‘Flipped’ Review: An Appreciably Wacky Crime Comedy Hamstrung by Its Format

     April 9, 2020

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Quibi is a platform built around watching miniature episodes of a series while on the go. If the idea of watching a movie broken up into 7-minute chunks meted out over the course of several weeks sounds like a less-than-ideal experience, I can confirm with 100% certainty that it absolutely is. Flipped, starring Will Forte and Kaitlin Olson as a married couple who stumble upon a drug cartel’s money stash and use the cash to fund a house-flipping show, is classified as one of Quibi’s “Movies in Chapters.” It’s an extremely funny absurdist crime-comedy buoyed by terrific performances from Forte and Olson, but I wish I could just watch the whole thing at once on my television like an adult. Although Flipped is a launch series developed exclusively for Quibi, the comedy doesn’t benefit from its restrictive format in any way, and in fact is only hindered by it.

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Image via Quibi

Olson and Forte play Cricket and Jann Melfi, a married couple both fired from their jobs in the same day during the show’s opening episode. It’s a bumpy beginning, as we’re introduced to Cricket in the first few seconds in an over-the-top exchange with her boss at the hardware store after trying to bully a customer into purchasing an entire kitchen renovation when all he was looking for was a new faucet. Cricket somehow manages to be an even bigger, less restrained version of Dee, Olson’s character in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. That sounds impossible, but Olson has discovered a reservoir of even more unearned confidence and riotous passive aggression, and she dumps it all into the tank to propel Cricket through these scenes like a runaway warhead. It’s a bit jarring at first, because we’re not quite sure what kind of universe the show exists in, but Cricket’s firing leads directly into Jann getting let go from the theater department at a middle school after forcing his students to rehearse “Children of the Fire”, a musical he wrote about child factory workers burning to death in a garment factory blaze. (Most likely based on the real-life Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, but the show never explicitly says this.) Jann is a petulant wannabe artist without a shred of detectable talent (in other words, a perfect Forte character), and he hurls abuse at his young performers for not selling the agony of lines like “all my skin is melting off” without a hint of irony. Flipped does not take place in the real world whatsoever, which is why Cricket and Jann are merely unemployed and not several years into serving long prison sentences.

Once the show establishes its heightened, absurdist reality, Olson and Forte essentially have free rein to take their characters as far as they want. After rage-watching an episode of Pros and Connellys, starring house-flipping celebrity couple Chazz and Tiffany Connelly (played with palpable smarm by real-life celebrity couple Jerry O’Connell and Rebecca Romijn), the Melfi’s decide to submit their own home renovation pilot to HRTV. The ensuing sequences of Cricket and Jann cartoonishly bullying their renovation workers into complying with their unrealistic demands are extremely fun – Forte and Olson play well off of each other as a totally united front of relentless assholery. They’re endlessly supportive of each other’s terrible ideas, and attack any outside criticism with such bombastic vitriol it’s impossible not to laugh. In a particularly excellent scene, Jann is showing off a sculpture he made from detritus surrounding the house that he believes is a charming Western conversation piece, until two of the workers gradually point out that it’s actually a dog skull fused with bullet casings and meth pipes.

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Image via Quibi

Arturo Castro crushes it as Diego, the oddly cheerful drug dealer Cricket and Jann rip off to fund their home renovation show. It turns out that the house the Melfis bought sight unseen from a foreclosure website was actually an old meth lab Diego used in his operation, and while he’s furious about the money they stole, he is so excited about how well the renovation has turned out that he abducts the Melfis to Mexico and forces them to renovate his mansion to pay back the stolen cash. In the series’ best episode so far, he delights over an automatic wine opener the Melfis installed in the kitchen and sits down to give them notes on their sizzle reel, while emphasizing in no uncertain terms that he is about to have his men murder them both and bury their bodies in the desert.

The fact that every episode has to clock in at under ten minutes fundamentally means that things are going to be paced strangely. Scenes begin in weird places and end abruptly. There are almost no exterior establishing shots. Some bits feel truncated when I would’ve liked to have seen them play out a little longer. There is so much comedic energy stuffed into Flipped that I wish it could’ve at least been given a bigger screen to stretch its legs. Instead, what might have been a gem of a direct-to-streaming comedy feels like a web series from 2011, a perfectly serviceable narrative inexplicably chained to a quick-delivery format because some algorithm decided it was a good idea. There’s even a Funny or Die logo at the end of each episode.

Flipped would normally be a very easy comedy to recommend, but the experience of watching a show on Quibi is nothing but unpleasant. For the life of me, I could not come up with a reason why it needed to be broken up into 7-minute chunks and watched on a 3-inch iPhone screen. If you can stand the format, it’s a funny premise carried by stellar performances, but you might be better off waiting until the entire series is available so you can binge it straight through like a movie. Or ideally, wait a few years until the full movie is inevitably available to rent on iTunes or Amazon and watch it on a big screen.

Rating: ★★★

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Television