Will Arnett’s new eight-episode half-hour series Flaked begins and ends with the same deadly serious voiceover monologue.
“I came to Venice by accident. Let me rephrase that: I came to Venice because of an accident,” we hear Arnett’s familiar baritone say over images of people drinking coffee and nodding solemnly in a nondescript room. “Ten years ago, I killed a man. It was my fault. There’s no excuse for it. See, when it’s left up to me, my best thinking—well, my best thinking tells me that it’s OK to get loaded and get behind the wheel of a car. And that’s what I did. I took another human being’s life. And in the process, destroyed what was left of mine.”
There is nothing inherently funny about those words, yet coming from the same actor who is best known for playing over-the-top comedic characters, it seems like a joke must be coming. But while Flaked does contain some moments of humor, it is primarily a dark look at a troubled man who is struggling to get his act together.
If anything, Arnett’s character Chip most resembles the depressive, alcoholic horse he plays on Netflix’s animated show Bojack Horseman.
“Really, you thought that?” Arnett asks when I bring up the parallels in a phone interview the week before Flaked’s March 11 premiere. “I’m going to disagree with you, you cannot draw that parallel, as much as you’d love to. I’m not going to allow it. I call bullshit.” He thinks for a second, then adds, jokingly, “Oh, fuck off, no, it’s not Bojack.
“Having said that,” Arnett continues, beginning to contradict himself, “I will say there are elements—certainly that these guys are at various stages in their relationship with alcoholism. I would say that Chip is a lot more reflective, not that Bojack isn’t capable of reflection. It’s that he only gets to a certain point and he won’t go any further.”
When Bojack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg spoke to The Daily Beast this year, he remarked that Arnett “felt really emboldened” by some of the darker material that show gave him to work with and was “looking to do more” along those lines. Flaked (which was produced by Electus, a studio owned by the same parent company as The Daily Beast) certainly seems to fit that bill.
Arnett says that working on Bojack was the “first time in a long time that I felt like I was doing something that I was really connecting to in a real way.” That’s part of why he invited Bob-Waksberg to sit in on the early writers’ room sessions for Flaked. “I guess I wanted to get away from a lot of the purely comedic, arch, over-the-top characters that a lot of people probably associate me with,” he adds.
Arnett has spent a good part of the last 13 years playing George Oscar Bluth, who, like John Ellis Bush (aka Jeb!), is known simply as Gob. Mitch Hurwitz, who created that character along with the rest of the Arrested Development clan, serves as an executive producer on Flaked, which has given the pair plenty of time to discuss the much-delayed fifth season of the beloved cult hit.
“I sometimes feel like there are forces out there that are greater than all of us that are working against it happening,” Arnett says with an air of apology in his voice. “I love doing it and will do whatever I can to be a part of it. And I know that a lot of people feel that way. We were ready to do it and I don’t know what happened.”
During shooting for Season 4 of Arrested, which streamed on Netflix in 2014, Arnett was simultaneously filming Up All Night on NBC, a process he described as a scheduling “nightmare” before clarifying that he does not consider himself a “hero” for shuttling back and forth. “Wow, two shows at a time?” he imagines someone asking. “You are a true American hero.”
For now, he’s happy to stay focused on Flaked. Arnett’s Chip is an alcoholic ladies’ man who makes custom-designed three-legged stools and crashes at his best friend’s mother’s house by the beach. “By a lot of accounts, people would designate him a loser,” the actor—who co-created the show along with Mark Chappell—admits.
But the real star of Flaked is the laid-back Venice lifestyle that has blossomed on and around Abbot Kinney Boulevard over the past decade or so. As a young tech billionaire character played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse says in one of the show’s funnier lines of dialogue, “I like this place. It’s like an online community, but in real life.”
Characters on the show longboard up and down the neighborhood’s back alleys, work and hang out at the restaurant Gjelina (or “G.J.” as they call it), and play competitive rounds of paddleball by the beach. Arnett has lived in Venice on and off over the past 15 years or so and says there was something about it that he wanted to capture onscreen.
“Venice is a place that is high on reinvention,” Arnett says. “The kind of place that you can go and be whoever it is you want to be and do whatever it is you want to do and nobody’s really going to ask you a lot of questions about it.” If California is where Americans go to find themselves, then Venice is where Angelenos go when they’ve lost themselves again.
At the center of Flaked is a story about male friendship, one that “doesn’t center around fantasy football,” as Arnett puts it in an obvious shot at male-driven comedies like The League. “It’s not all a bro-fest. Although they do use the word ‘bro,’” he adds. “I wanted to do something that had a much more realistic tone than anything else that I’d done, that dealt with issues that I had a certain familiarity with. And try to broach them in a real way.”
One of those issues with which Arnett has some familiarity is divorce and the process of ending long-term relationships. Not long ago, he was one half of America’s favorite comedy couple. But a few years back, Arnett and Amy Poehler divorced, spurring a tsunami of “love is dead” headlines on pop culture websites. On Flaked, Chip is still in the process of separating from his soon-to-be-ex-wife, a paparazzi-hounded movie star played by Heather Graham.
As seen through his relationship with that character and other women on the show, Arnett has created a character who is often hard to root for. He cheats, he blows off dates, and he makes out with his best friend’s crush. If Arnett had tried to sell the show to a network, he would have received a lot of notes about “likability.”
“I’m not necessarily interested in telling the story of people who are super likable,” Arnett says. “Who gives a shit? Honestly, it’s probably a major Achilles’ heel. I’ll meet people who say, ‘You always play the asshole.’ And I always resist that.” When he looks at characters like Gob Bluth or Bojack Horseman, he thinks, “They’re flawed for sure. But they’re not just run-of-the-mill assholes.”
The “asshole” reputation can also bleed over from fiction to reality. “I’m sure there are a lot of people who don’t know me who think that,” Arnett says. “Maybe there are a lot of people who do know me who think that too, which would be even worse.
“I know that potentially, I’ve dug myself a hole and I have to dig my way out,” he adds, referring to Flaked, but also, perhaps, to himself. “I’m hoping that people can relate to it. Because, I don’t know, I feel like if I present a character who’s not very flawed and just kind of a good guy, then OK, what next?”