‘Dead to Me’ Season 2 Flows With Biting Humor and Emotion
Netflix’s acidly fun comedy “Dead to Me” premiered last year as a hilarious meditation on grief that was pulled off impressively well. Two suburban women, widow Jen (Christina Applegate) and Judy (Linda Cardellini) were linked by tragedy. Judy had inserted herself into Jen’s life out of the weight of an enormous guilt. She had been the one driving the car that killed Jen’s husband. That first season then became a roller coaster of emotions and revelations. When Judy’s corrupt ex-fiance Steve (James Marsden) came into the picture it culminated in a tense showdown between him and Jen.
And that’s precisely where season two begins. Jen had discovered Judy’s complicity and Steve drunkenly confronted her in her backyard, confessing he was the one who told Judy to drive off and leave Jen’s husband to die. We now know what happened later. Steve is dead, his head bashed in and bloodied as he floats in Jen’s swimming pool. Beyond grief, the two friends are now tied together by a deadly secret. What to do? Steve’s corpse is quickly thrown into the freezer in Jen’s basement and the two continue going to work as if all is well. Jen goes back into real estate while caring for her two kids, Henry (Luke Roessler) and Charlie (Sam McCarthy), who is going through that necessary phase of begging for a car. Judy goes back to working at a retirement facility. But the tension becomes unbearable as they are both aware of what’s being kept hidden in the basement. Then, out of the blue, Steve’s twin brother Ben (Marsden) shows up to settle some of his brother’s affairs. At least he is aware Steve was a monster. Eventually however, Jen and Judy will need to find a way to overcome their shared secret.
With creator Liz Feldman still in charge, “Dead to Me” proves it was not just a one hit wonder. For its second season it faces the challenge confronting most shows that had a great premise good enough for its first batch of episodes. Season one was mostly about Jen processing the grief of her loss and Judy struggling to contain her secret all the way until the penultimate episode. The tables not only turn, they drastically change for this chapter. Judy still had strong feelings for Steve, despite the fact that he was an abusive partner, and part of the season’s quirky energy comes from her having to process a loss of her own. Gradually the first episodes reveal what happened the night Steve confronted Jen. Terrified she made a move with a certain garden item that left him splayed on the pool. In a darkly comic sense both women are “even” now. How such a moment would linger around anyone is hilariously captured in how any little noise coming from near the freezer jolts both accomplices. A rattling noise is revealed to be rats and Jen get so obsessed with trying to get rid of the body that she tries to recreate the infamous bathtub trick from “Breaking Bad.” The situation becomes more urgent once there’s a power outage in the county.
Again featuring brilliant performances from a resurgent Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini the season thrives as well on its supporting cast. Nick (Brandon Scott), the cop still in love with Judy returns and is still snooping around. Detective Perez (Diana Maria Riva) also returns, baffled at why Jen and Judy are now such good friends after Jen asked for a restraining order last season. Charlie is getting his driving chops while Henry blissfully finds distraction performing in church activities. There’s also a new character, Michelle Gutierrez (Natalie Morales), whose mother moves into the facility where Judy works. Michelle and Judy strike a friendship where Michelle provides some blunt, real world talk that is necessary to get through difficult moments.
Some of the best moments are when “Dead to Me” walks the fine line between comedy and drama. Jen and Judy will drive out to the desert to figure out a way to get rid of Steve’s corpse, then have a rather powerful heart to heart at a bar. Earlier in the episode Jen also looks at Judy and finally utters a line of pure, beautiful closure for them both. Cardellini has a particularly wonderful moment where she breaks down and confesses that Steve might have been a terror, but he was “my other person.” It ends with one of the season’s best hugs, as Jen opens up and says he wants to be Judy’s person now.
Maybe in these times, when the world feels turned upside down, a show like “Dead to Me” works like a refreshing tonic. It doesn’t mock death. It just looks at it with a knowing smirk. Sometimes to go on we also need to laugh a little, because every good day above ground is a gift with a few curses.
“Dead to Me” season two begins streaming May 8 on Netflix.