro, or I’m thinking in terms of camera angles, establishing shots and set dressing, the magical illusion is no longer effective.

Since I didn’t binge Flaked, the illusion remained intact from beginning to end for me. Using words such as “illusion” is appropriate for this show, since its lead Chip (Will Arnett) is a grown man-child who has built a life for himself in Venice Beach, California, based almost entirely on lies. He runs a shop owned by his not-yet-ex wife’s father, where he supposedly sells stools he designed and made. Only, he never sells a single stool throughout the first season that I recall. He’s a big presence in the local AA scene and as the unofficial “Mayor of Venice” seems to be a local guru, a mentor and friend to many, including Dennis (David Sullivan), in whose mother’s house he lives while Dennis lives in the guesthouse.

We learn in the pilot episode that Chip is still secretly drinking wine (stolen from his friend Dennis, a sommelier) in a container labelled kombucha. Since his backstory is that he no longer drives because he once killed someone in a drunk-driving accident, this is troubling. As it turns out, even that part of Chip’s story isn’t 100% truthful.

In Season 1, Chip and Dennis both fall for a new waitress named London (Ruth Kearney) who suddenly shows up in Venice. It turns out, not surprisingly, that London has her own secrets as well.

I’m going to be honest here. I don’t like Chip. I love Will Arnett’s performance, and he creates a believably reprehensible character on the screen. But, Chip is a deceitful, conniving user of people, a slick aphorism-sharing conman. Having an unlikeable lead probably contributed to the series’s dismal 35% critics consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, which makes it certifiably rotten by the way. However, the audience gives it an 87% rating. Are you a critic or a general audience member? There seems to be a great divide here.

I find myself leaning towards the general audience side of the balance sheet. This series is better than the critics say it is. The increasingly gentrified Venice Beach is more than just the setting for the series. It becomes another character, and every episode is, in many ways, about the community as well.

I know that I’ve said similar things before. Los Angeles as a character on Bosch, or Lucifer, or your favorite LA-based show here. Albuquerque as a character on Breaking Bad. And so on. Maybe it’s just lazy writing on my part. But, that doesn’t make it untrue.

There are real, actual characters as well, of course.

I’ve seen the actor who plays Dennis—David Sullivan—in bit parts on other shows, but he is excellent in this series.

I have likewise seen Irish actor Ruth Kearney, who plays London, in other performances, although I didn’t remember her until I looked up her IMDb page. I didn’t even realize she was Irish.

Other characters of note include local cop George (Robert Wisdom), Chip’s on-again/off-again girlfriend Kara (Lina Esco), slacker stoner friend Cooler (George Basil), Chip’s movie-star soon-to-be-ex-wife Tilly (Heather Graham) and her father Jerry (Sons of Anarchy alum Mark Boone Junior). Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who will always be McLovin to me, guests as a tech billionaire named Topher. Kirstie Alley and Annabeth Gish both appear in single episodes, as—respectively—Dennis’s very-affectionate mom and a high-powered attorney.

Objectively, I could pick this show apart. There’s a lot of melodrama and blatant emotional manipulation. After a few episodes, Chip becomes more predictable. When other characters describe him as a selfish, manipulative liar, you find yourself nodding your head in agreement. On the other hand, Chip never comes across as truly villainous. In fact, deep down, he seems to be a good guy and may not even be guilty of the biggest sin he claims credit for.

By the end of the first season, the house of cards that is Chip’s existence is effectively blown apart, as the truth makes its way to the surface. The biggest casualty seems to be Chip’s friendship with Dennis. This is unfortunate because that relationship—more than any other—was central to the show’s initial premise.

In addition to being outed as a big liar at the end of the season, Chip also betrays all of his old Venice neighbors by openly supporting the building of a new hotel complex.

As Season 2 kicks off, Chip is no longer “Mayor of Venice,” unofficial or otherwise. Four months after the conclusion of Season 1, Chip and London are still together as a couple, but the relationship seems a little shaky. Chip is expecting Topher the tech billionaire to come through for him with a place to live, in return for his support in revitalizing Venice Beach. He and Dennis are still not speaking to each other, and Dennis is embarking on a new business venture as he opens a wine shop.

Complications ensue. Chip suddenly finds himself homeless. Dennis begins a new relationship with an intriguing young woman who turns out to be the daughter of George, the ubiquitous Venice Beach patrolman. London seems to be falling under the spell of New Age guru Carel, although Chip believes Carel to be as much a con man as Chip himself has been.

A lot of professional critics have shined the spotlight on the second season as the better of the two seasons. I don’t agree.

It’s still okay. Don’t misunderstand me. But, we are already familiar with these characters by the time we get to Season 2. So, it loses some of that “first blush” infatuation. Plus, the big reveal of the first outing—the BIG LIE spread by the consummate liar–seems to lack some of the repercussions that it should have.

The second season, for me, plays out as more of a coda than a continuation of story. An update from the future, of sorts. What are our favorite characters doing now? That sort of thing. The story threads themselves are a tangled mess.

Dennis unwittingly becomes romantically involved with Patrolman George’s daughter. Cooler begins a relationship with one of Chip’s possible romantic victims. London—whose name isn’t London, of course (everyone on this show is a liar)—falls under the sway of some man-bun wearing New Age guru because she is apparently a sucker for aphorism-spouting con men. Chip is still a liar, but seems bent on self-destruction and is taking Dennis along for the ride.

Both Chip and Dennis fall off the wagon, but Chip jumps back on before Dennis does. London returns home and the Season 2 finale involves Cooler and Dennis joining Chip racing to stop what they believe to be London’s delayed wedding. Is the moment reminiscent of The Graduate? Certainly. It ends differently, however.

As the season (and—sadly—the series) ends, things are looking up for everyone but Chip. Dennis and Cooler get the girls. Things between Chip and London seem uncertain, but leaning towards uh-uh, no way. But, it’s not always about getting the girl, is it? Chip does seem to have a new lease on life, so that’s sort of a win.

I have few regrets about watching this series. The story took some melodramatic twists and turns that I thought were unnecessary during the middle of the first season, and the second season was mostly aimless, even when enjoyable. But, it provided a moderate amount of entertainment for a little while.

Firewater’s You’ve-Got-a-Serious-Platitude-Problem Report Card: B-

Season 1 was a solid B. But, Season 2 was, at best, a C+. No lie.

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