‘Dead to Me’ Departs With a Final Season Full of Melancholic Hilarity
Everyone knows tragedy and comedy are twin souls. You can’t have one without the other. Like few other recent shows, Netflix’s “Dead to Me” has the capacity to make you laugh and cry, while refusing to water down some of its surprises. Maybe it’s a smart move that the streamer has not renewed the series for a fourth season. This is the kind of premise that can threaten to lose its edge if you try to keep it going for too long. And so it ends appropriately, with plenty of emotional pull and roaring jokes. Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini have made a great pair, bringing their chemistry to every sad secret and funeral.
As the season opens, fans know that besties Jen (Applegate) and Judy (Cardellini) both now have some corpses on their consciences. Judy had confessed that it was she who ran over Jen’s husband, but by the end of season two, they had tagged teamed in killing Judy’s corrupt fiancé, Steve (James Marsden). Steve’s twin brother, Ben (Marsden), a much nicer guy, then showed up to settle his sibling’s affairs. Now we’re back where we left off, with Jen and Judy going to the hospital after getting into a car accident caused by a drunken Ben, who had a breakdown after the police found his brother’s corpse. Jen ends up a bit bruised to Judy’s relief, but then the doctor gives Jen mistaken medical information actually meant for Judy, containing a potentially devastating revelation.
The greatest quality of this creation by showrunner Liz Feldman is how it deals with both grief and the inevitability of mortality. Whether in funny or emotive ways, the writing right up until the end grapples with how these two realities of human life can come at us at the most unsuspecting times. Then there is the anxiety of having to deliver terrible news that can go along with tragic developments. In the first season, Judy carried the guilt of being responsible for the death of Jen’s husband. This season begins with Jen now being the one who learns Judy might have cancer. How does one even begin telling a friend such information? Steve also carries the weight of his own guilt, which gets compounded when he doesn’t realize who he ran over at the end of last season. On top of all that, this downward spiral of events happens right on the birthday of Charlie (Sam McCarthy), Jen’s son, who discovers some potentially devastating revelations about Judy and his late father.
As the season progresses this heavy material is again well-balanced with dark and lighter laughs. Judy scores medication at the hospital by faking a seizure (a trick taught to her by her mother). Detective Ana Perez (Diana Maria Riva) becomes more of an ally to the two women. Now that she is aware of what the scumbag Steve was doing as both an abusive partner and fraudster, she attempts to help divert attention regarding his murder away from Jen and Judy. It’s easy enough since all she has to do is tell her partner, Detective Nick Prager (Brandon Scott) that it was probably the Greek mafia. This becomes a funny running theme in the first half of the season as Jen and Judy figure they should go along with trying to convince the authorities the Greeks killed Steve. More delicate is Charlie finding letters from Jen forgiving Judy. Like her friend in the first season, Jen has to struggle with how to tell Charlie that their good friend killed his dad.
The word “twisted” could easily be used to describe in a literal sense what goes on in this show, which is part of its charm. It carries on with such a light comedy air that it can make the terrible both laughable and even endearing. Applegate and Cardellini never moralize but instead try to make sense of a confusing world, while finding solace in their bond. Applegate reportedly dealt with MS during the shoot after a recent diagnosis, and yet she delivers her best performance in this show’s quick run. Her and Cardellini scheme so well together, while giving off the sense of two good friends backing each other up. This makes the finale even more emotionally impactful since inevitably, per the themes of the show, someone does go away, leaving nothing but memories behind. Marsden also brings a deeper range to his character, playing Ben as a man fighting internal demons and the guilt of his brother’s shadow and death.
As a society obsessed with age and comfort, we don’t like to truly face mortality that much, even in media. “Dead to Me” is leaving too soon but viewers who discover it on Netflix will find a comedy that knows how to ask big and tough questions, while dropping good jokes along the way. We follow these two friends as they hide the most hurtful truths while collaborating in the most shocking acts, always with straight faces. Most of us might not be involved in covering up a murder, but real life never ceases to be both surreal and heartbreaking. “Dead to Me” was an excellent comedy about staring at the void and smiling into the darkness.
“Dead to Me” season three begins streaming Nov. 18 on Netflix.