Netflix UK TV review: The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window
James R | On 30, Jan 2022
“My husband used to tell me I have an overactive imagination,” Anna tells us in a voiceover. She does a lot that. The overactive imagining – and the voiceovers. She also speaks in a dubious British accent, something that she tells us her husband used to tell her she did a lot too. Then, she stops the British accent and switches to an American one – because Anna isn’t a real person, she’s just a compendium of other characters from modern psychological thrillers, the kind of stories in which the lead character is an unreliable female narrator with a wine problem, a dubious accent and an overactive imagination. Inevitably, it’s only a few minutes until Anna sees a murder – although there are a lot of wine glasses consumed before then.
If all this sounds familiar, that’s precisely the point: this Netflix comedy is a parody of the genre that has given us The Girl on the Train and, most recently, The Woman in the Window – which was adapted into a film, acquired by Netflix and widely derided by audiences. Not one to be beaten, Netflix is now joining in the mockery with its very own spoof, sending up the tropes that Gone Girl turned into a mainstream commercial hit with page-turning beach-readers.
Kristen Bell is perfectly cast as Anna, a woman who loves nothing more than to stare out the window watching other peoples’ lives with a glass of wine in hand. She sees ghosts in her house where suspicious bumps come from the attic, she gets a little too involved when tenderising meat for dinner, and she walks about with casseroles to give to neighbours, before dropping them dramatically on the floor. Bell plays it with just the right mix of deadpan and absurdity, even as she spends all day and night in her dressing gown and says such profound things as, “There are so many layers to casseroles, just like there are so many layers to people…”
The latest person on the receiving end of a casserole is her handsome new neighbour (Tom Riley), who has just moved in with his nine-year-old daughter – and, it turns out later, his seemingly perfect wife. When Anna sees a murder while gazing across the street, she has to try and work out whether her new hunk next door is a bad sort, or whether she imagined the whole thing. All the while, she has to avoid going outside when it drizzles because she has a phobia of rain, due to a previous trauma.
So far, so promising, but TWITHATSFTGITW takes what could have been an inspired sketch or 30-minute special and commits to the bit for eight whole episodes. It’s a fatal decision for writers Rachel Ramras, Hugh Davidson and Larry Dorf, as they then have to turn Anna from a joke into a person in her own right and work out a plot to keep things going for four hours – it’s telling that the first two hours feel like wheel-spinning.
There are visual gags that work – a fruit bowl full of wine corks is a nice touch – and the opening credits are brilliantly accompanied by an eerie cover of Rain, Rain, Go Away. But the longer it goes on, the more the show becomes the thing it’s sending up, as it gets distracted by trying to justify its runtime. Tom Riley is suitably sinister and slick as the suspicious object of Anna’s obsessions, but doesn’t get any decent laughs, while the scenes involving their shared backstories of grief try so hard to seem serious that the satirical treatment of such sensitive subject matter almost comes across in poor taste.
It all wraps up in a rather ingenious climax and a surprising final shot that could lead to a promising second season, but this satire needs a sharper focus to fully work – because in a field of murder mystery comedies that includes the hilarious The Afterparty (Apple TV+) and the shrewdly observed Only Murders in the Building (Disney+ Star), The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window needs a more overactive imagination.
The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.