Updated: May 26, 2020
I don't usually enjoy shows that are solely based on drama. I like compelling characters, action, and spectacular sights. The Netflix original series Dead To Me doesn't have much in the way of spectacular sights or action, but it makes up for this in its characters. These characters are some of the deepest, engaging, and relatable people that have ever been written and put on screen. This show has some very applaudable accomplishments, so let's see what makes this series so good.
The series follows the lives of two women, Jen and Judy, who are dealing with tragedy in their recent past. Jen has just lost her husband to a hit-and-run and is attending a grief support group where she meets Judy, a woman whose fiance had also just recently died. The two quickly become friends and begin to share their grief as they each figure out how to live with their grief. However, it is discovered that Judy is not completely honest about the source of her grief, and her connection to Jen and her family is deep and becomes even more complicated as the series progresses.
Actors/Actresses and their Performances
The performances by the two women in this series are stellar. Christina Applegate plays Jen, and she brings a level of believability to her character. Jen is a widow who has lost her husband in the act of sudden violence and cowardice, and she is going to have to grieve. However, there are proper ways to grieve, and Jen does not choose any of these methods, instead choosing to smoke and listen to heavy metal. In her grief she slowly starts to neglect her children, and this comes back to hurt her later in a heartbreaking way, but she never stops trying to be the best mother she can. All these aspects are incredibly difficult to portray, especially if the character feels like a complete, complex, and believable person. This widowed mother, thanks to Applegate's brilliant performance, feels like a real person and never deviates from the characterizations that she begins with. This all comes together to form someone that, even if you dislike her, will not stop rooting for her.
Judy is played by Linda Cardellini, and she is the most important character in the entire series. She is the animating force in the plot due to the way she enters Jen's life and begins to become a part of her family. Her choices drive the plot, so the choices need to be believable. To this degree, Judy does not make a single decision that is not eventually completely in character. Judy is a character that starts simple, but there is much beneath the surface that comes out, and as it does, she and Jen continue to develop their friendship and begin to strain it at times to the breaking point. Cardellini's acting is always constantly informing us of the deeper parts of Judy's character, and her performance is commendable.
The cinematography is not particularly spectacular, but that is a blessing in this case. If the cinematographers wanted to use spectacular shots and even CGI, it would potentially ruin the immersion. Instead, simplicity is the strength here. Mostly still cameras placed in the perfect positions allow for some brilliant storytelling. These are very simple tricks, but in this case, they serve to enhance the series and ground it, giving it a strong feeling of authenticity that would be hard to beat.
The ultimate strength of this series is the dialogue. Given the genre of this series, it is the dialogue that would make or break it, and dialogue certainly makes this series what it is. There are so many cases where a seemingly innocuous conversation between two characters or some simple statements made could have two completely different meanings for each of the characters. The same words are used, but they mean completely different things to each of the characters, and that is in some ways the cornerstone of this series' brilliance. This dual nature of the language and dialogue is used to create some of the best scenes in this type of television. There are even a few single conversations that would be worthy of awards on their own for their brilliant use of scenery and word choice. This style of writing serves to convince the audience that the plot is going one way, only to go a completely different direction, all the while keeping the audience fully engaged.
There are nearly no shortcomings in this series. There is only one minor gripe, and that is that there are a few cases where Judy's character seems to have a moment or make a small choice that goes against what her character has been built up to, and the reasoning for the decision is not explained for some time. There is also the minor gripe that Judy as a character might seem slightly less than grounded and might be harder to imagine as a real person, but for some, this might not be an issue, so it doesn't merit any lost points.
Dead To Me is a great show full of drama with some of the most impressive uses of dialogue in cinema and television history. I have never seen a show that would keep me on the edge of my seat the whole show, get me to settle down as an episode seems to end, and then throw a curveball in the last minute of the show to get me excited for the next episode to the same level and consistency that this show accomplishes. It is truly a show that you must binge, and even if you don’t think you’ll binge it, you probably will. I recommend it to all people partially because of its entertaining brilliance and amazing characters. I just wouldn’t recommend it as a guide on how to deal with grief.
Final Rating: 9/10
3: Painfully Below Average
4: Below Average
6: Above Average
Ryan O’Connor is a fifth-year senior studying physics at CWU. He is an avid gamer and nerd and loves to share and hear opinions about anything related to these things. He is also the DJ on Electropolis known as LYNX.