I did not grow up in a household that regularly made casseroles. Therefore, I had to look up its exact definition:
A casserole is a variety of a large, deep pan or bowl used for cooking a variety of dishes in the oven; it is also a category of foods cooked in such a vessel. To distinguish the two uses, the pan can be called a “casserole dish” or “casserole pan”, whereas the food is simply “a casserole”. The same pan is often used both for cooking and for serving. – Wikipedia
This means that a casserole is not defined by its contents. It’s not even a type of dish. A casserole is defined by the dish it’s served in.
The same is true for Netflix’s newest offering.
The Woman In the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window has such a long title that for the duration of this review and this review only, I shall refer to it as “the show”. In fact, it’s worth pausing for a moment to luxuriate in that title. What an excellent way to advertise a product. For someone such as myself, to whom brevity and wit have never made an acquaintance, I love this title. I am not alone. Upon mentioning that I was reviewing “the show”, my friends laughed and immediately wanted to watch it themselves. The internet was abuzz when this show was announced. The trailer was funny. Kristen Bell! Drinking a massive red wine! In a murder-drama spoof! Incredible!
To stand back from this movie and only enjoy its outside, its tasteful, carefully produced, well-crafted casserole dish, you immediately enter into this show with high expectations and a desire to laugh. And it starts off well.
Kristen Bell is a divorcée with a dead daughter (the reasons for which are hilarious). She spends her days not painting as she should, mixing pills with wine and staring out the window at the new family across the street. She tries to earn their love by plying them with casseroles. Then there is a murder across the street. Or is there?
I hope that brief summary was tiring to read and that you glazed over it to get to this, because it was tiring to write. Plot summaries are tiring in general, especially for a genre like the murder-mystery. They hinge on so many of the same beats that often, it feels as if the genre is a shell game of plot machinations constantly trying to obfuscate from the fact that it was probably the husband.
But that’s not why I watched “the show”. It’s billed as funny, a sending up of the “murder girl” genre. And there are some laughs. It’s accurate to the genre it’s mocking. It’s mostly based on the 2021 film The Woman in the Window, which is based on a 2018 novel by A.J. Finn. The first three episodes have some good laughs. And then the show keeps going.
Which brings me to my main point with “the show”.
It should not have been “a show”. It should have been “a movie.”
I don’t want to make assumptions as to when this project became a show as opposed to a movie, or when that decision came about. Regardless of its origins, it was the wrong one. I am sure it is possible to have parodies and spoofs that are episodic. I just haven’t heard of them.
The reason parodies tend to be films is because they cannot sustain a longer running time. Satire is best digested in smaller bites. When it’s stretched over a longer period, it has to find material to propel it forward, and that usually comes in the form of plot. Parodies do not have the best plots. We don’t expect them to. We expect them to make us laugh. But when we’re not provided that, what we end up with are murder machinations and whodunits. And that’s not what we came here for.
There were long stretches while watching “the show” where I realized I was doing its work. I would prepare myself for a laugh, and nothing would come. I would see clear opportunities for humor, and “the show” would drift right past them. It began to make jokes that I realized were contingent upon watching the source material. You should not have to watch Fail Safe in order to enjoy Dr. Strangelove.
“The show” bakes itself in a brightly colored casserole dish that reads “Mac and Cheese” on the outside, but instead serves you Fritos and Cheese. I watched “the show” expecting parody. Instead I was Trojan-horsed into a poorly written paperback thriller. I wanted Airplane! and I got Airport 75.
Kristen Bell might be the most talented actress in the world when it comes to riding the fine line between humor and drama. She does not strike a false moment here, and her presence is the reason to finish watching “the show”. But to watch “the show” is to give it undue credit, waiting for another, better show to come along.
I’ve never been as aware of how difficult the parody genre can be to execute. That should be enough to summarize how I felt about “the show”.