The boys of Netflix’s dramedy “Flaked” are a pretty flakey bunch. Chip (Will Arnett) is a detached and manipulative undercover alcoholic. Chip’s neighbor Dennis (David Sullivan) seems generally confused most of the time and yet proves equally manipulative in his own clumsy way. Cooler (George Basil) is a 40-year-old man-child stoner with the facial hair of a homeless Civil War general who was recently kicked out of an apartment where he had been squatting for the last eight months.
“Flaked” balances this feckless horde with a handful of painfully underdeveloped female characters, diluting the excellent Ruth Kearney and Elisabeth Rohm into nothing more than plot devices and reflecting points for their spastic male counterparts. This questionable gender dynamic is just one of many compelling reasons why the second season of “Flaked,” released last week, could, and probably should, be its last.
The show’s problems with underdeveloped female characters have existed on the show since the first season. Season one tracks a lengthy flirtation between Arnett’s Chip and Kearney’s London, yet manages to reveal very little about London’s inner life. Her brother was killed in a hit and run (by a car that Chip happened to be riding in). She’s interested in Frida Kahlo. Alarmingly, that’s about it. The details are provided as trivia meant to further Chip’s interest in her and showcase Chip’s disregard for the feelings of those around him. At no point were such details contextualized by her character’s behavior. In season two, Rohm’s Alex is given similar treatment. The viewer learns next to nothing about Alex’s potential motivations, comedic or otherwise, for wanting to enter into a relationship with the tiresome Cooler. The women exist in the show only as sounding boards for their male counterparts.
Copious amounts of screen time are dedicated to exploring the incredible depths of the infantile vapidity of all the male protagonists. In fact, the show seems so intent on communicating how deeply dysfunctional and unlikable its leading men are that it often neglects other critical aspects of even passable television, lacking pacing and basic plot coherence. “Flaked” seems to have taken the prevalence of male anti-heroes on the small screen as an invitation to cram its show full of them, seemingly not realizing that the viewer still needs compelling reasons to root for them, personal flaws and all.
This problem of being unlikable is exacerbated by how generally unfunny “Flaked” is. This is surprising given the comedy pedigree of its cast, especially Will Arnett of “Arrested Development” fame and George Basil, who came up through the ranks of the famous Second City improv troupe and has a supporting role in Pete Holmes’s show “Crashing.” In spite of the comedic chops of Arnett and Basil, the show leans on lazily written “kooky” characters instead of clever set pieces or jokes. Chip’s corrupt former landlord Jerry, for example, starts to feel annoying and unnecessary within moments of appearing on screen.
To add insult to injury, even the show’s plot structure falls flat, in large part due to the abrupt shift in focus between the first and second seasons. In season one, the primary tension revolved around Chip’s relationship with London, his lying about killing London’s brother as well as being an alcoholic and the cultural “homogenization” of the Venice Beach community. The first season culminates with Chip selling out the interests of his friends and facilitating the construction of a hotel which presumably will lead to the destruction of all that the people in his neighborhood hold dear.
In the second season, this seemingly momentous action by Chip goes unaddressed by any of the characters, including Chip himself. It’s strange that so much of the first season’s emotional weight is tied up in how the various characters interact with the idea of duty to their community and that this theme is mostly abandoned in the second season. In addition to this, one of the major supporting characters from the first season, Chip and Dennis’s onetime love interest Kara (Lina Esco), disappears with no explanation whatsoever. It is emblematic of the show’s problems that yet another underdeveloped female character received such a short shrift at the hands of the writer’s room.
At this point, some might be wondering why Netflix would continue to invest resources in a show that has been so consistently sloppy and unwatchable for the duration of both of its first two seasons. In the wake of the cancellations of Netflix originals “The Getdown” and “Sense8,” it very well could be that “Flaked” is destined to be next up on the chopping block, which wouldn’t be the worst thing that ever happened. The world only needs so much television to hate watch.