Another Netflix dramedy that hits with the comedy and surprisingly goes heavier with the drama than most.
Dead to Me follows a blossoming friendship between Jen Harding (Christina Applegate), who just lost her husband to a hit-and-run, and Judy Hale (Linda Cardellini), a free spirit who has dealt with her fair share of loss. However, Judy houses a shocking secret that threatens to break the bond they’ve built.
Dead to Me could have gone in a number of directions, I for one didn’t know exactly where it was going to go after the first episode which introduces and sets everything up. However, it never ceases to come up with new ways to have you continue watching with each passing episode. It’s a story that definitely has a major hook to entice you to stick with the whole season, but with each and every episode there’s another hook introduced that throws you straight into the next lot drama.
Surprisingly, thinking back, this approach of leading into each new episode with a mini twist or turn didn’t get old. If not done well, the shock-value could have fizzled out half way through the season, however, it worked the whole way through which was a pleasant surprise. Could it be seen as lazy writing? In that it’s relying on smaller twists and turns as oppose to a wider picture mystery. Sure, but the turns are inventive, don’t feel forced at all, and all lead into the bigger picture as it edges close to the finish. It’s handled well and I’d say in terms of length, the ten episode run is a good length to tell everything without rushing or drastically dragging.
In terms of the balance of the humour and drama in the story I’d say the scales are tipped more in favour of the drama. This isn’t a bad thing as the drama, and the emotion the show derives from it, is engaging and comes across as strikingly authentic. The story has you caring about these characters regardless of their past and makes it very easy to sympathise with them. The performances also help greatly with this. As far as the humour goes, there’s not an abundance of it, and not all of it hits, but when it does work it makes for a number of enjoyable scenes. The humour here is used as a palette cleanser to lighten the mood from some of the heavily dramatic themes that pop up. It’s a nice touch that’s not overpowering but also not non-existent.
As the drama intensifies through the season the pacing is gradually upped which helps push towards a big climax. However, I do feel like it does miss the mark when it comes to the last episode in terms of the pacing. As oppose to all of the other story turns that come at the end of the other episodes, where they kick the pace up a notch, the turn going into the last episode slows things down which is an odd choice. It’s one major decision I personally didn’t like, it set up the final episode to run at a slower pace by hitting a soft reset button and the change is noticeable. On top of that, it somewhat nullifies the progression made on some other subplots in the previous few episodes. It’s not the greatest choice but it didn’t ruin the series and still ended quite strongly.
When it comes to the highlight of the show it’s the performances of dynamic duo Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini that shine above all else. The two of them are incredible in playing out the oscillating relationship between Jen and Judy. They have moments in which they’re hilarious together and plenty of scenes in which they deliver some hard-hitting emotional content. They really sell the dramatic side of things so well that you buy into both of their stories and can’t pick sides. Both are very talented, Cardellini is a national treasure, and it’s worth watching the show just for them.
As far as the supporting performances go, the charismatic James Marsden is by far the strongest of the bunch as Steve Wood. He’s well cast in the role and can play the charming but also secretly douchey type of character very convincingly. He’s a nice touch to the dynamic between Cardellini and Applegate. No one else really stands out, in fact, none of the other characters are all that likeable including Christopher (Max Jenkins), Charlie (Sam McCarthy), and even Nick (Brandon Scott) to an extent. They all do have their moments which are good, but they don’t really have the screen-time and presence to make their mark on the series. It’s nothing against their performances it’s that so much focus is on Jen, Judy, and Steve that no-one else gets more than a few moments.
In the end, Dead to Me does a lot well and is thoroughly enjoyable throughout, but suffers in some minor areas that hold it back. It’s a fast-moving series with a total runtime of around five hours for the ten episodes, so it’s an easy ride. It’s an easy ride also due to the enjoyment of watching Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini go back and forth in the dramatic and comedic aspects of the series. Some mid-episode dips in pace don’t help and a drop of pace going into the climax isn’t great, but they’re minor quarrels that don’t ruin chances of enjoying the series at all.