It is being called a comedy-drama, but it’s more like a comedy-drama-about-depression-and-rage-that-is-dark-and-delicious.
The six-part series Flowers aired on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom last month. The channel released an episode every day of the week – ensuring that the strange encounters with the Flowers are sustained throughout.
Flowers seems to have been conceived by a five-way union between Wes Anderson’s aesthetics, Tim Burton’s saturated hues, Edward Gorey’s love of the macabre, The dysfunctionality of Arrested Development, and Roald Dahl’s peculiar imagination. Created by BAFTA-nominated writer and director Will Sharpe, Flowers is a dark and disturbing vignette into the lives of Maurice and Deborah Flowers. Maurice (Julian Barratt), a formerly famous author of the children’s series Grubbs, is suicidal. His music teacher wife Deborah (Olivia Colman) is desperate to be happy and make things work for her family. They are parents to 25-year-old twins. Donald (Daniel Rigby) is the inventor of disastrous contraptions such as the fumigating fondue machine, and Amy (Sophia Di Martino) is an eccentric artist who composes dark piano melodies and miserable poetry. The twins hate each other, but are both in love with their beautiful neighbour, Abigail (Georgina Campbell).
The Flowers live in a crumbling house in the English countryside at an undisclosed location and in an undisclosed era. The family includes a silent grandmother who breezes around in the background, and Shun (Sharpe), the Japanese illustrator of Maurice’s grim rhymes for children. Shun upholds many racist stereotypes as the friendly Oriental who speaks in heavily accented English and is too simple, too happy and too wise. But he is also the only bright spot of sunshine in the winter of the Flower family’s discontent.
The show starts on the day of their anniversary. This morning, Maurice tries to hang himself by a tree, but the branch snaps, leaving Maurice with another day under the dark cloud that is his hollow depression. He tells no one. Desperate to help, Deborah gets him a book called How to Be Happy. He brings her nothing.
Also, no one is coming to their party. They eventually invite the builders working next door, a sex-obsessed neighbour who is a plastic surgeon, and his daughter Abigail. The party is an absolute disaster featuring an exploding fondue machine, a melancholy piano dirge and a very troubling mix-up with a noose.
Olivia Colman (Broadchurch, and The Night Manager) does a phenomenal job of displaying multiple and contrary emotions at the same time. She is excited and happy while also dealing with the crippling feeling of being totally confused, sad and alone in a house full of family. She dances, laughs, and flirts, but every once in a while, you can see trouble brewing under the surface. Colman adds mounds of credibility to the fact that she can do no wrong, and remains the constant star in a show where the only other persistent element is chaos.
The dark and saturated colours in a house full of clutter, noise, and cheerless lighting add to the grim and worrying depiction of a depressed man dealing with a dysfunctional family. The Flowers have undoubtedly seen better days, but now these are too few and far between. What keeps them together is maybe love, but it is clearly buried under heaps of muddy self-loathing and hopelessness.
The show is clearly not for everyone – it is too dark, too depressing, too chaotic. Some critics hate the show while others love it, but no one disagrees that nothing as experimental and original has been on television in a long time. Flowers is powerful, but all it asks from the audience is patience. It is only when you stick around for a few episodes that the magical and the mundane start to intermingle, revealing something oddly fabulous. The jumble of characters and plot threads come together into a single strong tapestry about the chaos that is crippling Maurice, bit by bit.