According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, “flake” can be defined as “coming or falling away from a surface in thin pieces.” It can also be used in the phrase “flaked out” to mean “to fall asleep” or “drop from exhaustion.” While Netflix’s newest dramedy, “Flaked,” attempts to thematically capture the former definition, it unfortunately makes the mistake of embodying the latter one.
Filled with one-dimensional characters, clunky dialogue and half-baked ideas, “Flaked” suffers the most from one of the biggest fatal flaws in television: it’s a snooze-fest. Centered around a self-help guru named Chip (Will Arnett, “Arrested Development”) and his struggle to overcome his demons, “Flaked” searches for meaning, but comes up empty-handed.
For a dramedy, “Flaked” is more dour than funny. In the opening scene of the first episode “Westminster,” we hear Arnett’s signature gruff baritone, describing his character’s lowest point to an Alcoholics Anonymous group. “I came to Venice by accident,” says Chip. “Let me reframe that — I came to Venice because of an accident.” While that line, coupled with Arnett’s dry execution, sets an engaging tone for “Flaked,” the episode stalls the series’ development, wandering and drifting indefinitely.
The comically adept Arnett, known for playing memorable, wacky characters like Gob on “Arrested Development” and Devon Banks on “30 Rock,” has trouble finding an edge when playing Chip. Though Arnett’s morose portrayal of Chip is admirable and seems fitting in balancing the show’s combination of comedy and drama, his charisma and energetic presence, two of the actor’s greatest qualities, are missing. He plays a womanizing yet self-destructive recovering alcoholic, an archetype TV has seen one too many times. The character sounds similar to Arnett’s other current role as the titular anthropomorphic horse in “BoJack Horseman,” but Chip is definitely not as nuanced as BoJack. Chip just seems like an ordinary guy with no distinguishable qualities other than his sunglasses, five-o’clock shadow and old-dude malaise.
Chip’s best friend Dennis (David Sullivan, “Primer”) is an unlikable and insecure run-of-the-mill douchebag — in one scene, he’s actually wearing a popped-up collared shirt while riding a longboard. Dennis is immediately smitten with an attractive waitress named London (Ruth Kearney, “The Following”), but London falls for Chip instead, causing a rift between the two friends. While Dennis’s jealousy of Chip is understandable, his mean-spirited attitude makes it hard to sympathize with him. Regardless, neither actor can muster up any form of chemistry with Kearney, so there’s no real winner in this fight.
“Flaked” feels like it’s trying to focus on something, perhaps Chip’s existential crisis, but fails to delve deeper into the many layers of that concept. The series’ official tagline, “One step forward. Twelve steps back,” references the 12-step program of sobriety, yet the only direct mention of Chip’s alcoholism so far is in the show’s opening monologue. There’s a (somewhat forced) love triangle that develops between Chip, Dennis and London, but there’s nothing intriguing nor tantalizing about it. The first two episodes in particular are rough in their presentations, simplifying Chip’s shaky road to recovery with scenes of him drinking from a Mason jar of spiked Kombucha and riding his bike around the streets of Venice, California. Additionally, “Flaked” fails to develop the supporting characters and their relationships with Chip, whether it’s with his friendly cop acquaintance George (Robert Wisdom, “The Dark Knight Rises”), his young, detached quasi-girlfriend Kara (Lina Esco, “Kingdom”) or his peculiar stoner friend Cooler (George Basil, “Adam Ruins Everything”). It’s as if the writers just happened to find a cookie-cutter formula for supporting TV characters and used it as a format for structuring the people Chip hangs out with.
The show could also be a lot more stylistically captivating than it’s made out to be. Its setting in Venice makes for a beautiful backdrop, but the only lengths “Flaked” goes to in utilizing the town is a few pretty camera shots, replicating Venice’s beachy vibe and naming the episode titles — “Horizon,” “7th,” “Sunset,” “Shell” — after Venice street names. Many Netflix programs are notable for their creative title sequences, namely “Master of None,” “Orange is the New Black” and “Love.” But “Flaked” contains a surprisingly tacky opening credits, in which a paper cutout of Chip is animated in between other cutouts of Venice, while some obscure indie rock song plays in the background. Essentially, “Flaked” is like Chip riding his bike: it’s aimless, languid and meandering down an unknown path.