There’s something quite understated about The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window. Kristen Bell’s new Netflix series offers a comic riff on the sort of schlocky domestic thrillers that dominate airport bookshops and streaming service listings; the title (a nuisance for SEO headlines, great for hitting wordcounts) announces its intentions clearly enough, a joking reference to films like Jennifer Lawrence’s House at the End of the Street or Amy Adams’ The Woman in the Window.
For the most part, though, the comedy comes from playing things deadly straight. Kristen Bell plays Anna Whittaker, the eponymous woman; she’s grieving and lonely, self-medicating and prone to paranoia, and almost entirely housebound. That’s typical of the genre (Amy Adams’ character in The Woman in the Window, also named Anna, suffered from debilitating agoraphobia) but here it’s twisted and taken even further. Bell’s Anna suffers from ombrophobia, a fear of the rain, because it was raining on the day her daughter died – without ruining the joke, though, the rain itself had very little to do with her daughter’s death. It’s that sort of heightened, exaggerated sensibility that characterises The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window: the drama is repositioned as melodrama, indulging in the more ridiculous aspects of the genre but delivering it with deadpan sincerity.
The series begins with Neil (Tom Riley) and his daughter Emma (Samsara Yett) moving in across the street from Anna; they’re recently bereaved themselves, and as Anna makes a fumbling connection with them it seems like she might finally be able to start living her life again. Until, that is, she sees a murder through their window – or at least thinks she sees a murder? The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window twists and turns with each instalment, as befits the genre it borrows from, and across its eight roughly half-hour episodes it offers regular new complications on its murder mystery. It’s quite well-paced across its run, the mystery unfolding nicely with each new swerve and feint to sustain it; as with all the best murder mysteries, the audience clocks the eventual culprit only moments before the show reveals it, who’s at once a surprise and the only person it could’ve been.
What’s striking about The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window is that it’s not straightforwardly a parody. It’s got the florid, self-serious narration (“We tell children so many lies. Not to worry, not to be afraid, not to believe in monsters. But why don’t we tell them the truth? There are monsters. They’re just not under the bed,”) and the melancholy, plink-y plonk serious piano cover of a nursery rhyme as its theme tune, but it never really feels meanspirited or dismissive, or indeed like an Saturday Night Live sketch gone too long. Series creators Rachel Ramras, Hugh Davidson, and Larry Dorf know you know these tropes, and they’re comfortable revelling in them – really, The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window is more of an affectionate sideways glance than a cynical deconstruction.
It makes for an interesting comparison to The Afterparty, actually, which is being released on Apple TV+ on the same day. Both series offer comic spins on different genres – this series on domestic psychological thrillers, The Afterparty on everything from romcoms to musicals to action movies – but the Netflix effort commits to its central conceit much moreso than The Afterparty. In part that might just be a question of focus (The Afterparty having to spin about seven more plates with its genre parodies) but director Michael Lehmann does a better job of evoking the hallmarks of this genre that Miller did with most of The Afterparty’s. Indeed, there’s a clarity and precision to Lehmann’s work here which The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window really benefits from, and the series as a whole is quite a confident production – Nami Melumad’s score in particular works really nicely.
The whole thing is tied together by strong performances across the board. Kristen Bell anchors the whole thing, in many ways the only person who could’ve met the comic and dramatic demands of the role; Tom Riley (previously of the under-discussed but brilliant cancer comedy Ill Behaviour) pitches his performance perfectly, really narrowing in on the right tone for essentially quite a changeable character. There’s a lot to appreciate about the rest of the cast too, with Benjamin Levy Aguiler particularly fun in a supporting role, Michael Ealy nice to see as ever, and Samsara Yett proving quite a capable child actor.
Ultimately, there’s a lot to like about The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window. Your enjoyment of it might depend on how much patience you have for that kind of deadpan sensibility, but as it is it’s a huge amount of fun, probably one of the best debuts of the year so far.
The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window is available to stream on Netflix from January 28. I’ve seen all eight episodes before writing this review.
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