Creators: Rachel Ramras, Hugh Davidson, Larry Dorf
Cast: Kristen Bell, Tom Riley, Benjamin Levy Aguilar, Shelley Hennig, Michael Ealy, Mary Holland, Samsara Yett
Genre: Mystery, dark comedy
Release date: January 28, 2022
8 episodes, approx. 29 minutes each
If you, like me, enjoy mysteries, psychological thrillers or dark comedies, you might want to check out a new show on Netflix called…. *breathes in*…. ‘The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window’. Yes, it is a lengthy title. But this title is meant to mock the titles of many potboiler books in the thriller genre which are written (mostly) by women authors and aimed specifically at a female target audience. These books – which have inspired some big Hollywood movies – are, to name a few, ‘The Woman in the Window’, ‘The Girl On the Train’ and ‘Gone Girl’.
Back to the show. ‘The Woman in the House…’ is a darkly funny and entertaining (albeit uneven and slightly confusing) show about a woman who begins to spy on her new neighbours and, to her shock, witnesses what looks like a murder.
The series follows Anna (Kristen Bell), a pill-popping, heavy drinking woman who is grieving the death of her little daughter and is estranged from her husband. One day, an attractive stranger named Neil (Tom Riley) and his young daughter move into the house across the street from hers. Everything seems to be normal. And then one evening, while looking out of her window, Anna sees a woman at the neighbour’s window with her throat bleeding, gasping for air. Panicking, Anna calls the cops. But when surveying the neighbour’s home, the cops don’t find any body. Anna swears it was not a hallucination. She is sure she saw a woman in peril at Neil’s house. But who will believe her? After all, Anna admits to drinking too much, and sometimes mixes her drinks with drugs. It’s a recipe perfect for strong hallucinations.
But she won’t let it slide. Fuelled by her avid love for mystery novels, and finding a single earring at Neil’s house, our heroine attempts to piece together the puzzle that could uncover the truth, and possibly save her community from a potential killer in the form of Neil.
Kristen Bell (‘The Good Place’) is thoroughly engaging to watch and incredibly funny as the mystery-hungry, slightly unhinged, grieving woman. She never lets the ridiculous plot break her character, staying assured and composed most of the time until it’s time to let herself loose.
For those who are not well-versed in the women-centric thriller genre, this story will unfold like a completely straightforward and unironic mystery. But those who are well-read on these books or have seen the films which inspired this series, it is mostly understood that ‘The Woman in the House’ is attempting to be a parody of psychological potboiler movies and books. ‘The Woman In The Window’, ‘The Girl On The Train’ and ‘Flightplan’ come to mind.
There are amusing moments in this series which will make you chuckle, like when Anna reads books with exaggeratedly on-point titles such as ‘The Woman Across the Lake’ and ‘The Girl On A Cruise’. When she wants to clean up her dusty house, she turns to books with covers that read ‘You Too Can Be An Artist’, ‘You Also Can Be An Artist’ and ‘You Too Can Be An Upholsterer’. At another time, the heroine paints portraits of flowers which look, quite frankly, mediocre but every character who encounters her creations lauds her as a genius. Moreover, the scenes in which Anna speaks to her dead daughter while visiting the grave have these gravestone slogans which change with every scene which are funny only if you watch them for yourself. There’s also this elaborate sex scene that jumps out of nowhere that made this author burst out laughing because it was tonally so ridiculous compared to the sombre tone of the preceding scenes.
But while it is entertaining, the dark comedy/mystery is a little uneven and confusing, both tonally and narratively. The webshow starts as a dark comedy-thriller, lightly poking fun at the women-led psychological thriller genre. But by the end, it devolves into a straight-up parody of the stories themselves. Spoilers for those who have seen or read ‘The Woman in the Window’: the climax is taken right out from this story when the murderer is revealed. The show also picks up many plot points from the book/film throughout, which makes us wonder whether this show was just a parody or, in fact, a loose adaptation of the book by A. J. Finn. Ultimately, the show is too intense to be a straightforward spoof but too familiar to be seen as an original creation.
It is very tricky to balance comedy and psychological thriller, much less make a successful parody out of well-known, but intense, stories. But it isn’t impossible as recently, a “neo-noir sitcom” called ‘Search Party’ on CBS has amazingly balanced neo-noir mystery with social comedy, and was rip-roaringly hysterical and successful.
Moving on to narrative confusion, at one point, there is a flashback in ‘The Woman in the House’ which shows a character murdering another character. And we aren’t sure whether this was a ‘real’ flashback or just a figment of someone’s imagination until much later. Until then, we are already pulling out our hair and the revelation doesn’t make a difference to us.
The show can also be a turn off to some audiences due to occasionally terrible dialogue-writing (sometimes corny, sometimes cliched) which we don’t know was intentional or not. Examples include a psychiatrist speaking up in a serious scene: “Despite my multiple psychology degrees, I’m still bad at opening up”. Or Anna, who has a phobia of the rain, crawling on a road during a rainy night and crying to herself, “Come on! You can do this! It’s just f***ing rain!”
There is also an opening scene when Anna sits by the window and her voiceover speaks in a British accent (despite being American), a unique trait which is never brought up again. Was this meant to be a joke about the thriller trope? I don’t know any such books or films where an American woman adopts a British accent. But I could be wrong. Either way, the fact that it is never brought up, and never connects strongly to the thriller genre, makes this ‘joke’ irrelevant and awkward.
All said and done, the balancing of different genres and tones can be challenging, so we must laud Kristen & Co. for daring to do something unique and challenging. The fluidity and non-conformity will leave some viewers unsettled or irritated. But those who have a keen understanding of the nuanced joking and poking going on here, as well as dedicated fans of Kristen Bell and her TV series ‘The Good Place’, will find this show massively entertaining.
Personally, I am rather looking forward to a possible Season 2 (which is hinted at in the last scene. But again, we don’t know if the makers are serious about it or if it’s just another joke about books that end with cliffhangers). I have grown fond of this wild-eyed, messy-haired Anna who just wants adventure in her life. And let’s admit it, she deserves it after what she has been through.
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