Netflix’s ‘Flaked,’ and Chip the great illusionist

Flaked -

Covering “Flaked” was not an accident, and it was also not because of an accident.

Instead, it was a product of appreciate for the show’s star / co-creator Will Arnett, who has been as of late one of the stalwarts of great dark comedy. Obviously Gob Bluth is a once-in-a-lifetime role that any actor would be lucky to have, and his episodes were a cornerstone of “Arrested Development” season 4. Meanwhile, his performance as the title character of “BoJack Horseman” is at times gut-wrenching and powerful, while also hilarious at others. BoJack is a character who, thanks largely to his own troubled upbringing, can never find what he perceives to be happiness. Therefore, he must come up with ways to subconsciously destroy something around him.

The difference between BoJack and Arnett’s main character Chip in “Flaked” is that Chip seems to be very conscious of the decisions that he makes, and the impact some of them have on other people. He’s also ironically a better magician than Gob ever was, even though he never pulls out a single deck of playing cards throughout the Netflix show’s first season. Instead, he builds such an enormous facade for himself that he can build some sort of existence he can be happy with, seemingly without a whole lot of regard for telling anyone around him the truth. (Obviously, there are significant spoilers for the entire first season below.)

At the start of the series, Chip sets up his life story as such: He is a recovering alcoholic who came to Venice to start a new life after killing someone as a drunk driver and paying his dues. Since that time, he helps recovering alcoholics while working at a furniture store that he is desperate to hold on to at all costs. Yet, there are two lies that are set up and played out throughout: He actually is not clean and sober as he professes, and he also never killed someone. His ex-wife Tilly (Heather Graham) did, but he took the fall in order for her to keep her career as an actress.

This is what makes Chip somewhat of a difficult character to process. At times in the season, he makes huge, sweeping gestures. He has helped countless people through AA, and seems to do right by his friends much of the time. Yet, at the same time he pathologically lies to many of them, and selfishly makes many moves as a product of his desire to keep his store, one of the few stable, somewhat-honest things that he has. He lives for that illusion of the normal life when he can be a hero.

Also, to a certain extent he lives for the idea that nobody else is a better illusionist than him. This may be why Chip exhibits some of his worst behavior after learning the truth about London (Ruth Kearney), who shows up as an outsider to Venice and becomes a key fixture in his life: She is the sister of the man Chip supposedly killed, and she tracked him down to understand why he did it. The two end up falling for each other, and it really is not until episode 6 you start to understand how broken-up this relationship truly is. That’s how long it takes to unearth some of her lies.

Is London a terrible person? Probably not, and you can still argue the same thing about Chip given that he doesn’t lie to necessarily hurt anyone. He just does so to preserve the life that he wants, and is unrelenting in his pursuit of that. This is why in the closing minutes of the season, he refuses to strip down the wall and inform his best friend Dennis (David Sullivan) that he didn’t actually kill anyone ten years ago.

“Flaked” is a complicated show; it’s certainly funny at times, but also depressing and dramatic at others. You could argue that there are too many twists late in the game and not enough time to pull all of them off. It’s not entirely clear that the show will get a second season, mostly because there really are not too many people on the show inherently likable. Even Chip was a hard guy to understand through most of the season, given that he is that good at the illusion that even the viewer can’t quite figure out why he functions the way he does given the past.

Yet, despite our complaints and concerns with very elements of the series, it still comes across as a broken-but-brazen attempt at showing real people in a way that is unconventional for television. It’s fascinating, funny at times, and gripping enough that we would certainly watch again. It’s certainly not for everyone, but if you leave expectations at the door and go along with the magic trick, you may enjoy the prestige of it all in the end.

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