There are times where I need to know next-to-nothing about a new show to dive in. For example, with Netflix’s Russian Doll, I knew it starred Natasha Lyonne and was created in part by Bachelorette writer/director Leslye Headland. That was enough. I avoided synopses and trailers and dug right in, so its unique central premise was a delicious surprise. This was also the case for Dead To Me, a dark comedy series starring Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini. Sold. I watched it knowing little else, loved it from ep one, and want to gush to you about all the reasons why. But here’s where I hit a snag.
When Netflix gives critics screeners for their shows, they often issue “spoiler lists,” meaning things we’re not to write about ahead of the show’s debut. As an example, for The Haunting of Hill House, we were asked not to reveal the Bent Neck Lady’s secret. For Santa Clarita Diet season 3, we weren’t to talk about the major twists in the finale. For Stranger Things, there’s a whole bunch of spoilers were asked to keep mum on until after the audiences actually have a chance to see them. The idea is to not spoil the fun of discovery for viewers. And I totally get that. So, I will not share any of the 18 spoilers Netflix has listed for Dead To Me. But I will tell you there are 18 so you have a sense of the twists this daring sitcom involves.
What I can tell you: Dead To Me is a series made by, starring, and made for grown women who know life can be cruel, ludicrous, and sometimes sweet. Created by Liz Feldman, it centers on the funky friendship that blossoms by two women coping with grief in very different ways. Jen (executive producer Christina Applegate) is a recently widowed mother of two, who was a successful realtor/breadwinner when her stay-at-home husband was killed in a hit-and-run. Now, she’s struggling to balance work, her sons, and her all-consuming rage. And it’s not going great! At a grief support group, this abrasive single-mom meets big-hearted Judy (producer Linda Cardellini), who has lost her fiancé, and comforts herself by helping others. One late night phone call leads this odd couple to realize their shared affection for irreverent humor, wine, and The Facts of Life. Before long, Jen invites Judy to move into her guest house (Think Kate & Allie meets Weeds). But Judy’s harboring a deep secret that could ruin everything.
This show was designed to binge. Like Russian Doll, each episode ends in a reveal or cliffhanger that dares you to turn away. And with just ten episodes, it’s as easy to burn through season one in a single sitting as it is to knock back a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in one go. Like Santa Clarita Diet, each new reveal or wrinkle sets the show on an exhilarating adjusted course, with stakes ever mounting. The characters reel and you’ll thrill, desperate to know what comes next. But enough about the twists I can’t talk about.
This is the role Christina Applegate was born to play. As Jen, she gives voice to a uniquely female sense of rage. She’s worked hard. She’s provided for her family. She’s sacrificed. She’s done it all while staying thin and pretty and presentable. And still, she’s alone, miserable, and rightly goddamn furious. The outrage we saw in Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead’s “I’m right on top of that, Rose!” has come to a glorious and righteous bloom here. Jen is a “white wine vigilante” whose grief turns her into a reckless detective who stalks the California streets looking for dented fenders and anyone to blame. And whether she’s screaming at a nattering socialite, sneering at sympathy casseroles, or cursing out a songbird, she’s absolutely riveting. Her acerbic wit is sharply hilarious, while the underpinning of pathos cuts us to the core. She is the salt and the wound, and it hurts so good.
And at long damn last, Freaks and Geeks’ Linda Cardinelli gets another role that feels worthy of her! Instantly charismatic yet odd, Judy is a deeply complicated woman who is hard to pin down. Cardinelli brings nuance to every strained smile, worried glance, and double-edged line reading. You want to trust Judy. You want her to be the good friend that Jen so desperately needs. AND YET there’s something off about her nervous energy that keeps you on edge. As her story unfolds, though, you’ll ache for her too. And you’ll cackle, because Applegate and Cardinelli are a superb comedy duo. Forget the straight man and the stooge. Applegate is the cynical woman, and Cardinelli is not her fool but bursts with a hopeful earnestness so radiant that their collision means sparks flying, punchlines popping, and shenanigans with teeth.
(Also great on this show are James Marsden and Brandon Scott. But I can’t really tell you who they play, so I can’t really tell you why they’re so damn good. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )
Dead To Me’s twisted turns and scathing wit are the lures that make it binge-worthy. But the hook that will keep audiences coming back is a big heart thumping hard at its core. Applegate and Cardinelli create a female friendship that is deeply flawed, yet relatable, entertaining, and alive! You won’t just want to watch Dead To Me to see what happens. You’ll want to revisit it just to spend more time with these characters, who are furious, funny, and fantastically f*cked up.
Dead To Me hits Netflix on May 3.
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Header Image Source: Netflix