“Dead to Me” is sinfully engrossing television

Dead To Me is a well-paced traumedy that is gifted life by the formidable execution by creator Liz Feldman in concert with Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini.

“Dead to Me”

Starring Christina Applegate, Linda Cardellini, James Marsden, Max Jenkins, Sam McCarthy, Luke Roessler and Edward Asner

I feel like it’s been a while since a television programme has hijacked my thought process and I’ve just wanted to endlessly consume it. Even watching through Killing Eve (probably because my brain is a jackass that hates it when people have hyped something, and I feel like it’s no longer fully my choice), I didn’t feel especially connected or eager to digest it. (Disclaimer: I did actually love Killing Eve, it’s great.)

However, Dead to Me has managed to invade my brain over the past week, and it took all of my self control to watch it in one go. Instead, I watched it in two goes.

The appeal is so simple, and something that so many programmes could learn from: three-dimensional and well-realised characters at the centre of the drama. Regardless of the situation, if you do not have those solid tent-poles holding up your television programme, it is not going to stand up on its own. Fortunately, Dead to Me has that in spades.

Christina Applegate portrays Jen, an acerbic and no-nonsense single mother who is raising two children. In the wake of her husband being killed in a hit-and-run accident, Jen is traumatised and overwhelmed, struggling to come to terms with her own grief as a result of her strong nature, often leading to her emotional coping tactics coming out through aggression.

At a grief support group, she meets the perfect foil: Linda Cardellini as Judy, who is as quirky as Jen is sullen. Judy is an artist, who works at a retirement home and is the epitome of sunshine. She spends her time dedicating herself to Judy’s wellbeing, despite her own recent bereavement, and moves into Jen’s house to support her.

Over the course of the series, more about Jen and Judy’s characters are revealed, as we start to unravel the mystery surrounding the death of Jen’s husband, the true nature of her marriage and hints that Judy is not all that she seems. The episodes hurdle along in a well-paced and energetic way, benefiting from only 10 half-hour episodes on a Netflix budget. The multiple twists and turns resulted in a multitude of gasps, even though you think the series has revealed its entire hand at the end of only the first episode.

Not only is the show superbly well-helmed by Applegate and Cardellini, but the writing is clearly deeply personal and nuanced. While elements of Jen’s story – notably her double mastectomy due to having the BRCA1 gene – derive from Christina Applegate’s personal life, and explore the emotional impact of this upon Jen’s self-esteem as well as her marriage, Judy’s story benefits from creator Liz Feldman’s background surrounding multiple miscarriages and the emotional toll that this can take. This real-world experience enhances the depth and nuance of the performances and only serves to make these characters feel more life-like.

The series is also visually stunning, with the Californian locations striking and extravagant. Jen’s job as a realtor allow us to see inside a great deal of gorgeous homes, and we are treated to many shots of the main duo sitting by the pool drinking wine as the height of sophistication.

Dead to Me succeeds because of the high level of emotional investment that you feel in the characters. The stakes feel great because of the attachments that have been formed with Judy and Jen throughout the storyline, and the small twists and turns that happen along the way definitely keep you hooked to watch the next episode straight away. The wonderful locations and nuanced writing is a huge bonus, but this is largely a winner due to the accomplished performances of Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini. Here’s hoping that there will be a Season 2.

Dead to Me is streaming on Netflix now.

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