From left, David Sullivan, Will Arnett and Ruth Kearney in Flaked. Benjamin Cohen / Netflix
From left, David Sullivan, Will Arnett and Ruth Kearney in Flaked. Benjamin Cohen / Netflix

In a new development for Will Arnett, life takes a dramatic turn in Flaked

Will Arnett shifts gears this week with a much more subtle performance than we are used to seeing from him.

Flaked, the latest original series from video-streaming service Netflix, is a dry comedy-drama about a self-help guru struggling to stay a step ahead of his own murky past.

Fans of Arnett who know him best for his roles in Arrested Development, 30 Rock, the animated hit BoJack Horseman and his other high-profile film and TV comedies may be pleasantly surprised to see a more nuanced performance in Flaked, which will be available to stream from Friday. He also co-created and wrote the series with British sitcom writer Mark Chappell (Cold Feet, The ­Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret).

"He loves comedy and he does it so well, but I think in his heart he's always wanted to try to explore some of his other gifts," says executive producer Mitchell Hurwitz, who also created Arrested Development, which provided Arnett's breakout role of Gob Bluth. "He wanted to tell this story. And he's such a great dramatic actor and so naturally funny that it just creates its own tone, I think."

Flaked follows the misadventures of Chip (Arnett), a longtime resident of Venice, California, whose life is one big lie.

“When I see people I know, and I see who their public persona is and who they really are, I’m always fascinated by that gap,” says Arnett, 45. “Everybody does it – in some people it’s wider, and in some people it’s narrower – and I think, did they create that themselves, or is this something that just sort of naturally happened?”

In the opening episode we meet Chip, a dry-witted recovering alcoholic, and his cabal of pals: best friend Dennis (Argo's ­David Sullivan); Kara (Lina Esco) a friend with occasional benefits; police officer George (The Wire's Robert Wisdom); and the jovial, but somewhat spaced-out, ­Cooler (George Basil).

Things get complicated when Chip and Dennis both fall for the mysterious London, played by Ruth Kearney (Primeval, The Following). As their friendship drifts towards the rocks, tangled webs of half-truths and deceptions ­begin to unravel.

Arnett plays Chip as a man whose flaws are obvious, and yet he’s never quite who he seems to be.

“What I like about Chip is what I dislike about him,” he says. “He’s trying to figure it out, and his methodology is often really wrong.”

It’s all about peeling away the layers and surprising viewers, says Hurwitz.

“Just when you think you kind of understand this character, you find out something else about him that belies what you knew,” he adds.

Flaked presents its male buddies "in a non-macho way," says Chappell. "Two characters [can] talk about what's going on in their lives and their feelings, and be sincere and earnest."

“It’s actually guys talking about real issues, like how they feel and where they’re at emotionally and spiritually,” says Arnett. “I think that’s very interesting, and it’s also a real reflection of where we are.”

While the multiple Emmy- nominated Arnett can lay claim to a long resume of recognisable characters from his time on Arrested Development and 30 Rock – as well as voice roles in BoJack Horseman and as Batman in The Lego Movie – the rest of the main Flaked cast are relatively unfamiliar faces, by design.

“I think it’s to our advantage that a lot of people are gonna be introduced to some of these actors for the first time,” Arnett says of the ensemble cast. “When you have actors that the general public is not as familiar with, they don’t bring with them a bunch of baggage that, say, a Will Arnett brings.”

There are, however, a few other very familiar faces to spot in Flaked, with guest appearances from Heather Graham (Twin Peaks, The Hangover), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad, Kick-Ass), Annabeth Gish (The X-Files, Sons of Anarchy), Mark Boone Junior (Sons of Anarchy) and Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning actress Kirstie ­Alley (Cheers).

Flaked was conceived as "truly a Netflix show", says Arnett. "It was almost like we were making an independent film over eight episodes."

Hurwitz adds: “With broadcast television, it’s truly just about characters, and the stories can be kind of whatever that week (poses) a dilemma for that character. But on Netflix, and in terms of ‘new television’, it’s much more about character development – and therefore about the story changing and evolving.”

•All eight episodes of Flaked will be available from Friday on Netflix

First Person
Richard Flanagan
Chatto & Windus