Will Arnett’s Netflix series Flaked debuted to little fanfare near the beginning of March, noticeably lacking the wash of critical hosannas and spate of thinkpieces that follow a new Netflix binge-dump. This is mostly because it’s not a good TV show, hamstrung by sweaty plot twists and clichéd character development. But it fits snugly into the larger, frustrating narrative of its star’s career, a filmography dotted with stalled-out sitcoms and possible breakout projects that failed to meet the wonderfully talented Arnett in the middle.
He’s not toiling in obscurity or anything; Arnett’s amassed a sizable fanbase in his capacity as the bombastic
magician illusionist G.O.B. on the cult-favorite Arrested Development, and the same sorts of comedy nerds who gravitated toward the cheerful amorality of that series followed him to his current triumph, Netflix’s outstanding showbiz satire Bojack Horseman. (The extent to which a starring role as an animated anthropomorphic horse actually ups Arnett’s public profile is up for debate.) He’s gotten consistent work in smaller roles over the years, from an FBI agent on The Sopranos to guest spots on pretty much every great sitcom in the last 10 years. But he’s far from a household name, not quite on the tier of a Steve Carell or a Jason Segel.
The peculiar thing about Arnett’s half-obscurity is that he’d certainly make for a fine leading man if given the right opportunity. He’s certainly got no shortage of comedic chops. He’s handsome in a broad, un-intimidating way (and he’s got the admittedly poor documentary to prove it). He’s personable, good on his feet, and has that instantly recognizable gravelly voice that would stick in a casual viewer’s mind from film to film.
Which returns us to the core question of the matter: Why can’t Hollywood seem to figure out what to do with this gifted performer? There are the possible insider reasons — perhaps he doesn’t enjoy the spotlight and enjoys the cult adulation, or maybe the stars simply haven’t aligned to lead him to that perfect script. But time and again, Arnett’s landed in projects that relegate him to a supporting role, and the only films that have deigned to place him front and center have tanked hard. It could just be bad luck, but the specific timbre of Arnett’s comedic performances may the the thing stymieing casting directors as well.