The first season of Dead To Me – Netflix’s caustic comedy-drama from 2 Broke Girls creator Liz Feldman – coasted in on a wave of vastly successful shows and stories about flawed female friendships.
With its pitch-black humour and tight rapport between widower Jen (Christina Applegate) and her best friend Judy (Linda Cardellini), easy comparisons can be made to its peers – namely Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Killing Eve. These shows aren’t content to simply take the ‘bromance comedy’ model and apply it to characters that are women (although Will Ferrell and Adam McKay are both exec producers on the series). Instead, Dead To Me has carved out an audience for itself due to the authentic relationships it depicts – often with a hearty dose of murder thrown in for good measure.
Here, Dead To Me excels as a new entry to the genre, but also thrives as a standalone show thanks to deeply vulnerable, dexterous performances of Applegate and Cardellini, who have clearly been itching to flex their muscles in roles this robust for some time. And just as well, because these roles demand a lot. Jen’s battle with grief while trying to raise two sons makes her chronically enraged (a trait that’s both terrifying and cathartic), while Judy has her own demons, as well as temperamental fiancé Steve (James Marsden, who like Jon Hamm has forged a comedic reputation by leaning into his archetypal good looks) to reckon with.
A few suspense thriller tropes are half-heartedly pursued (both women by season two are secret criminals), but Dead To Me is at its most enjoyable when vamping up character development and imbuing the narrative with soap opera-style twists.
In season two, we pick up the day after Steve’s murder, the women finding themselves at a new fork in the friendship with the truth behind Jen’s husband’s death also laid bare. It’s under these radical, soapy circumstances that Jen and Judy are thrown back together, and the new order of their relationship proves a fascinating commentary on the expectations of women.
Based on the formula of series one – which tossed out plot reveals like candy – viewers will be expecting the narrative handbrake turns, but Feldman is a step ahead, gleefully dropping bombshells out of step with the show’s rhythm to genuinely shocking effect.
Stood firmly amidst the chaos, Applegate and Cardellini remain electric – a fiercely kinetic, oddball partnership that plays off Jen’s acidic rage and Judy’s bohemian spirit. Refreshingly, both are given separate storylines in this new season, but the joy remains in watching the pair find their way back to each other every time.
The emotional breadth of the central relationship doesn’t impact the amount of fun to be had here. The script spits out some deliciously dark moments (a joke about a suicidal dog kicks off the series) and there’s a real delight in watching these two deeply flawed women necking wine and stealing moments of hard-earned pleasure.
The storyline runs out of mileage by this season’s finale, leaving doubts as to how a third chapter would service Dead To Me’s legacy. But as an extension of Jen and Judy’s turbulent yet steadfast friendship, this new offering can be chalked up as a success.