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.