Will Arnett’s struggles by the beach
March 3, 2016 6:37 AM EST

Will Arnett used to be one of TV’s funniest performers. Between his roles on Arrested Development and 30 Rock, he’s a five-time Emmy nominee. On Arrested Development, playing a pathetically failed magician (or as his character would have it, an “illusionist”), his delusional self-belief was the only magic trick that worked.

Arnett’s characters were always a little tragic, and now the actor has made morose dissipation into more than a full-time job. On Netflix’s very good animated series BoJack Horseman, returning for its third season later this year, Arnett lends his gravelly voice to the character of an alcoholic former star who happens to be a horse. Now, also on Netflix, Arnett takes on the role of an alcoholic who’s painfully human. On Flaked (which Arnett co-created), the actor does an admirable job, but you miss his wit–no matter how much empathy you might feel for the struggles the show depicts.

The kindest possible way to read Flaked is as a male answer to HBO’s Enlightened, the much-loved series that depicted one woman’s delusion of herself as existing on a higher plane. Arnett plays a similar type: his Chip is the self-styled mayor of the Venice, Calif., hippie scene, an irritating faux-yogi who, when he tells a friend no, adds, “I want you to hear it as a yes.”

Chip may be a regular at a 12-step program, but he’s significantly better at recovery jargon than actual recovery. Chip is sneaking red wine from a container in his fridge. Why has no one figured it out? Maybe because the jug is marked kombucha.

And Chip has a lot to recover from. He bikes everywhere, a daily reminder of the man he killed when drunk behind the wheel. And while he’s separated from his wife (Heather Graham), the pair haven’t yet filed their divorce papers because, Chip says, his lawyer claims misappropriation: “He misses the appropriate funds … from me.”

Flaked has the stylings of a TV comedy–meandering and lazily plotted, it doesn’t work as drama–yet actual humor is all too absent. Flaked doesn’t just feel redundant in the era of the half-hour melan-comedies that Louis CK kicked off–it feels like confirmation that the subgenre has peaked. After the far superior Love, it’s the second Netflix comedy in a month in which the protagonist lies about sobriety. It’s well made, but given the sheer volume of well-made shows out there, that quality is no longer enough to recommend one.

This is disappointing, because what Arnett and Flaked do well, they do better than they ought. Flaked has a love-triangle subplot that I could barely track, one that ended up, weirdly, in outright melodrama. But its sense of place is keen. We really know Chip and his shaggy world. It’s a sad place to visit–so close to, and yet too far away from, the relief that even the saddest joke can grant.


Flaked, the full season, will be available on Netflix on March 11

This appears in the March 14, 2016 issue of TIME.

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