REVIEW: DEAD TO ME – SEASON 2

Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini in Dead to Me (2019)

Starring

Christina Applegate (Bad Moms)
Linda Cardellini (Avengers: Endgame)
Max Jenkins (Plus One)
Sam McCarthy (Condor)
Luke Roessler (Deadpool 2)
James Marsden (Westworld)

Into_the_Dark_Crawlers_TV-303956896-large

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Michole Briana White (Love That Girl!)
Jere Burns (Bates Motel)
Barry Livingston (Argo)
Natalie Morales (Santa Clarita Diet)
Suzy Nakamura (Dr. Ken)
Diana Maria Riva (17 Again)
Marc Evan Jackson (The Good Place)
Frances Conroy (How I Met Your Mother)
Katey Sagal (Futurama)

0f20aefe5af91b2042c43cbdbf651e585d-25-deadHow do you keep a secret? That’s the question Netflix’s dark comedy Dead To Me has been asking since season 1, and with season 2 dropping on May 8, that question goes into overdrive. Since Jen Harding (Christina Applegate) killed Judy Hale’s (Linda Cardellini) ex-fiancé Steve Wood (James Marsden) in the season 1 finale, they now both have murdered each other’s significant others, for anyone keeping count. The result is a season with even more twists than the last, as the ladies try to cover up the latest murder.pooka-coverThe balance of this show has always been between the exploration of how people deal with grief and the crazy murder aspect. While I’m happy to see that the grief aspect hasn’t been dropped at all, the show has tipped a little bit more towards the murder side of things. This is helped along by the show cutting the grief group that Jen and Judy went in season 1, this season, which is a shame. The grief group often provided a way for the show to slow itself down and reflect, which this season sorely needs. This season Judy deals with the struggle that is grieving someone who was abusive to her, and both Jen and Judy have to carry the guilt of Steve’s murder as his family becomes ever more involved in their lives.hulu_Into_the_Dark_My_Valentine_reviewWhile last season was about Judy keeping the secret from both Jen and the police, that she and Steve killed Jen’s husband in a hit and run, this season Judy knows that Jen killed Steve from the start, though Jen misleads her about some of the details. So a lot more of the show becomes about the two women working together, running around town, trying to cover it up. Jen discovers what Judy dealt with last season (and this season, for that matter), which is the urge to confess. While all of this is very entertaining, the show becomes a little too hectic with the secret keeping. It helped last season that it was only one of the titular characters keeping a murder secret, because it meant that we got a break from that storyline every once in a while. Instead this season runs at break-neck speed, and it feels a little claustrophobic that there’s no relief from the murder plot-line.hulu_Into_the_Dark_My_Valentine_reviewBoth actresses are incredible as always. Applegate shows off Jen’s enormous rage once again, but also intense vulnerability, which earned her Golden Globe, Emmy, and SAG nominations for season 1. Cardellini fully embodies the neurotic and sensitive Judy, as she struggles with her self-worth, but shows off her incredible depth of kindness. The two characters fall deeper into their co-dependent relationship, making it more unclear than ever whether they are the best things that ever happened to each other, or the worst.198121ba935c31d7384437cccc7a76f521-dead-to-me-s-1.2x.rsocial.w600
New character Michelle, played by Natalie Morales, is a great addition to the cast, I’m only sorry that we don’t get to see more of her. Don’t worry, even though Steve is dead, Marsden is back in a surprising way that I’ll leave to the imagination due to spoilers. Judy’s short-lived cop boyfriend from season 1, Nick (Brandon Scott), is back, and he’s as suspicious as ever, though still continues to be a great guy. This season he struggles with depression and discrimination from his boss at work. Detective Perez (Diana Maria Riva) gets some fleshing out this season, but it’s often clumsily done.UntitledSeason 2 is a wild ride. It’s fun, sad, highly entertaining, but often just a little too cringe-worthy (although if you like cringe then this will be perfect). The cast is as strong as ever, and the high stakes make me wonder how the show is going to manage to top itself next season. The finale ends on a cliffhanger, of course (come on, you know that’s not a spoiler, this is Dead To Me), and all of the characters seem to have grown a little by the end.

