Put it this way — if Starbucks decided that it was going to discontinue its longstanding practice of playing mellow, atmospheric indie music and start screening a TV show instead, that show would look a lot like “Flaked” (2016). Netflix’s most recent release has all the hallmarks of warm indie pop: it’s sun-dappled, listless, offensively mediocre and indistinguishable from its legion of imitators.
“Flaked,” in fact, is an apt title for Will Arnett’s first foray into TV writing, which he undertook with collaborator Mark Chappell. Not only because his main character, first introduced to the viewer as a recovering alcoholic trying to put his life back together after a devastating accident, is a commitment-phobe, but also because the show has trouble sticking to one genre. “Flaked” is by turns a light comedy, a solitary man’s quest to find himself on the gentrified streets of Venice Beach and a dark melodrama that relies on a plot device so absurd your eyes will do a full revolution in their sockets. “Flaked” gradually becomes an ironic meta-commentary on itself, in the style of Macklemore’s recent album, “This Unruly Mess I’ve Made” (2016).
In broad strokes, the show centers on Chip (played by Arnett), a man whose social life revolves around the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings he regularly attends. He is on the cusp of finalizing his divorce with his ex-wife, Tilly (Heather Graham), though some last-minute details need to be worked out — the most important one being the fate of the building where he lives and has his furniture store, which is owned by Tilly’s father. Chip once had a promising career as a stool-maker, even nabbing an “Honorable Mention” at the SoCal Design Awards of 2008 for his three-legged innovation. Now, evidently, he has given up those dreams for chasing women with his buddy and fellow AA member, Dennis (David Sullivan). When a new arrival to Venice Beach, a young waitress named London (Ruth Kearney), crosses their path, all bets are off.
What is mystifying is why. Despite a stated interest in Frida Kahlo, London has the personality of a cardboard cutout. In one painful dialogue with Chip, she actually utters the lines, without any hint of irony: “How do you wake up every day? Do things, exist, live, laugh? How do you do anything?” Apparently this pseudo-profundity is enough to entice Chip and Dennis, but whatever they see in her that makes them fawn — according to them, “she just has something,” which totally clears that up — is woefully absent to the viewer.
This gets to a larger point about “Flaked” and its shortcomings. None of the relationships between the characters make any sense. Chip, for instance, makes no bones about the fact that he is interested in London, even though Dennis has called dibs (the masculine entitlement on this show, by the way, puts “Entourage” (2004 – 2011) to shame). Chip even goes so far as to invite London to rent out a little studio space he owns above the furniture store, which seems like a clear violation of the bro code. Still, he and Dennis remain great friends because they are “bros.” Even more baffling is a scene between Dennis and his mother (played by Kirstie Alley, for whatever reason) at a spa getaway, where a raunchy exchange in a hot spring overshoots comedy and lands in borderline-incestuous terrain (“You always had a hard time accepting the fact that I had needs,” she says to Dennis). And these instances are no anomalies. All the writing evinces an adolescent, even puerile understanding of human relationships.
If one were being generous, this laziness could be chalked up to the emotionally stunted nature of characters who have relied for much of their adult lives on alcohol as a coping mechanism. Chip makes a winking gesture at this when he says to Dennis, “You are an emotionally developed, aware, 42-year old man.” Contained in this line is the germ of a much more fascinating, nuanced portrait about the travails of recovery in middle age. But the show has no interest in pursuing that. Instead, the viewer gets incessantly mundane conversations about “chicks” and tepid send-ups of gentrification culture. Apparently for Arnett and Chappell, “kombucha” is a word that only gets funnier with each additional use.
As “Flaked” veers into dramatic territory, it really goes off the rails, devolving into a cornucopia of tired cliches and a plotline that strains credulity. At one point in an early episode, Chip’s whimsical friend Cooler (George Basil) says to him, “You’ve got a serious platitude problem.” It would be prudent advice for the show to heed.