Dead To Me, Season 1 review

Jen (Christina Applegate) is a mother of two who lost her husband to a hit and run driver. At a grief support group she meets Judy (Linda Cardellini) , a fellow widow with a surprisingly free spirited personality.

What does that header image suggest the show is like? A dark crime show? An emotional show about grief? A farce? An edgy comedy?

Well, Dead To Me  is all of these. Sometimes in a ten minute window. It is exhausting. There are emotional montages of loss and heartfelt speeches from very, very good actors. There is also an episode that does the “Will Ferrell in The Wedding Crashers” bit. One minute before a character has a breakdown about killing someone. Just after using miscarriage as an emotional stick to beat the viewer with. The character then fucks someone they just met. In the same episode where they got back with their old partner. While the sex scene was on, I genuinely had no idea if the old relationship was on or off. I don’t think the writers did. I strongly suspect they didn’t care. They had a whiteboard with brainstormed ideas and they were going to do them damn it, to hell with coherence!

 

The Will Ferrell reference is important, he’s a producer here and it feels like the show is a playground to experiment in. Like the Lifetime movie A Deadly Adoption or Casa De Mi Padre it doesn’t feel authentic. Here’s a quick list of coincidences that move the plot forward.

  • A random hook up being a homicide detective able to look into the case
  • A married person’s lover playing an online game that’s still logged in on a long dead person’s computer. The lover conveniently doesn’t know the married person is dead.
  • A house number being readable in the background of a cellphone picture. Oh, and the street name of course.
  • A kid who’s been drug dealing for a long time getting caught just as their parent was getting themselves together.
  • A kid that is sweetness and light for 5 episodes suddenly becoming a nest of anger issues. That the teachers knew but didn’t mention, I guess?

Every five minutes it pulls another plot rabbit from a hat. Infidelity, guns, wacky marijuana hi-jinks, all the possible gamut. You find yourself constantly thinking “Hang on, weren’t they (completely different behaviour) last episode?” because they were completely different.

Under running everything is a frankly HUGE secret that is revealed in episode 2 but the person I was watching with called it early because “That’s TV for you”. It definitely isn’t “people for you”

They pull so many rugs it’s impossible to care about the current situation. They’ll only change it anyway by the next episode. A fun game might be to get 5 different people to watch 5 different scenes from the season and then ask them “What kind of show is this?” You’ll get at least 5 different answers. Is it like  This Is Us? or  Santa Clarita Diet? or Six Feet Under?  Yes. Yes it is.

Annoyingly, Cardellini and Applegate are excellent. Which covers over some cracks but is a problem in itself. They will make you feel, and that gets frustrating when the thing you were emotionally invested in is then thrown away for a plot twist. Other characters buzz in and out, disappearing for several episodes only to return for a heavy, piano scored emotional face off. Why you’re supposed to care when previously underwritten joke of a character gets their big scene I don’t know, but that score will make sure you know THIS IS A SERIOUS MOMENT. Then they can go back to being a gay caricature that Mel Brooks would have cut from Blasing Saddles for being too broad. Or maybe they’ll never be seen again, who knows?

Everything sabotages everything else. You can’t laugh at the comedy because it’s being delivered by people who were in pain recently, are fine due to a RomCom music montage then will be in pain again soon. The serious parts are by men and women who were in a Chuck Lorre sitcom two scenes earlier. It’s like Michael Myers stops for a dance number then goes back to teen slaughtering.  Episode 8 even HAS a dance number, completely out of the blue. By that point I assume the makers thought “Screw it, why not?”

I can sum up by saying I’ve never seen a show like it, so that’s something. I have seen 15 shows like 15 different bits of it. There’s a reason they weren’t mashed up like this before.