Let’s get the title out of the way first because it’s a silly one. Intentionally silly, though, which makes it OK. The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window (Netflix) – and don’t expect me to type that out in full again if you want any actual review in this review – is a mashup of psychological thrillers such as The Woman in the Window and The Girl on the Train. This is not a genre often parodied, and for good reason it turns out.
Anyway, you don’t need to be a 2010s thriller fan to guess the softly lampooned cliches that lie within. The woman on the edge who looks like she has never been within 10ft of any actual edge, the sexy suspenseful vibes, and the hot guy who may or may not be a murderer. What’s really creepy about this “darkly comedic”, “built to be binged” limited series is that its title is the only spoofy thing about it. Otherwise, TWITHATSFTGITW, starring and executive-produced by the usually funny Kristen Bell playing it bewilderingly straight, is not funny at all. Nor is it serious. It doesn’t seem to know what it is. A meta-spoof spoofing a stab at a spoof, perhaps? Ultimately – and I’ve watched all eight episodes – this tonal confusion makes it ludicrous at best and at worst disturbing. And not in the way creators Rachel Ramras, Hugh Davidson and Larry Dorf intended.
The first minute and 20 seconds are satirically quite promising. Anna (Bell), A Woman in a Dressing Gown (signpost: depressed but still sexy), is thwacking raw chicken breasts with a tenderiser to an eerie refrain of Rain, Rain, Go Away. Opening a can of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup. Making the most unappetising dinner seen in a psychological thriller since the bunny got boiled in Fatal Attraction. Which took decades of simmering before it was collectively digested as a misogynistic trope. Now that is disturbing.
“My husband used to tell me that I have an overactive imagination,” Anna says in a hammy English accent, crowbarring the unreliable narrator trope in nice and early. She drinks too much. Never wears a jacket then complains of the cold. Speaks in a British accent even though she’s not British. Then she switches to her actual American accent. I’m afraid this is as funny as it gets. There are more jokes in Rear Window.
The rest of the opener is a scene-by-scene precis of all that it aims to send up. Anna is falling apart. She drinks bottle after bottle of red wine, without ever appearing to be anything other than sober, bright-eyed and white-toothed. She’s addicted to pills. She hears bumps in the attic and spends most of her time obsessing over the handsome stranger and his nine-year-old daughter who have moved into the house across the street. It’s all so tonally flat that intentionally awful lines such as “There’s so many layers to casseroles. Just like there are so many layers to a person”, end up just being awful.
The reason for Anna’s breakdown? Her daughter died three years ago in what we discover were the most horrific circumstances imaginable. Oh, and the neighbour is grieving his dead wife, too. This, to me, is not solid spoof subject matter unless you really, really know what you’re doing (and even then …). Since her daughter’s death, Anna’s marriage has broken down and her career as a promising artist is over. Although, having seen her work, which covers the walls of her fifty-shades-of-turquoise home, this is no tragedy. (Even this confused me: is Anna’s awful art part of the satire? Or is it actually supposed to be good?)
What we’re not meant to do is wholly trust her. Anna pitches up at the school gate in her dressing gown and slippers, despite no longer having a child to drop off. And she has visions. She sees her dead daughter playing in her bedroom, even asks her for a kiss, which her daughter declines: “Because I’m dead.” “How do I keep forgetting that?” Anna sighs. It’s supposed to be darkly comedic, but it doesn’t land because it’s true. We do keep forgetting people we love are dead after they die. It’s part of the distressing but also magical landscape of grief.
Is there a way of making a genuinely suspenseful “darkly comedic” psychological thriller based on characters propelled by bereavement? This is the niche and slightly ridiculous question I found myself asking after watching TWITHATSFTGITW. Maybe Simon Pegg and Nick Frost could have pulled it off in the 00s, but it hasn’t happened here.