What gags are there largely work: Bell’s Leslie Nielsen-tier level of commitment is a diverting contrast to the silliness of the world around her. Every time she visits her daughter’s grave for a heart-to-heart, the tombstone sports a different trite, inspirational phrase (e.g. “In heaven, you can dance like no one’s watching”). Her Instagram is the definition of banal, with rote captions like “sunflower” and “cappucino” to accompany each stock-photo image on her feed. Her nosy best friend (Mary Holland) breathlessly admires her skill as a painter, when the works we see are the most motel-art-caliber impressions of flowers. Every few minutes, the show drops us a throwaway gag like Anna’s ex-husband (Michael Ealy), a criminal psychologist, taking their little girl to interview a serial killer for Take Your Daughter to Work Day, or Anna’s creepy handyman Buell (Cameron Britton) endlessly working on their mailbox for what feels like days (and what may be years). The world of “Woman in the House…” is one where airlines randomly decide not to fly to the West Coast all summer, and women can drown in a lake in five seconds flat.
Unfortunately, at eight half-hour-ish episodes, the show can’t (or won’t) maintain that anarchic momentum. There are long stretches of the series where Ramras, Davidson, and Dorf seem content to merely move the story along, presuming that the series’ very existence is enough to keep you laughing. The lack of specific jokes, then, becomes the point: it’s hilarious because it’s deadly serious. That’s fun, too, but it can only take you so far.
There’s also the problem of poking fun at something that a) was hardly a huge hit when it came out, and b) had its own tongue planted firmly in cheek. “The Woman in the Window” was lambasted at the time for its hokey script and over-the-top protagonist, but so much of that felt like purposeful camp; “Woman in the House…” seems to be poking us in the ribs and reminding us how ridiculous the premise and tropes of the genre are, when, yeah, we know they’re silly. That’s kind of the point. We already laughed at Joe Wright and Amy Adams’ frenzied take on the material. This new version feels like putting a hat on a hat.
Granted, “Woman in the House…” goes out with a bang; after eight episodes pointing the finger at every one of the series’ cartoonishly-suspicious characters, it lands on the one you’d expect the least (not to mention who would be funniest for Bell to fight in the knock-down, drag-out brawl at the inevitable climax). And the series ends with an unexpected cameo from an A-lister and the potential for a new mystery to occupy Anna’s time in a second season. I just wish the show had more of that kind of giddy energy, and didn’t stretch out its one-joke premise to such ungainly lengths.
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