What a wild ride is The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window!
An eight-episode series that sports the kind of title that would make Fiona Apple green with titular envy, The Woman in the House … is the brainchild of Rachel Ramras & Hugh Davidson & Larry Dorf, all of whom seem to have a rare and rich parodic appreciation of the claustrophobic mystery psychological thriller genre that has given us films like Rear Window, The Bone Collector and 2021’s The Woman in the Window.
Even more than this, they have the talent to somehow magically mix together comedy and searing drama to compellingly watchable effect, offering up a show that manages to be both an amusing parody and a vivid exploration of the way of grief to warp and twist reality as we know it.
It’s quite an achievement since a tip in either direction would have still likely produced a great show but robbed The Woman in the House … of much of what makes it startlingly unique.
Played with admirable restraint and a tremendous amount of raw vulnerability by Kristen Bell, painter Anna sits at the heart of the show’s many twists and turns, a woman so trapped in a web of soul-enervating grief that she barely puts brush to canvas anymore, spending her days instead looking out the window of the title at the house across the street, her days filled with copious amounts of red wine – she has a glass than can *just* takes a whole bottle of red – and psychotropic drugs as she tries and fails manifestly to come to grips with the death of her then-eight-year-old daughter some three years earlier.
Hers is a bleak existence, the sameness of her days only interrupted by her persistent friend Sloane (Mary Holland) who persists where others don’t in keeping tabs on her bestie and who stands in stark contrast to other townsfolk like Anna’s judgemental neighbour Carol (Brenda Koo) who is far more adapt at archly toxic condemnation that she is at mercy and unconditional love and care which is what Anna, who’s broken in every sense of the word, really needs.
It is in its evocative portrayal of grief that The Woman in the House … really hits its stride, and that’s important because while the parody elements are deftly and amusingly realised – extending even to the way people die (there’s even some lighthouse-based slapstick if you can believe it) and the killer’s monologue which is chillingly hilarious – it’s the overarching examination of grief that makes everything in the show really come alive (or not, as the case may be).
It is all too easy to believe that when Anna think she’s witnessed a murder that maybe it’s the grief and the wine and the drugs talking, and while there are moments when all the evidence ducks seem to line up neatly in a row, there are many others when it seems that Anna may actually be, in the cruelly dismissive words of Carol, “batsh*t crazy”.
So doubtful of Anna of her state of mind as the series progresses that while bodies are piling up and strange things are taking place, with just as many red herrings as their buoyantly full huge glasses of red wine, it could all a figment of her grief-addled imagination?
Or is it?
In the grand tradition of all mystery psychological thrillers, we are left guessing from episode to episode just who has done what and why and whether Anna, who decides to investigate the murder she thought she witnessed even as the police, fronted by Detective Lane (Christina Anthony), very nicely, and sometimes not so nicely, ask her not to, is really seeing actual events or is simply caught in the fevered machinations of her own wounded mind.
In the middle of this Agatha Christie level guessing game, The Woman in the House … makes giddily inspired use of all kinds of tropes from the handsome man Neil (Tom Riley) who moves in across the street with his angelic daughter Emma (Samsara Yett), a fiendishly funny over-abundance of coincidences, misunderstandings and flawed perceptions, girlfriends and partners who seem to have dark agendas but actually may not, and helpful experts and witnesses (such as the lighthouse keeper played by The Good Place alum Marc Evan Jackson) who happily offer advice and insight when in reality they’d usually just shut up.
These tropes are used to gloriously good comedic effect, along certain recurring items such as the red wine, the casserole dishes – clearly Anna got a bulk deal on the entire production run of the design she favours – and rain, all of which, along with judicious use of others motifs, keep a sense of reliable commonality and continuity in episodes that can pivot on a dime and change the look and feel of the show faster than you can pull a cork and pour a delicious Pinot.
The masterful thing about The Woman in the House … is that no matter how audacious or over the top it gets at times, and it does have some macabre fun right when you might think it would not, it absolutely nails each and every scene, neatly and compellingly hold comedy and drama in tension to poignantly watchable effect.
The Woman in the House … is a near work of streaming genius, managing to poke fun at its genre of choice in ways that speak of a thoughtful intelligence – the jokes are not simply trotted to make things funny; they have a reason for being there and make their presence felt long enough the laughing has subsided – while also being a moving exploration of how grief traps, distorts and corrupts and how even when you want to escape it, it can feel damn near impossible to do so.
If you want a show that will gobsmackingly surprise you at every turn, which makes you smile with impressed wonder just as much as it makes you ache with a soul-searing appreciation of what grief can do to a person, then The Woman in the House … should be your streaming show of choice, eight episodes full of mystery, hilarity, poignancy, chicken casseroles and wine, and a stinging sense that maybe what you though you saw you did see and it may just change your life, good or bad, forever.