Grief is a funny thing. Apparently literally and figuratively. It can be expressed through tears, anger, bad behavior or talking to a bird you suspect is your deceased dad. Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini star as unlikely friends in the dark comedy Dead to Me. Mostly it’s about loss, grief, friendship and learning to move on. Dead to Me is full of real drama, sometimes poignant while at other times heartwarming. I know, it doesn’t sound like a real knee slapper but there are laughs too. The humor is dry, stealthy and often absurd. It’s clever, but it can take a beat for the joke to sink in.
Applegate (Married with Children) plays Jen, a recently widowed mother of two sons. Jen is sarcastic and cynical but is trying to keep life semi-normal for her boys. Cardellini (Bloodline) is Judy, a woman struggling with the loss of her fiancé. However Judy is not exactly all she’s cracked up to be, in fact, she may just be cracking up.
Jen and Judy meet-cute at a grief support group run by Pastor Wayne (Keong Sim), whose sunny affect doesn’t always match the topic at hand.
Circumstances lead to the women becoming friends and housemates, but the relationship is complicated. Besides both being middle aged women coping with grief, they have little in common. Jen is bitter, even vengeful, while Judy is more spiritual and thoughtful, even in her eccentricities.
Advertised as a dark comedy, viewers might not expect the many plot twists in Dead to Me. With at least one shocking reveal per episode, usually at the end to make the show bingeable, sometimes Dead to Me feels less like a dramedy and more like a soap opera. Over the top antics and Desperate Housewives type behavior unbalance the tone of the show a bit. Not that it isn’t completely entertaining, but the genre jumping can be dizzying. The final episode cliff hanger sets up a second season (yet to be confirmed).
It’s hard to say much else about Dead to Me without revealing surprises or ruining some funny scenes. All in all, Applegate and Cardellini make a great team, even their support group starts referring to them as Kate and Allie (it was a show in the 80’s about 2 divorced female roommates). A “secret” supporting role by James Marsden (X-Men) and Max Jenkins (The Mysteries of Laura) as Jen’s super Christian and possibly super gay co-worker help round out the cast. Also notable are scenes with Valerie Mahaffery as Jen’s narcissistic mother-in-law.
I would like to take a second to praise Dead to Me for having a middle aged female led cast, a female creator, four female directors and six female writers.
Although humorous, this show may hit too close to home for those who have recently gone through loss. Viewers could find it cathartic, but I can see how others might be saddened or even offended by some of the show’s content.