Dead to Me is a true dramedy, and neither the comedy nor the drama are what you might expect. For the comedy, that’s great. For the drama, it’s a mixed bag. On that drama, note that this is not a spoiler-free review. Please proceed with caution.
In the first minutes of the first episode, Dead to Me Season 1 Episode 1, “Pilot” seems relatively straightforward- a quirky and darkly comic exploration of loss and working your way through it. This is where I like it best.
Our protagonist, Jen, is played razor-sharp in both wit and pain by Christina Applegate. Jen doesn’t apologize to anyone for how she handles herself, and when that rubs people the wrong way, it’s usually to make a point.
We are often told there is “no right way to grieve”, yet even those who say that only mean it to an extent. There still seems to be a select pool of “right ways to grieve”, and Jen doesn’t align with any of them.
We do see more traditional forms. Jen’s older son is a typical brooding teenager, her younger one a true believer in spirituality—including the idea that his father can come back as a bird, which Jen rebukes (though only in private.)
Then there’s Judy. Judy is also a “nontraditional mourner”. This makes for great banter and wonderful scenes between two women who, in these first minutes, share being widows of their respective significant others.
And then we are hit with our first plot twist. Judy has technically lost her fiancé, Steve, but because he broke up with her. Over Jen’s understandable outrage, we start down a path of further twists that are just…well, a lot.
It isn’t all bad. I like how the show saves Judy from what might be unsalvageable here. The breakup is a result of failed attempts at pregnancy, including several miscarriages. She is experiencing genuine grief and is projecting it into something she use to identify with others.
The continued focus on this particular kind of drama, though, starts to feel strained. Each of the following episodes ends with a twist, much like How to Get Away with Murder. It feels like a pattern that will continue.
Thing is, this is not How to Get Away with Murder. Characters on shows like that are not necessarily meant to be likeable. We do like a lot of things about them, but with that much grey area, they’re far from role models. Just look at what they do.
To see that Judy has done things that are shockingly similar, especially as her relationship with Jen continues to develop, makes everything strained. This is at least as true for the audience as it is for the characters.
Dead to Me Season 1 Episode 3, “It’s All My Fault” does it’s best to soften the blow as it confirms that Judy and ex(?) Steve were the ones who accidentally killed Jen’s husband with their car. But how much can you soften something like that?
Yes, Judy is absolutely wracked with guilt, is doing what she does as a form of repentance, and is holding the truth at bay largely because of Steve’s urging. Still, can this possibly end in anything short of disaster?
Almost certainly not, and there’s a very good chance this exactly what the show wants us to expect. It is striving to be watercooler TV, but it just doesn’t need to do so.
I would happily and eagerly watch several seasons of Jen and Judy bonding in their strange new worlds. I love Jen and her kids. I really love Judy’s interactions with Abe, played by Ed Asner(!!)
True, the starting plot isn’t the most original, but I generally think it’s okay if a storyline has been done before so long as it’s done well. Dead to Me does its storyline well and then some.
By the time we get to the twist that ends the third episode, one that throws Ted from his pedestal in death to someone who was almost definitely a cheating spouse, we just know this is only the beginning.
The way the twists play out is, at least so far, well-acted and just as tense as the writers intend it to be. I’m sure I can find a lot to appreciate about what’s to come, even if makes me cringe.
Still, if I had the option to just ignore all these things and patch all the hilarious, often heartbreaking interactions into a patchwork quilt of a show, I’d do it in a second.
What did you think of these episodes of Dead to Me? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Dead to Me is now streaming on Netflix.
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