“So you’re that friend, you’re the clutch friend?” asks potential love interest Michelle (Natalie Morales) to Judy (Linda Cardellini). We, the audience, shout back a resounding yes — but what’s wrong with that?
Over the course of the first series of Dead to Me, Judy and Jen (Christina Applegate) embark on an intense friendship formed on grief, codependency and lies. A friendship that makes its presence felt even in the burgeoning relationships of the second series, driving a wedge between the two women and any outsiders. Liz Feldman grounds her soapy melodrama in this relationship. It’s this grounding and the superb performances by the two female leads that forgive the more convoluted or convenient aspects of the plot. Filled to the brim with plot twists that solicit audible gasps from viewers, the writers will keep you watching (each episode a concise thirty minutes). It’s addictive and—to throw in that oft used description— very binge-able.
Alongside this multifaceted connection between two middle aged women (a rare televised treat), it would be remiss to ignore a scene stealing performance by James Marsden as Steve. Marsden’s performance in the first season was a personal highlight. He balanced being a potential villain with extreme likeability. Where we left the women last season, he is presumed dead. It’s not a spoiler to say that Marsden returns but the manner of his reappearance should remain a mystery until watching. It’s implausible. It’s entertaining. This is part of the joy of watching Dead to Me: it’s fun. It’s also not the meet-cute we’re accustomed to— the classic “run over a man, flee the scene, insert yourself into his widow’s life forming an intense and powerful bond” with its even lesser known sequel “said widow murders your ex-fiance and you help hide the body.” However inconceivable the circumstances, Dead to Me at its heart is an exploration of the complexities in female friendship.
A few comparisons have been made with Desperate Housewives. Indeed, they share the constraints of suburbia and pastiche its more trivial aspects. They commit suburban crimes whilst continuing to live suburban lives. However, Dead to Me benefits from wider feminist discourse and discussion. Jen and Judy are more aware of their privilege and also very complex women. In a similar way to other Netflix success Grace and Frankie, the two leads are supposedly polar opposites. The more neurotic Jen often rolls her eyes at the hippy sensibilities of Judy. Whilst this is sometimes used for comedic effect, over the course of the series we come to the same conclusion as Jen: Judy is kind and loving. These qualities are what help Jen to process and understand her grief. Jen’s strength and commitment to her family extends to Judy who finds a safe space free of manipulation and abuse. Thank God they found each other.
In a world where the concept of hysteria has been used to degrade and belittle women, Dead to Me capitalises on this as we follow Judy and Jen on their journey as women on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Dead to Me S1 & 2 are available to stream on Netflix now
by Catherine McNaughton