Review Dead to Me Season 1 Created by Liz Feldman
Review Dead to Me Season 1 In recent years, Netflix has held the honor and burden
of bringing to life countlessTV series – giving a voice to talent previously under or unseen.
While it has become impossible to keep up with everything the platform currently has to offer, it also allows
its creators, writers, and directors to tell their stories on their terms. Gone are the days
where television was situated comfortably in the binary of comedy and drama. Now we
have space carved out for shows that subvert our expectations, make us uncomfortable,
and if we’re lucky, invite us into the artist’s vision.
Liz Feldman takes complete advantage of this genre fluidity. Her Netflix creation,
Dead to Me (streaming now), is a darkly comic meditation on grief and the ways
it manifests within our interpersonal relationships. Featuring especially remarkable
turns from two typically underutilized actresses, Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini,
Dead to Me is a prickly, but surprisingly personal examination into how we process trauma…
Jen (Applegate), a recently widowed real estate agent, has some anger issues.
Her husband died abruptly three months prior in a hit-and-run, and without someone
to blame for this crime, Jen listens to heavy metal in her car and takes her short-temper
out on those around her. She is searching for catharsis, an outlet to express her grief,
or at the very least, someone she can commiserate with. She finds herself at Friends of
Heaven, a support group for those who are mourning, and meets Judy (Cardellini),
a beguiling woman who is grieving the loss of her fiancé.
Immediately, Dead to Me negotiates a tone that is equal parts biting and resonant.
Jen and Judy’s relationship develops quickly, but with no one else to turn to,
they cling on to one another in a way that feels realistic. Jen’s anger, as righteous
as it may be, slowly begins to crumble upon meeting Judy. They complement one
another in ways they didn’t think imaginable, and for once, their individual losses
forge together through collective healing. However, the closer they get, the deeper
and more layered the series becomes. After all, much like grief itself, Jen and Judy’s
friendshipis multifaceted and messy. There is more lurking beneath the surface than
we care to confront or even admit.
Because at least one of them is always on screen throughout its first season, Dead to Me relies on Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini to pull off the show’s tricky tone. Fortunately, both are up for a challenge. Jen, chastised for her anger issues, is a woman who cannot seem to let go of the past. She harbors resentments, lashes out at people who wish her the best, and still finds time to search her sunny California town for the person who may have killed her husband.
In some ways she’s an off-putting character, having built a wall around herself that few can pierce. Not even her two sons are close with their mother (in fact, they are usually relegated to the background of the series). Applegate sinks her teeth into this meatier than usual role. She allows herself to be cantankerous with no initial hint of warmth. But as the series develops, so too does Jen, and we slowly begin to see the softer shades to her anger. After all, it’s not just anger that’s built up – it’s melancholy, frustration, and denial. It is only after Judy enters her life that she begins to cope properly.
Meanwhile, Cardellini’s Judy is by no means a resentful person. She is filled with kindness and energy – a quality that rubs off on Jen’s family after Jen asks her to move in. Whereas Jen channels her grief through lashing out at other people, Judy harbors a deep sadness that she cannot quite shake.
Her character is shrouded in mystery, with each episode peeling away at another layer to her troubled unreliable narrator. It helps that Cardellini is so damn likeable as Judy, that it is easy to go on this journey with her. Jen may listen to heavy metal in search for catharsis, but Judy doesn’t even know how to begin searching. It’s a marvelous performance and one worthy of Cardellini’s unique capabilities.
Make no mistake: Dead to Me is far more than a series about women overcoming their grief. The central premise is deceptively simple and then unravels into a tangled web of secrets and lies. And while there are plenty of twists to keep you guessing, for the most part, they are easy to see coming and not easily sustainable as mysteries for a ten-episode run. The pilot, for example,
unfolds so quickly and gives away many of the season’s thrills right off the bat, that some subsequent episodes find the characters in a strange lull with no room for the plot of develop. Given the topic this was probably intentional, but it makes the first season a somewhat jerky viewing experience.