I love Kristen Bell. I love her for acting in "Veronica Mars," "The Good Place," and "Bad Moms," for singing in the "Frozen" movies, and for promoting women's and girls' issues on "Armchair Expert" podcast. I would watch anything with her, so when Netflix automatically cued "The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window" after the series finale of "After Life" that made me cry, I thought it would be a good distraction from the emotional wreck that Ricky Gervais made me into with the ending of his show.
I knew nothing about the show, have seen no promos or interviews about it, so just went into it head-on. It started out like a typical mystery murder, with a recently separated or divorced emotionally unstable woman telling her story in retrospect. It did seem unusual that she was popping anti-anxiety meds and chasing them down with huge overflowing glasses of red wine, but somehow it did seem plausible, with the tone of the show. Only when she lied to her "Therapist" (only a voice on the phone until full disclosure at the end of the show) that she doesn't mix meds with wine you start wondering, but then who doesn't lie to their therapists, right?
There were other inconsistencies and puzzling behavior in the first episode, but it seriously took me almost two episodes to realize it was a parody! (I know, the ridiculous title of the show should have been my first hint.) I don't want to spoil it for those who want to watch the show, but there is an event in the second episode explaining why Kristen Bell's character is such a broken wreck. And that event is so absurd and unfathomable that I paused the show and googled its reviews. The first link that popped up immediately pegged it as a parody and it suddenly made sense and I started to watch it with the renewed enthusiasm and enjoyment because now I could just laugh at all the murder mystery hooks and tricks. Here is a very limited list of what I found particularly interesting and funny:
- Kristen Bell's character Anna lives in a house that is full of creeks, happenings and sounds that even her ex-husband calls "creepy." However, in the first episode when she hears some noises in the attic, she goes there, fully intends on checking out the source of the noise, with all the dramatic music building up anticipation, and she just stops, shrugs it off, and goes back to wine drinking;
- Anna made herself a successful artist by painting people's dog's faces into Renaissance masterpieces but then, pregnant and on bed rest, decides to go for a more honest work of painting flowers on a custom-built easel with paints dripping onto her face. She loses the motivation and ability to paint after the tragedy that drives her and her husband apart but restores it almost immediately after her new romantic interest - the freshly moved-in neighbor across the street - says on their first encounter "I think you should paint again, you're too good";
- Anna seems to be able to cook only one dish - a chicken casserole that is prominently featured in the show, almost like a character in itself. She bakes it in exactly the same dish, even though she breaks it multiple times;
- Anna is estranged from her husband after the tragic event that affected them both, but she still seems to have feelings for him and (spoiler) later he turns out to be her therapist that we only hear on the phone. He is also her self-improvement coach, constantly challenging her to do things she is afraid to do;
- Anna suffers from ombrophobia (fear of rain, which apparently is a real thing) and faints every time she is soaked in the rain, which is also the device that moves the plot and explains many gaps in her recollection of events (although fainting could have probably been caused by chasing the meds with wine);
- Anna has a very devoted friend, Sloan, who seems to have issues with personal boundaries and always manages to leave a message in Anna’s voice mail after saying "your voice mail is full and you don't return my calls”;
- Anna has a quintessential stereotypical judgemental and nosy neighbor Carol who is crucial in a couple of plot movements but a totally unnecessary nuisance on most occasions;
- Anna has a handyman, a kind but simple-minded giant named Buell, who as it turns out at the end, was hired by Anna's husband to repair their mailbox four years earlier. He was still repairing the mailbox and is ever-present, lurking in the background and becoming a crucial witness of the events.
I could go on with other things I noticed that relate to the events' set-up, but then you'd probably lose interest in watching the show. But here are some other things I just cannot bypass:
- there's a scene in the attic that clearly alludes to Hitchcock's "Birds" where Anna is attacked by what seems to be a murder of crows but turns out to be just one lame pigeon;
- there's a classical scene when Anna decided to stop drinking and pours all her wine into the kitchen sink, flushes her pills in the toilet, and even entirely re-upholsters her favorite chair that she had stained by spilling red wine on it;
- there's a beautiful love scene in the best cinematic traditions (closeups, sensuality, romantic music), except that love-making happens in the most uncomfortable places in the house - stairs, kitchen table with Anna's head banging the vase full of wine corks, and the shower with what seems to be a firehose of steaming hot water;
- there's a scene where Anna dresses a wound Buell received when a long and sharp nail drove through his right hand, and when she sends him off asking if he is sure he doesn't need to go to the hospital, he waives her off with the dressing soaked in blood and the same nail sticking out from his hand;
- there's a couple of grifters who are a perfect combination of a bartender and a stripper from the same bar;
- there's a scene with a ventriloquist dummy act rehearsed in the bathroom with the running water to cover up for the voices;
- there's a scene with a very detailed and totally unnecessary, almost clinical, explanation of how finger printing works, which is a clear mocking of many forensic procedural dramas;
- and my personal favorite: A gravestone that magically changes the life wisdom quotes at the bottom used as epitaphs. I watched closely to read what it said every time it was featured.
There's so much more that I loved about this show: constant shifting of the suspect in the investigated murder and a completely mind-blowing real murderer with a brutal fight scene in the end that would remind you of the Exorcist; frequent shifting of Anna's love interest accompanied by social media stalking; an overly empathetic female cop who could be tough and fair when needed; multiple flashbacks with Anna wondering "How do I keep forgetting this?"; and even the floating show title that appears after full 9 minutes of the show in the last episode.
I hope you love this show as much as I did and tell your friends and family about it. Let's drive its viewership up so that Netflix renews it for the second season as (my last major spoiler) Glenn Close is supposed to play a murder victim in it.