Now halfway through its first season, Flaked has struggled to find a balance between telling the current story of Chip, Dennis, and London while also filling in enough backstory to make the shifting dynamic of their relationship mean something in terms of a larger narrative. “Rose” worked to correct the balance a bit, as Chip’s visit with his ex-wife Tilly worked to fill in some of the holes of his past. Those scenes gave the episode a sense of purpose, even as much of what was happening outside of that visit fell into the same problems that have plagued Flaked all season long. If “Rose” was worthwhile because it fleshed out Chip as a character, “Palms” is the opposite, as it’s a ponderous episode that fails to really move the narrative or character arcs forward.
Where “Rose” had Chip visiting his ex-wife, “Palms” sees Dennis planning a road trip to see his mother in Palm Springs. She’s called him and said that she needs to see him, and Dennis, ever the dutiful son (and person, in general) decides that despite their complicated past, he owes her his attention. He tries to goad Chip into tagging, but he shows no interest, at least until he realizes that London doesn’t have any plans either. So. they all hop in Dennis’ old, beat-up Mercedes and head to Palm Springs.
Typically, a road trip/out-of-town episode is a good opportunity to explore character dynamics in a more thoughtful, meaningful way. By taking the characters out of their familiar surroundings, there’s a chance to shift our understanding of how these characters view each other and themselves, shedding new light on dynamics that we’ve seen in previous episodes. “Palms” fails to really dig into these people though, and it isn’t until the very last moments of the episode that the story moves forward in a consequential way.
Part of the reason why “Palms” is perhaps the worst episode so far this season is that it’s tone is different from previous episodes; the whole episode feels removed from what came before it. It’s an episode that aims for cringe comedy more than anything else, especially when it comes to the relationship between Dennis and his mother, Jackie (Kirstie Alley). That relationship sits at the center of this episode, but there’s not enough material there to make their strange, awkward interactions work in terms of drama or comedy. Sure, Dennis’ relationship with his mother does shed some light on why he is who he is. His childhood filled with his mom’s boyfriends, who he was in charge of breaking up with, has clearly influenced how he interacts with both London and Chip. But, as is too often the case with Flaked, there’s no real weight behind the exploration of Dennis’ past.
It’s the same problem that the show has in dealing with Chip’s past, specifically the fact that when he was drunk 10 years ago, he got behind the wheel of a car and killed a man. That should be a meaningful bit of character information, and yet every time it’s mentioned it’s written off as just a story that Chip tells to garner sympathy for himself. “Palms” starts to dig a bit deeper, but it’s hard to tell when Chip is being genuine and when Chip is play-acting as genuine. So when he’s in the hot springs with London, after Dennis is forced into a milk bath with his mother, and he starts tearing up while telling her about how he just has to wake up every morning and try to be a better person, it’s impossible to know how we’re supposed to feel about him. On the one hand it feels like we should be taking this story seriously because killing someone in a drunk driving accident is serious. And yet, the show has consistently ignored that part of Chip’s past, failing to mention it beyond the first words of the premiere. It’s rather troubling how haphazardly Flaked employs and explores such a necessary part of Chip’s identity, especially when Arnett is doing such a good job of portraying Chip as a conflicted man, as someone who knows he’s being false and yet can’t confront that fact because it’s a painful truth. Arnett is doing his best to bring depth and nuance to Chip, but the general direction and tone of the show is leaving him hanging.
The main problem with “Palms” though is that it comes at a weird time in the season. At its halfway point, Flaked should be shifting gears and ramping up the plot leading into the last stretch of episodes. So to see the show churn out a lackluster road trip episode, one that takes the characters away from Venice and many of their problems, is disappointing to say the least. Admittedly, much of Flaked has been purposefully listless and laidback—it’s inherent in Stephen Malkmus’ soundtrack, the sunny vibe of Venice, and the plethora of shorts and longboards—but that kind of attitude towards storytelling is detrimental to creating intrigue and connection. Flaked is at a time in its first season when it should be bringing us closer to the characters, showing us how the conflict in their lives might change them, allowing us to sympathize with them, root for them, and find a way to relate to them. “Palms” fails to do that.
In fact, “Palms” fails to achieve much of anything in terms of storytelling; even more egregious is the fact that, unlike previous episodes, it’s not very funny. “Palms” does try to signal change and progress at the end of the episode, as the road trip comes to an end and Chip has to return to all the reminders of his failures. He sees the appraiser and a construction worker looking over the store before he goes home and pours out the wine in the Kombucha bottle in his fridge. Flaked wants Chip to find himself, to reckon with his past and present, but it may be too late, for both the character and the show. There should be great emotion in the fact that Chip is a pathological liar. There should be sadness in how easily he talks about his ten-year anniversary of being sober when we all know he’s not. Flaked hasn’t been able to flesh out those emotional beats though, to treat them with enough weight and consequence, and a distracted, sluggish episode like “Palms” certainly doesn’t help.
- “I’d have to close the store.” “If a tree falls in the woods…” “Fair.”
- The ‘Sing For Real’ game was one of the more charming moments so far this season.
- So Dennis says that him and London don’t really have a connection, opening the door for Chip. Is it weird that I still don’t feel very invested in any of the relationship stuff?
- Kirstie Alley’s character was a little much, especially on such a low-key show, but I did enjoy her consistent flirtation with the man at the spa.
- Chip tells London that the accident 10 years ago has changed him, that it has, in his words, “made me want to help people.” It feels like a genuine moment, and it’s rather heartbreaking because of what’s unsaid: he has no idea how to help people, and furthermore, he needs help more than anyone else.