REVIEW: DEAD TO ME – SEASON 1

Dead to Me (2019)

Starring

Christina Applegate (Bad Moms)
Linda Cardellini (Avengers: Endgame)
James Marsden (Westworld)
Max Jenkins (plus One)
Sam McCarthy (Condor)
Luke Roessler (Deadpool 2)
Edward Asner (Elf)

Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini in Dead to Me (2019)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Diana-Maria Riva (Sabrina: TTW)
Suzy Nakamura (Dr. Ken)
Keong Sim (GLee)
Telma Hopkins (The Love Guru)
Haley Sims (Flaked)
Gloria Calderon Kellett (One Day At a Time)

Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini in Dead to Me (2019)Laughter isn’t included in the five stages of grief of the Kübler-Ross model, but perhaps it should be given its own special role in the process. The argument for this can be found in the dark comedy “Dead to Me,” which mines profound loss for laughs, marrying humor and heartache often in a single moment. Created by Liz Feldman, this 10-episode Netflix series deals with the aftermath of the sudden death of a husband and father. You know, the standard premise for a half-hour comedy.Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini in Dead to Me (2019)We meet Jen (Christina Applegate) following the hit-and-run that killed her husband, Ted, a few months ago. She struggles to sleep, parent her two sons (Sam McCarthy and Luke Roessler), and just get by between crying jags in her car while playing heavy metal. When she goes to a grief support group, she meets Judy (Linda Cardellini), who recently lost her fiancé. Though Jen’s sarcastic, hard shell shouldn’t gel with Judy’s carefree, boho spirit, the two women bond over Entenmann’s chocolate chip cookies, Ani DiFranco, and their similar tragic circumstances. They grow close quickly, and Jen invites Judy to live in the guest house at her Laguna home. But this isn’t just a story about female friendship and connecting after a loss; there’s twist after twist, often revealed through flashbacks to earlier moments in Jen and Judy’s lives.Linda Cardellini in Dead to Me (2019)“Dead to Me” unravels its mysteries slowly, with each episode ending on a new reveal or a cliffhanger that will keep Netflix subscribers glued to their screens. The show takes the opposite approach we might expect; as the season progresses and Jen moves farther from the death of her husband, the series actually gets darker and more serious. There’s still some of the sharp comedy that makes it so addictive in its earlier episodes, but there’s more emphasis on the mystery of who killed Ted. It’s an uneven, uneasy balance, and it makes the viewer long for the funnier first half of the show.Christina Applegate in Dead to Me (2019)But with the more dramatic leanings, we dive deeper into Jen and Judy as characters, and we get valuable insight into how grief, guilt, and secrets can both unite and divide people. These fast friends give viewers a profound picture of how we forgive each other and ourselves, especially after a tragedy. “Dead to Me” is dealing with the big questions of life, even beyond grief. The show and the people we meet on it are consumed with answering what makes someone a good or a bad person, and its clear affection for its flawed characters makes this all the more interesting.ab9ad7c401e2bcc1aad86e4a249fbc9776601d47Both Applegate and Cardellini move between the drama and the comedy with ease. After breaking out in “Freaks and Geeks,” Cardellini has had some dramatic roles, but this feels like a first for Applegate, whose career has been largely focused on comedy since “Married with Children.” These actresses display an impressive range in roles that require them to make us laugh and then minutes later, they’re sobbing. We also buy their closeness; their chemistry makes this friendship feels real, both despite and because of their opposite personalities. The supporting cast is strong as well; TV veteran Ed Asner has a small part as a resident at the retirement home where Judy works, and he’s brimming with enough warmth and empathy to make Lou Grant sneer. James Marsden has a pivotal role that I won’t spoil (and can’t, per Netflix), but it’s more proof that the talented actor should be getting more work and more lead roles and not just playing the runner-up in everything from “X-Men” to “Enchanted.”1The seesawing between grief and humor here won’t work for everyone, but that’s just more fuel for one of the ideas that “Dead to Me” is playing with: we all grieve differently. If you’re that person getting dirty looks for making jokes at a funeral, this show might be just your thing. And if you’re the person doling out those looks, “Dead to Me” may be a way to help better understand the way that other people cope with loss.