When American Vandal released its first season on Netflix almost five years ago, it felt as though the smartest, funniest kid in school got his own TV show.
The series, still an insightful satire on the intersection of entertainment, social media, and the nightmare that is high school, marked true crime’s maturity as a mainstream genre. Between the breakthrough podcast Serial and the virality of Netflix’s own Making a Murderer, the tropes and clichés of true crime had crystallized and were ripe for mockery.
2022 is hardly a “moment” for women-led psychological thrillers like the late 2010s were for true crime. Gillian Flynn, arguably the premier author of the space, published her first book in 2006, and there have been many more major releases since. But the pattern of Netflix popularizing a format, then ridiculing it, is familiar.
Less than a year after Netflix released the Amy Adams-led film The Woman in the Window, based on a 2018 novel by Dan Mallory (a pathological liar whose ability to deceive is arguably more interesting than anything he could write), Netflix has unleashed The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window.
Though uneven as a comedy and not as rich with depth as American Vandal, The Woman in the etc. is another home run for satires with storytelling prowess capable enough to pass for the real thing: Haunting musical motifs, catty moms in minivans, attractive British men with dark secrets, and impeccable homes with granite kitchens and Pottery Barn décor all make up the intentionally cliché universe. There’s a genuinely intriguing mystery inside the show, one that will encourage you to binge for answers. You’ll just be pied in the face a few times along the way.
Inhabiting this specific suburban address is an engrossing Kristen Bell, a masterful actress who has long teetered between the outrageously comedic and deathly serious. Bell stars as Anna, a divorced artist whose days are fueled by red wine. Still grieving for her daughter (whose demise is likely the only time you’ll laugh at a little girl’s murder), Anna finds herself engrossed in the life of Neil (Tom Riley), a widower and father to 9-year-old Emma (Samsara Yett) who’ve just moved in across the street.
Though Anna is predictably attracted to Neil, she finds an obstacle in Neil’s girlfriend, Lisa Maines (Shelley Hennig). And when Anna sees a murder, a dark past begins to be revealed.
The Woman in the House comes from producers Rachel Ramras and Hugh Davidson, whose writing and producing credits include over 50 episodes of the underseen, delightfully unhinged The Looney Tunes Show.
Despite its straightforward title, The Looney Tunes Show’s run between 2011 and 2014 was radical, imagining the likes of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck in a maddeningly normal world. Gone are the Viking operas, and in its place are noise-cancelling headphones and impromptu trips to France. The show’s reinterpretation of Space Jam’s Lola Bunny as a clingy girlfriend prone to conspiracy theories is a revelation.
The deceptively chaotic energy of The Looney Tunes Show is present in The Woman in the House. It’s an aesthetically clean thriller that wallops you with unexpected comic haymakers, from dumb book titles to the intentionally poor overwriting of Anna’s internal monologues. “If you don’t risk anything, you risk everything. And the biggest risk you can take is to risk nothing. And if you risk nothing, what you’re really doing is risking not getting to the bottom of something. And if you don’t get to the bottom of something, you risk everything.”
It helps that Bell is good at pivoting between the tones The Woman in the House strives for. But Bell is so convincing as a lead protagonist that, ironically, she becomes one of the show’s weirdest shortcomings. Her ability to believably lead the sort of thriller The Woman in the House mocks tends to undermine the satire.
There are long stretches where the show passes off as the real thing due to a winning combination of Bell’s talents and the show’s overall sharp direction and writing. Its comic moments are outrageously funny, but irregular. Was The Woman in the House always supposed to be parody? Or was it a real project retooled into something humorous? The final reveal makes its comedic intentions clear, but until that point it can be suspicious.
In 2022, it’s just good to have parodies again. While it’s unfortunate the show seems a bit too committed to the joke, it’s a stroke of genius that its central mystery is strong enough that invested viewers will let Netflix autoplay the next episode. Maybe the joke is on us.
The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window is streaming now on Netflix.