Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Karl Puschmann: How Netflix lulls you into a viewing coma

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Over the past two nights I've been churning through Netflix's new series Flaked. There's nothing particularly unusual about that. The streaming service has set things up to actively encourage binge-viewing.

Besides, by binge-culture standards, taking 48 hours to view seven of the eight available episodes can be considered positively scenic.

No, the unusual part is how much I've watched of a show that I find to be merely all right. It's okay, mostly, but in no way, shape or form is it seven-episodes-in-two-days good.

Yet, here we are.

Flaked is a vehicle for comedic actor Will Arnett(right). Photo / AP
Flaked is a vehicle for comedic actor Will Arnett(right). Photo / AP

I blame Netflix. In the olden days of weekly episodic consumption I never would have gobbled down so much Flaked. It's too average a show to make that kind of commitment to the whims of a network's screening schedule.

To get to the point in the series where I am now would have taken two months and a change of dedicated appointment viewing.

Two months! Dear gawd. How did we ever watch anything?

The pioneering policy of dumping full seasons on viewers is often credited as the secret to Netflix's success, but this is wrong. Their true diabolical genius lies in the decision to begin playing the following episode before the one you're currently watching has finished. The moment the credits begin to roll a pop-up box begins teasing what happens next, encouraging you to keep on watching.

You don't even have to pick up your remote as a 30-second timer begins counting down to episode launch. This all conspires to ease you into a viewing coma. Before you can think about what you feel like watching next you're already watching something. A show really has to be tremendously terrible to get you to break the cycle and turn it off.

In this brave new world good enough is, well, good enough. And that's Flaked. Good enough to not turn off.

The show is a vehicle for comedic actor Will Arnett, instantly recognisable from acclaimed roles in Arrested Development and 30 Rock, who also co-created and co-wrote the series with British sitcom writer Mark Chappell (Cold Feet).

A scene from the TV show Flaked.
A scene from the TV show Flaked.

Here Arnett stars as recovering alcoholic Chip, a lying, cheating, selfish git with a heart of gold. He's best buds with recovering alcoholic Dennis, who is also a liar but an unselfish and loyal one. He too has a heart of gold. Things kick off with the two pals locked in fierce competition to out-lie the other as they pretend to have things in common with a waitress named London in order to win her affections.

The show also begins dropping little hints and nuggets of intrigue that suggest people may not be who they seem.

It starts off as a fairly straightforward love triangle but as the episodes tick over more and more problems arrive that threaten the foundations of their friendship, the house they share, their sobriety and the spiritual anchor that is Chip's furniture shop. The show also begins dropping little hints and nuggets of intrigue that suggest people may not be who they seem.

All of which doesn't sound particularly humorous and, to be honest, there's not all that much laughter to mine from an alcoholic main character who has killed someone in a drink-driving incident.

So, despite the comedic brains behind it, Flaked is most definitely a dramedy. There's some very funny bits, the bulk coming from conversations with supporting weirdo character Cooler, but the show is clearly aiming to be something much, much more than a mere half-hour chucklefest. And it doesn't entirely pull this off.

The main problem is one of tone. Flaked lurches awkwardly between scenes of jokey dude banter and extreme gravitas with little to no warning.

A scene from the TV show Flaked.
A scene from the TV show Flaked.

One second you're laughing as Dennis endures an extremely cringe-inducing spa day with his nude mother (a raunchy role that a superb Kirstie Alley clearly relishes), the next the show brutally changes gears on you as Chip has a heart-to-heart with London about the hurt and turmoil of his life after the drink-driving incident.

The clumsy, heavy-handed soundtrack which practically breaks into soppy wet strings the instant any character looks a little bit upset only accentuates these clunky tonal leaps.

And while Arnett's extreme likeability gets you onside with the otherwise unsympathetic Chip, his distinctive voice and inherent comedic phrasing makes even his most sincere and deep lines sound like he's taking the piss, setting things up for a zing that never comes.

When Flaked is keeping things light, the show is breezy fun. It's in the frequent and overly dramatic moments where things fall apart.

But then, that's life, isn't it? Good enough to not switch off but could do with a little less drama and a bit more fun.

- NZ Herald

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