The fractured reality psychological thriller, embodied by films like Gone Girl and Netflix’s own The Woman in the Window, is a genre ripe for needling and spoof. Enter The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window. A gleefully dopey title for a show that ratchets the absurd tropes of these movies up to 11 for a laugh.
Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars, Frozen) stars as Anna, a woman trapped inside due to her extreme pluviophobia (fear of the rain). From the comfort of her home, she drinks wine by the case and peeps upon all of her neighbors. When a handsome dad and his lovely family moves in across the street, her interest is further piqued. Soon enough, as the genre requires, she witnesses the apparent murder of the family matriach and the mystery is set into motion. Every agoraphobic shut-in in the genre must have some tragic backstory, here the trope is paid off with the silliest cannibal gag I can recall. These are, of course, movies best consumed alongside a glass of wine; all the marketing for this show helpfully features Bell sidling up to a wine bottle sized glass of red.
Bell is big and goofy in her performance, all wide eyes and wine corks. She plays the absurdist material straight, which is exactly what is most needed. The rest of the cast is uniformly game with special note to a delightfully strange performance from Cameron Britton (Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy) as a handyman seemingly perpetually fixing Anna’s mailbox. I’ve seen the complaint raised that this is the sort of show that would best have been constructed as a film, but I really disagree. I think there’s something incredibly pleasant about the short episodes – perhaps I’m so burned out by the prevalence of shows with 58 minute episodes that the 20 minute run times feel like a relief. Most episodes left me with a blissful sense of “oh, it’s already over?” Moreover, the show deploys a lot of jokes that play off of absurdist repetition. The first time Bell drops a casserole dish in a reaction it’s amusing; by the fifth time, the repetition of the gag grows into something absurd and deeply silly. The jokes land because of the flexibility the show’s structure allows.
A Simple Favor came close to the sort of spoof The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window is angling at, but in the end plays out its story conventionally. It’s the Shaun of the Dead of trashy femme-psychology thrillers – it pokes fun at the genre but is too in love with its roots to ever become as absurd as The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window. To be clear, A Simple Favor is amazing, so too Shaun of the Dead, but there’s space for something a bit more ridiculous like this show.
In the last episode, the show takes an utterly insane and entirely charming turn into the absurd. I found the mystery’s resolution hit the perfect spot for the story this show is telling. Pour yourself a glass of wine and have a good laugh.
The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window is on Netflix worldwide now.