Who is Chip? Why is he a furniture aficionado? And why is his enthusiasm restricted to stools? Is he lying about being ten years sober? It looks like he’s fresh out of prison. Wait, is he fresh out of prison? But, most importantly, did he really kill a man ten years ago?
Will Arnett’s new Netflix show Flaked begins, like Fight Club, in an anonymous meeting for addicts. Only this time it isn’t testicular cancer but alcoholism. Most of its eight episodes start on a curb outside the meeting centre, as one broken human being after another lumbers out, having just recounted the most shameful stories of their lives. Chip usually gets on his trusted bicycle while his childhood friend Dennis, also a recovering addict, jumps on his skateboard. Like the dynamic duo that they are, they wander the streets of Venice, California to the home that they share.
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Arnett plays Chip, a veteran bulls#!tt@r and unabashed buffoon burdened ceaselessly by the past. He wastes no opportunity to remind people of the horrors he is trying to overcome. When he falls for London (a Californian blonde and not the city The Queen calls home), things get weird. To make matters worse, she also happens to be the object – and she really is an object – of Dennis’ affections. Both men initiate their progressively moronic plans to win her over, amidst failed mind games and in a closed community populated almost exclusively by wasters.
Immediately there is a sense that this isn’t a show for everyone. Only the most patient and forgiving viewers will be able to chart its rough waters. And that’s largely because not a lot happens. The humour is as dry as one of James Bond’s martinis. And that’s unfortunate. Because there is a lot here to enjoy here, thanks mostly to Will Arnett’s sympathetic performance as a man who isn’t really that sympathetic.
I’ve happily watched 8 seasons of Hank Moody indulging in the most despicable antics this side of the millennium on Californication, so watching 8 episodes of a watered down version of Hank is a breeze. But not everyone is familiar – or indeed, as interested – in watching a trainwreck of a man destroy everything that meaningful in his life before their eyes. You’d rather watch reruns of Modern Family instead. But for those of you who enjoy a darkly comedic character study, there goes your weekend.
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Here is a show in which every character comes with their own crippling baggage. There is a mystery to the proceedings that is teased, frequently, but never solved. It feels like we’re catching up with these characters years after the biggest turning points in their lives have happened. Now, it’s time to pick up the pieces and mend whatever is broken. And there is a lot of it. The backstories – or, stray mentions of the past – are carefully sprinkled over the 8, mostly aimless episodes. The plot doesn’t quite progress as much as it meanders from one uncomfortable situation to another.
It’s an approach perfected by Richard Linklater in movies like Dazed & Confused and Slacker. Chip and Dennis are hopeless wanderers, riding bikes, skateboarding, road tripping, playing paddle tennis and sipping Kombucha out of plastic tumblers.
Both are, by the looks of it, unemployed. No one ever buys any stools from Chip, and there is the looming threat of foreclosure. And it doesn’t help that Chip is prone to giving in to temptation, just like Hank Moody, and messing relationships up real good. He is a selfish man who does good not because it’s the right thing to do, but because he likes deluding himself into thinking that he is a good man. He might have quit drinking, but Chip has found a new addiction, and it’s just as bad. It has been 10 years that he has been on an endless quest for acceptance. But as the show’s web of mysteries is unraveled, Chip begins to make sense. The journey to redemption is as flaky as the show, but thankfully, it is worth the wait.
Watch the trailer here
Flaked almost succeeds in tricking you into thinking it’s a love story, but it’s not. It’s really a story about two childhood friends who’ve been through everything life has thrown at them together. It’s a show about male friendship and the usually unorthodox way guys resolve their differences. Chip and Dennis haven’t always come out winners. They’re clearly shadows of their former selves. But something tells us that they’ll survive this too. Sure, they’ll have lost another chunk of their soul, but they’ll skateboard on.
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