The recent dark comedy/thriller/crime mystery Dead to Me is one of a few half-hour Netflix shows that are taking over the world right now. Everyone, including me, is looking for some new shows to take us out of the depressing and horrid state of society at the moment and into a refreshing story. Many TV shows right now are good candidates, with Dead to Me definitely being one worth checking out. The first season was a fantastic start to the series, with two dedicated and hard-hitting lead performances from Linda Cardellini and Christina Applegate. The comedy was one of the season’s strongest aspects, yet the dramatic work was still impeccable with every single character having developed backgrounds that made them understandable. It faltered a little in episodes 7 and 8 out of ten, but the finale reinforced the great talent showcased and made me look forward to the inevitable second season.
Fortunately, Season 2 retains all of the talent that the first season constantly exemplified, and is also just as, if not more, hilarious than its previous episodes. This is a show about dealing with grief, covering up a crime, and tremendous guilt but it still manages to be one of the funnier dramatic television shows right now. While Dead to Me continues to be solid television and continues to showcase some fantastic performances and writing, it doesn’t quite live up to the first season due to the dramatic heft not hitting quite as hard. The general storyline of this season doesn’t feel as personal or satisfying, but instead is a pretty good murder mystery that has a less-than-satisfying conclusion. The show never devolves into a level of quality that wastes the performances of Cardellini and Applegate, but it doesn’t excel as much as the standard set by the first season.
Without giving too much away about the ending of Season 1, this season starts with the aftermath of an unforgivable act that will clearly define both Jen (Christina Applegate) and Judy (Linda Cardellini) for the near future. They must cover up their involvement with this event while resuming their everyday lives and pretending nothing happened. However, once more people start to realize something is wrong — such as an old friend (James Marsden) and some observant and angry police officers (Diana Maria Riva and Brandon Scott) — things start to look worse and worse for their future. Yes, this plot is vague, but the event at the end of Season 1 is substantial and will spoil the entire season for those who haven’t watched it.
Essentially, the suspense surrounding this plot is about covering up a murder, which, to me, is not as compelling as all of the secrets and lies surrounding the hit and run of Jen’s husband in Season 1. For much of the first half of Season 2, I felt as if the situation they created for themselves could have been avoided had they just come clean. What saves the story is the engrossing supporting characters and the reveals that come late in the season that validate certain doubts I had. In the middle episodes, the protagonists (Jen and Judy) make some extremely misguided and hairbrained decisions that made me lose some respect for them as characters, so the show has to depend on its supporting cast for sanity. Luckily, they have some promising new actors and intelligent writing from Liz Feldman. Strong characters are rampant in this show, from Jen’s teenage son (Sam McCarthy) who is sick of his mom’s temper tantrums and lies, to a dedicated but damaged police detective (Riva) who has more baggage and motivation than initially realized.
However, the character who unexpectedly comes through as one of the best in the show is James Marsden’s character. Due to the nature of his role in this season, I will not say exactly how he fits into this story, but his performance delivers against all odds. When he first appeared on screen, I was skeptical to say the least. On paper, his character seems like something out of a cheesy soap opera that was cancelled after one season, and I started to think the writers were getting desperate. However, after just one episode, Marsden’s performance was so convincing that I was onboard with his character’s struggles and I ended up feeling for him more than most others in the show.
Even though the supporting cast in this show may be fantastic, the last episode kills much of the interest in these side characters. The manner in which many side plots and character arcs are wrapped up feel abrupt and underwritten in order to serve the main two characters. The murder mystery comes to an end in a rushed fashion that almost makes the entire season feel pointless. This entire issue gets resolved by one conversation in the beginning of the last episode, and then the rest of the 30 minutes is spent teasing the next season and giving a false sense of finality. It feels like a betrayal of what all nine previous episodes of the season built up, and it also solidifies the slight dip this season takes compared to the first season.
What really stands out about this show, and what always has stood out since the very first episode of the series, is the performances from Applegate and Cardellini. They are both astounding in every single episode, and they never miss a beat even when the writing doesn’t support them. The fact that they both haven’t had entire franchises to themselves is confounding given the amount of dedication and emotion put into these performances. The best episode of the season is Episode 9, “It’s Not You, It’s Me,” which contains an emotional breakdown that should earn both actresses at least a nomination in the Emmys. It’s the climax of the season and it delivers in every way. Along with them, this show is also laugh-out-loud funny at every turn, which is why it never fails even when it falls a little short at times. Dead to Me is a dark comedy at its core, and it succeeds in that front with flying colors. I could quote this show for days. “Canada’s lame. It’s like the PBS of countries,” says Jen’s teenage son when they bring up moving away in the second episode.
While Season 2 of Dead to Me isn’t quite as awesome as Season 1, it is still a solid show worth checking out, and contains some fantastic characters and acting. Hopefully in future seasons they do much more with supporting characters that didn’t get enough attention this go-round (Brandon Scott’s character is a personal favorite). The cliffhanger that the last episode left us on made me cringe; it just seemed like a rehashing of something they had already moved past episodes ago. I am still curious to see how they handle it regardless — the writers have proven with this season that they can take some conceptual disasters and turn them into compelling storylines. Dead to Me is still a great binge watch in these tough times even if this season wasn’t as strong, and I have no doubt that in future episodes they will find more ways to be humorous and inventive.
I give Dead to Me Season 2 a B.