Dead to Me opens up on grieving but curt widow, Jen (Christina Applegate), as she begins her first day at a grief group. There, she meets kind and sensitive Judy (Linda Cardellini), who recently lost her fiancé. The two become fast friends, and through late night phone calls, they bond over their love for Entenmann cookies and Facts of Life. But their relationship comes crashing down – momentarily – when Jen learns a secret that Judy has been harbouring: her fiancé isn’t dead.
This is one of two twists that happens in the pilot, the other is a grand reveal that comes at the very end of the episode. It’s an excellent subversion of the usual crime drama because Jen, who is working tirelessly to find the hit-and-run driver who left her husband for dead, doesn’t know that the very culprit is under her nose. But just because the biggest plot twist of Dead to Me is revealed so early on doesn’t mean it takes away from the suspense. Instead, the show reveals more secrets through each instalment, the drama bubbling up before finally imploding within the final episode.
The show doesn’t rely heavily on its plot twists though; beneath the deceit, the increasing tension and the daily trips to the police station is a thought provoking and emotional story about grief and guilt as Jen and Judy try to move on whilst continuously being reminded of their past. Both Applegate and Cardellini put such raw emotion into their performances as the leading ladies become increasingly unhinged as they try to heal from their losses. Jen struggles to balance her personal life with trying to get justice for her husband’s murder, whilst Judy begins unravelling as more and more people come closer to finding out the truth about her.
Dead to Me does deal with serious issues around loss but that doesn’t make it an innately ‘serious’ show. Writer Liz Feldman makes sure that the audience can have just as many laughs as they can cries with such cleverly written dark humour that pokes fun at death and trauma without it feeling insincere of what the characters are going through, and the audience for that matter. Jen and Judy’s dynamic is as funny as it is interesting and the show’s cynical humour lets us explore how the rest of Jen’s family are dealing with her husband’s death in a lighter tone.
What’s impressive about Dead to Me is that if you striped away the dramatic storylines, you could still have a show that intrigues its audience; it’s a story of two women who save each other from being stuck in this continuous loop of grief, anger and guilt. But the episodic plot twists are still compelling and help drive the story to its surprising conclusion. Without a doubt Applegate and Cardellini are the best part of this show with such wonderful performances from both leading ladies and there’s a perfect balance between its dark, depressing tones and the satire that comes with dealing with the most painful parts of life.
All 10 episodes of Dead to Me are available on Netflix now.