The Woman In The House Across The Street From The Girl In The Window Review: Kristen Bell Tries To Solve A Mystery In This Uneven Thriller Parody

One of the key ingredients to a good parody is to have an actual endearment for the thing being parodied. Only when we love something are we free to mock it adequately; not cruelly, but in an all-in-good-fun sort of way. Our love of the concept being parodied makes us experts in what to expect; we know the tropes like the back of our hand, and it is this knowledge that makes the humor all the more enjoyable. Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein" mocks old Universal monster movies while lovingly recreating their atmosphere. "Airplane!" clearly gets a kick out of the star-studded disaster flicks that spawned it. More recently, the excellent "Only Murders in the Building" managed to both mock true-crime podcast fanatics while also acknowledging that yes, it can be a lot of fun to get swept up in a true-crime podcast. 

Now, the Netflix series "The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window" is giving it a go, sending up the type of page-turning thriller that has become so prominent in recent years, with titles like "The Girl on the Train" and "The Woman in the Window." The fact that Netflix released the awful "Woman in the Window" movie, which seems to be this show's main influence, just adds to the experience. And "The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window" clearly enjoys the twisty thrillers it's playing around with, and the show itself goes to great lengths to create a series of genuine mysteries. But another key ingredient to a good parody is it has to be funny, and that's something "The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window" doesn't quite have figured out.

The problem stems from the show's inability to commit to its comedy. At times, the show dips into full-blown "Airplane!" style ridiculousness, such as when our main character, Anna (Kristen Bell) introduces herself via narration with a British accent, only to quickly admit she's faking it. Or a running gag that involves a tombstone with an epitaph that always seems to change (at one point, it reads "There's No I In Heaven"). But unlike "Airplane!", which threw a constant barrage of these types of gags at the audience, "The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window" only occasionally dips into these waters, as if it has a very low comedy quota and is unconcerned with going anywhere above and beyond that. Most of the time it's playing things straight, and while this could, in theory, enhance the humor, it ultimately hinders the show.

That's not to say "The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window" is unenjoyable. It's easy to get wrapped up in the show's central mystery, and Bell makes for a fun lead. The series also concludes with a set-up for a second season revolving around a completely new mystery, and I sure hope they get a chance to bring that to life. For now, though, we only have this first season, which seems to be going through some growing pains. 

A Mystery

Anna lives alone, although she occasionally is paid a visit by visions of her dead daughter. "How do I keep forgetting that?" she wonders aloud after the imaginary child reminds her of the whole "I'm dead" thing. You see, a few years ago, Anna's husband (Michael Ealy), "a forensic psychiatrist for the FBI specializing in serial killers," brought along their kid for Take Your Daughter to Work Day. Unfortunately, that particular day of work involved interviewing a cannibal serial killer named Massacre Mike. And when Anna's daughter was left alone with the killer briefly, well ... you can probably figure out what happened. Since then, Anna's husband has moved out, and now Anna spends her days pouring entire bottles of wine into large glasses and sitting by her window as she drinks them. 

Since it was raining on the day her daughter died, Anna now has a fear of the rain — she doesn't like to go out much, because getting caught in the rain sends her into a catatonic state. But Anna is spurned to get up out of her wine-stained armchair when handsome guy Neil (Tom Riley) and his cute daughter Emma (Samsara Yett) move into the house directly across the street. Neil has experienced loss too — his wife died a few years ago. And Anna is obviously smitten with him. But has any hopes of a romantic connection are crushed when Neil's girlfriend Lisa (Shelley Hennig) shows up. 

But Lisa won't be in the picture very long. One dark and rainy night, Anna looks out her window and sees Lisa standing in the window of Neil's house with her throat slit, gasping for air before collapsing. Or does she? The police and Neil both claim nothing happened, and Neil adds that Lisa is alive and well, but out of town for work. Since we already know Anna has hallucinations about her dead daughter it's fair to assume that maybe, just maybe, she hallucinated Lisa's apparent murder, right? Then again ... what if she didn't? What if Lisa really is dead, and there's a killer on the loose? This spurns Anna into action as she becomes an amateur sleuth trying to crack the case.

Lean Into the Comedy Next Time (If There Is a Next Time)

There are suspects and running gags aplenty here. Anna is fond of constantly making casseroles, constantly, so much so that she has a collection of casserole dishes. There's a handyman named Buell ("Mindhunter" breakout Cameron Britton) who seems to always be fixing the mailbox (how much work does a mailbox need?). Neighbors eye Anna suspiciously, and so do the cops. Someone may or may not be in the attic. It's all comfortably familiar and mildly amusing.

With short episodes (almost none of them run longer than 30 minutes), "The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window" moves at a brisk pace; so brisk, in fact, that you'll probably end up blowing through the entire first season in one sitting. It's entertainment that goes down easy and doesn't ruffle any feathers. And all of that is fine, really! But there's a prevailing sense here of missed opportunity. 

Bell can be quite funny, but the show requires her to flex her dramatic chops more than comedic. And the series consistently seems like it doesn't want to commit to the gag. "Only Murders in the Building" found a way to evenly balance both comedy and mystery, but here, the mystery takes the majority of the spotlight — and that feels like a miscalculation. The show's ridiculously wordy title suggests something far zanier, and to not lean into that is a mistake. I mean it when I say I hope "The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window" gets a second season, because I really do think this genre is perfect for parody, and I will gladly watch Kristen Bell try to solve more outlandish mysteries. I only hope that season 2 remembers to ramp up the comedy. Otherwise, I'm not entirely sure what the point would be. 

The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window premieres January 28, 2022 on Netflix.