For the first 30 seconds of the trailer for the Kristen Bell show The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window (TWITHATSFTGITW from here on out because try saying that five times fast!), the Netflix series looks like any other crime saga aimed at bored housewives like the one Bell seemingly portrays. That’s kind of the point.
TWITHATSFTGITW fancies itself in conversation with the glut of book-to-screen women’s crime thrillers: Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train and last years’ abominable The Woman in the Window, also on Netflix. There’s an unreliable narrator, a missing white woman, a suspicious boyfriend, trauma, addiction and lots of wine. But how deep does the parody cut across all eight episodes screened for critics?
Who is behind The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window?
The series was created by husband and wife team Rachel Ramras and Hugh Davidson, along with Larry Dorf, all of whom also helmed the comedy series Nobodies. TWITHATSFTGITW is executive produced by star Bell, Will Ferrell, Jessica Elbaum, and Brittney Segal.
Costarring alongside Bell are Michael Ealy as Anna’s ex-husband, Mary Holland as the best friend, Tom Riley as the suspicious but hunky neighbor, and Cameron Britton, in all his serial killer-esque glory, as the always-lurking handyman.
What’s it about?
Bell’s Anna is a divorced alcoholic painter grieving the death of her daughter several years prior. With no discernible current income, she sits in the front window of her palatial suburban home, wine glass filled literally to the brim and a perpetually unfinished crime novel that will surely be fodder for one of the aforementioned screen adaptations by her side, staring out at the goings-on of the neighborhood.
Until one evening she witnesses the murder of the girl in the window across the street — or does she?
What’s it reeeaaaally about?
TWITHATSFTGITW is a spoof of the copious crime books-cum-screen adaptations over the past decade or so. Anna shares not only a first name with The Woman in the Window’s protagonist, played by Amy Adams, but also a similar backstory and trauma responses. Like her and The Girl on the Train’s Rachel (Emily Blunt), Anna drinks too much and is painted (pardon the pun) as an hallucinatory loose cannon. But it’s all played for laughs: her voiceover speaks in a British accent temporarily, the fruit bowl in her kitchen holds a mountain of wine corks, and the death of her daughter comes about in the most ridiculous way possible.
To pack yet another reference to a recent book-to-screen mystery featuring an unreliable narrator, the apparent murder victim is a flight attendant — a la Kaley Cuoco’s The Flight Attendant — because of course she is. Like those that came before her, Anna is going to solve the murder that everyone around her is telling her didn’t happen.
Is it good?
The movies this show is parodying were, at least, watchable, thanks to a level of care given to the story and locale with the backing of Hollywood’s big bucks. TWITHATSFTGITW is so obviously shot on a Hollywood backlot that it lacks the atmosphere that is so masterfully captured in these other films and series. Accompanied by nonsensical voiceovers, mixed metaphors, clunky dialogue even when it’s not satirizing its predecessors, and problems with pacing (nothing really happens for the first half of the eight-episode season), TWITHATSFTGITW falls into the traps that it’s trying to critique.
Because of Anna’s grief, an absurdly heightened reaction to rain after the death of her daughter on a rainy day (you’d think she’d move from her high precipitation locale, but I digress), and her addiction, Anna is told that what she sees is more likely an hallucination than bearing witness to a legitimate crime. It’s the same stuff of the works that inspired it, but here feels like an insensitive portrayal of mental illness in an attempt to align itself with its forebears. Anna keeps doing things like venturing out during a storm even though it’s a trigger for her and inexplicably reaching into a hot oven without gloves, actions which make her less sympathetic and more like a caricature (particularly when juxtaposed with Amy Adams’ more convincing portrayal of agoraphobia in The Woman in the Window).
And while I don’t think a protagonist has to be likable — certainly none of TWITHATSFTGITW’s contemporaries are — they should at least resemble an actual human person. Anna is so flighty, haphazard and naive that it’s really hard for viewers to care about her plight.
It’s only after three middling episodes that the story kicks into gear and so does our ostensible heroine, at least to the degree that the character is capable. For someone who fancies herself an armchair detective, Anna is pretty clueless. It doesn’t occur to her that the woman across the street is far likelier to have been murdered by her intimate partner (conveniently Anna’s love interest) than the randos she fingers, the inverse of Anna’s suspicious, unreliable contemporaries who immediately point fingers at the husbands. Maybe if Anna had made more progress on the mystery novel near her perch on the window, she would have figured out the mystery faster and spared the audience.
To watch or not to watch
I struggle to imagine many viewers making it past the first episode or two, but if they do they’ll be rewarded by perhaps TWITHATSFTGITW’s only saving grace: the cameo in the closing moments of the show’s final episode. I won’t spoil it here, but it’s a cameo to rival The Flight Attendant season 2’s casting announcement of Sharon Stone, both in content and in iconic ’90s thriller actress status. It’s a twist so juicy, it made me rethink if I’d actually tune out for a (potential) season 2 after all.
Where can we watch TWITHATSFTGITW?
All eight episodes of The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window drop on Netflix on Jan. 28.