The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window
Not something I normally do but I’ve just binged on this series of eight episodes. The title, The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window, I think rather gives away that fact that it is very likely to be a parody of the common and popular genre of murder mystery novels.
And yet, this morning, I took a look at some of the reviews. I thought it was fantastic so I was really taken aback by the fact that it scored only around three stars. The first review I read gave it just a ONE STAR RATING, describing it as awful and ‘unbelievable’.
It highlighted my greatest concern as I head into the realms of writing to sort of downloadable murder mystery games that people can play at home. Namely, ‘WHAT IF PEOPLE DON’T UNDERSTAND THE HUMOUR?’
Surrealism, dark humour, parody...
The very thing I loved about the show was the thing others found dreadful. In one respect it is funnier simply because they didn’t get it. This reviewer listed a whole load of things that the director ‘missed’, not realising they were there on purpose. For example, every time Anna visits the grave of her daughter (who was murdered and then eaten – there is some very dark humour in this), there is a different phrase written on the tombstone. This reviewer thought that an oversight! ‘How can one miss something so obvious?’ they asked.
And, although I don’t want to spoil it for you (I hope you watch it, it’s on Netflix), there is a Rasputenesque ending in which Anna is stabbed, shot, beaten, pushed into a window and has a bowl smashed over her skull and yet STILL she survives. Again, he reviewer thought that absurd. Yes. Yes, it was. But that was the point.
It reminded me of what I considered to be one of the funniest moments I had ever been a part of.
Don't open the fridge coz the oven's been on.
I was working in America – in Mount Gretna, PA (which is why I’ve set my Liberty Bell mystery in Mount Gruesome). Late on night, a group of about eight of us were sitting on our wooden balcony, drinking Rolling Rock and swapping stories. It was a hot, balmy night with the sound of crickets all around (Mount Gretna is in woodland and we were doing a summer season at the theatre). Aside from the actors (two or three of us British), there were the costume department (from New York City) and a couple of stage management.
One of the stage managers (I forget his name but let’s call him Cletus) was from tornado alley, Kansas or somewhere, and he droned on and on for an hour or so about how these tornados would rip houses apart. ‘They were caused,’ he said, ‘when the warm air from the south met up with the cold air from the north.’ The New Yorkers largely ignored him.
I went into the kitchen to get another beer. A couple of seconds later, Cletus (that wasn’t his real name) came in. I instinctively said to him, ‘Don’t open the fridge coz the oven’s been on.’ I thought no more of it but, clearly, he spent some moments considering this.
It wasn’t that funny until he came back out to the balcony, still trying to figure it out. He said to the gathered, who had pretty much now fallen silent, in a I don’t understand these Brits manner, ‘Ian just said, Don’t open the fridge coz the oven’s been on.’
The New York costume designer was at that very moment taking a swig from her bottle and she quite literally sprayed Rolling Rock out into the trees.
It was the fact that Cletus didn’t get the joke but she did. A joke that I had made, which had fallen on deaf ears, was made that much funnier when re-ignited and aimed at someone who fully understood it.
Limit the comedy?
The kind of humour that they use in The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window (which has to be one of the longest titles ever – even that reminds me of a Monty Python sketch) comes over as a very British humour, which makes it even more surprising. It is the sort of parody that the Brits tend to get. Self mockery is what we do. But the setting is very aspirational, in a very American style. Anna lives in a very nice house in a very nice neighbourhood. Not quite the American Dream when you consider her daughter was eaten and her husband divorced her but, if ou turned the sound down, it would look like your typical American drama (it reminded me of Desperate Housewives).
And although the humour was very, very dark and absurdist in places, they rather cleverly draw you into thinking that, like Anna, maybe you have imagined things. Everyone goes on about the fact she’s a great artist and has a wonderful talent for painting. But the paintings they highlight are simply not very good. They are acceptable but they’re hardly Van Gough.
And so I found myself feeling a bit sad for this reviewer. They had clearly missed so much detail (the brilliant scattering of self help books) and I worry that audiences will miss, or at least misunderstand, the humour in my murder mysteries.
When you produce your own shows, it can be bad enough. Audiences, and sometimes even the actors, don’t quite get where the comedy starts and ends. They don’t ‘get’ this particular joke. the funniest times were when I’d actually made a genuine mistake in the paperwork (perhaps I’d misspelled a name or recorded the wrong date). An audience would see that as a clue and, if you tried to explain it away as a mistake, they would read even more into it (‘Haha, he’s denying it!’)
But if I am to hand over my storyline to people I don’t know, people who are the audience as well as the cast, well where will it go?
What is the chance they miss all the humour?
Maybe, at the end of the day, I am overthinking it. Maybe it doesn’t really matter. After all, I hope to be selling to the very same Murder Mystery fans that purchase Downloadable Murder Mystery Games set in Gin Joints or aboard cruise ships or in the Wild West. My fear is they simply won’t see the irony in what I do with that.
But perhaps that’s part of the fun. I hand it to them and they can do what they want with it. How they play it out is up to them and if they miss the humour, not to worry.
I can’t let subtlety and detail slip away simply because someone can’t see it.