One of Netflix’s newest original series, Dead to Me, debuted on May 3 and it walks a fine line between heart-wrenching drama and laugh-out-loud comedy. Classified as a “dark comedy,” the show focuses on the unlikely friendship between Jen (Christina Applegate), a mother of two still reeling from the death of her husband, and Judy (Linda Cardellini), a somewhat eccentric, yet endearing woman, as they attend the same grief counselling sessions. Dead to Me puts a unique twist on a tale about loss and how people deal with it, even though it may struggle with focusing on the genre it wants to be at times.
It’s a strange feeling to be brought to tears one second, and then left laughing the next, multiple times in a 30-minute time span, but this is what Dead to Me pulls out of its viewers right from the first episode.
Applegate is perfect at playing the tough, curt, snappy woman in public and balancing that with the caring, empathetic nature she shows to her characters’ children in private, and Cardellini is endearing and just strange enough in her portrayal of the approachable, yet tortured Judy; however, what drives the show is the women’s chemistry with one another.
They make it believable that two strangers with opposite personalities could become so close so quickly, without any feeling of it being forced or, worse, corny. Strong supporting performances from James Marsden as Steve Wood, Judy’s ex-fiancé, and Max Jenkins as Jen’s real estate partner Christopher Doyle aid in creating and shaping this dark, yet not quite overly gloomy, world that these women live in.
Dead to Me is appropriately billed as a “dark comedy,” as it attempts to make light of a dark and, quite frankly, devastating subject: sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t. A good chunk of the show is actually quite sad, and although it approaches the topics of grief and guilt in a well-rounded way, the comedic aspects squeezed into the in-between moments can sometimes feel forced, and they may not hit their intended targets spot on. This isn’t to say that the formula doesn’t work, because for the most part, it does — it simply comes across as a little unbalanced at times.
With strong lead and supporting roles, great chemistry, and a plot thick enough to allow for constant cliff-hangers and more questions than answers, Dead to Me certainly has lots of steam to make for a solid series for Netflix — which has been proven now that it has been picked up for a second season. If the series could put a little more attention into creating space for humour, instead of pushing it into sad moments — that are wonderfully crafted and performed — in hopes that it will lighten the mood, a solid balance could be made that could fully do the term “dark comedy” justice. With some fine tuning, Netflix may have one of the most lively TV shows to feature the word dead in the title in a long time.