Some of the press around Netflix’s eight-episode The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window has called it a parody of the psychological thriller genre. Would that it were. Instead, it would be more accurate to say that the series is a straightforward rip-off of The Woman in the Window—which was itself a rip-off of Rear Window. And, despite strong leads and a number of potentially promising ideas, it’s not a very good rip-off of a rip-off, either.
Like its prototype, The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window stars a troubled, possibly mentally ill woman obsessed with her neighbors. Anna (Kristen Bell) lost her daughter three years before the series starts. The grief destroyed her marriage to Douglas (Michael Ealy), plunged her into alcoholism, and gave her a deep-seated phobia of rain. (Why rain? Don’t ask.) She’s abandoned her once-promising art career and barely leaves the house.
But a ray of hope enters when hot widower Neil (Tom Riley) moves in across the street with nine-year-old daughter Emma (the impressive child actor Samsara Yett.) For a moment, Anna thinks she’s found a new perfect family to belong to in place of her old.
Nothing’s that easy, of course. Anna sees something horrible in Neil’s window. Thanks to her habit of mixing prescription medication with wine, Anna has realistic hallucinations. So we aren’t sure whether it’s all in her mind or not. As the plot unfolds, she plunges ever deeper into what may be a murderous mystery or may be madness.
There are lots of surprises and turns, which custom dictates a review isn’t supposed to spoil, even though they are all, virtually without exception, a disappointment. There’s little of the gleeful campy play with tropes you get in successful comedy thrillers like the original Scream, Happy Death Day, or even The Hunt. Instead, creators Rachel Ramras, Hugh Davidson, and Larry Dorf throw in a number of absurd, weak plot twists. This is, presumably, supposed to be the dark comedy element promised in the promotional material. But poor storytelling isn’t funny. It’s just irritating.
Bell is a charismatic performer, and she’s certainly ready and able to turn Anna into an appealing trainwreck of a heroine in the vein of Cassie Bowden in HBO’s The Flight Attendant. But where Kaley Cuoco’s Cassie slowly reveals layer after layer of trauma, lust, bad decisions, and surprising bravery, Anna never coheres.
In part that’s because the plot is never willing to make its heroine a horrible person. There’s never a moment like that breathtakingly painful scene in The Flight Attendant where Cassie shows up drunk to meet her beloved nieces. The worst thing Anna does is yell at a nasty gossipy neighbor who pretty much has it coming. Anna may be clinically insane, or she may be reacting to an impossible situation. Either way, she’s at the whim of circumstance, not of her own character flaws. This is supposed to put us on her side. But it ends up just making her seem as bland as her over-praised flower paintings.
As with Anna’s character development, so with Anna’s romance arc. Bell as Anna and Tom Riley as Neil have excellent potential rom-com chemistry. Their initial fumbling flirtation over broken crockery isn’t Grant/Hepburn or anything, but it’s sweet and charming. But the remorseless grinding of shock reveal, after shock reveal, quickly crushes the potential there, and Neil gets less and less screentime. Even the late revelation of his stunningly adorable hobby is squandered. By the time you get to the end you don’t even care what happens to him.
As a final thumb in the eye, the story ends a third of the way through the final episode. The remainder of the episode eight half-hour run-time is spent setting up a second season which looks even more unnecessary and poorly motivated than the first. I know that every series hopes for a long run, but after sitting through four hours of studied mediocrity, it’s hard not to grit your teeth at the presumptuousness of it. No, for pity’s sake, I do not want to see more of the window, the street, the girl, the house, or the woman. And I resent you for asking.
This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Noah Berlatsky is a freelance writer based in Chicago. His book, Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics was published by Rutgers University Press. He thinks the Adam West Batman is the best Batman, darn it.