Joining the insurgence of shows featuring unconventional female friendships and empowerment is one of Netflix’s newest original series, Dead to Me, composed of ten half-hour episodes starring the talented Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini.
Surprise, surprise, I was on top of things (although I did not know that I was at the time). This series premiered on May 3, and I finished it shortly thereafter–because it was that good. An easy, fast watch, Dead to Me centers on grieving widow Jen (Christina Applegate) who is consumed with finding the hit-and-run driver that left her husband to die on the road. She fosters an unexpected friendship with her complete opposite, Judy (Linda Cardellini), who is consumed by a shocking event of her own. Also, a shout-out to the ever handsome James Marsden. It was a pleasant surprise to see his smug face pop up (no disrespect, I love that smug face and he has a lot to be smug about).
All in all, the cast members put in superb performances, which elevated my experience of this unique and riveting show. Even in the rare moments of weak story lines and slow scenes, the actors drew me in with their emotion, expression, charm, and delivery. I have seen these stars in other works, but I felt like they peaked here, never failing to draw me in to their characters and their plights.
I think the best thing in the show was the blossoming, but at times rocky, friendship between the two women. The intense situations throwing them together and their natural reactions to those very situations created almost a foolproof testing ground for what makes or breaks best friends. Their characters were so well-developed that it was impossible not to have the perfect chemistry, but not in an obviously calculated way, like the writers were following a specific formula.
What also worked in their favor was a riveting plot that carried viewers naturally through an easy flow with moments of excitement. It contained a perfect mixture of suspense, mystery, and humor, a very difficult combination to manage, but creator Liz Feldman and the main cast did more than manage–they delivered. You will be laughing one moment and exhilarated the next. You will feel yourself relaxing at a sweet scene before scooting to the edge of your seat for another. The moments were fluid–nothing particularly jolted me so I felt like I was on a rocky roller coaster. It was a smooth ride all around, and I think the half-hour structure per episode helped.
I do not think the plot twists were as crazy as some people online were saying. They were manageable and enjoyable, but not “blow my mind outta the water” crazy. I think they could have been crazier actually (some parts were outright predictable), but then it would become a Korean soap opera (one of those weekend ones I’d need an ahjumma perm to watch).
Of course, as always, I do have a few issues. At the best of times, I considered rating it a 9/10. At the worst of times, nearer the end, I considered rating it a 7/10 (still pretty damn good). Those moments happened neared the end of the series. I felt like things were slowing down–too much information was revealed near the beginning, and the end was just dealing with it and having characters unravel plot lines we already knew for a while. I wish it had stayed strong and suspenseful throughout, but the ending, while a satisfactory enough ending (or shall I say cliffhanger and when is the second season coming dammit), could have done more. It’s a tricky balance, admittedly, as I liked that Dead to Me did not rely heavily on shock value. I do love how the show did most of the reveals. Oh look, I’m back to complimenting it. Moving on!
The characters were fully developed and alive–for the most part. Honestly, James Marsden’s character, Steve, was hard to figure out, which may be why I felt a bit iffy about his involvement in the story. Come to think of it, the men in general here were the least developed, and I did not completely know what to make of them. For example, we are told Steve is a sleazeball and Jen has an innate, intense dislike of him, but I could not 100% believe or understand it. Instead of being shown his flawed character (and yes, it is undoubtedly flawed but everyone is in this series), we keep being told he is or having new information thrown at us. This lack of “show not tell” always bothers me, but it could be because we see him from both Jen and Judy’s points of view.
I am still not sure how to feel about Jen’s deceased husband, either. A third man, Nick, is complex and interesting, but also a bit all over the place. Maybe this is all the point? I think only time will tell with more episodes, but Steve was definitely the biggest problem.
I hope the second season will flesh out the male characters a bit more because they are the surrounding characters of the central female duo. While I liked Dead to Me more than HBO’s Big Little Lies (book was much better), I do think the latter did a better job of making it clear how you should feel about the men. It seems to be an important dynamic for this burgeoning genre (which I love).
Overall, I highly, highly recommend it! I really loved this show and am hoping for a second season–and soon. Go to Netflix now and watch; it is an easy binge!
Dead to Me Rating: