Review: Netflix's 'Dead to Me' ups the stakes and maintains momentum in wild second seas
Courtesy of Netflix
*This review contains spoilers for Dead to Me season one*
When the mic dropped at the end of season one of Netflix’s hit comedy “Dead to Me” we sat with our jaws open and asked ourselves how abusive boyfriend Stephen (James Marsden) could have met his demise and how were Judy and Jen going to recover?
That’s a tough act to follow, but thankfully Netflix’s explosive and surprised-filled second season answers some of those burning questions while throwing in a new coat of twists and turns. The biggest hurdle this season has to face is how will Judy and Jen maintain their relationship in the wake of Judy's bombshell confession to Jen? You know, the one where she confessed to killing Ted in a hit and run. Any cordial friendship would likely seem impossible under normal circumstances, but this show is anything but normal. “Dead To Me” season two faced an uphill battle for its second go-around; it had to introduce fresh characters, push Judy and Jen into new and exciting directions and maintain integrity to its beloved first season or risk feeling like a retread. Not only does it capture all those elements, the tension is even more potent in this installment than it was prior.
This season explores heavy themes around grief and loss and the true cost of living with guilt, which complements the dark and satirical undertones perfectly. While “Dead To Me” is quick to categorize itself as a comedic sitcom (all ten episodes provided in advance for critics hover around the 30 minute mark) it doesn’t shy away from sophisticated tones and isn’t afraid to show characters in pain or anguish. And then throw in a comedic one liner to enlighten the mood.
The best part is the series doesn’t compromise itself by going for the easy laughs or the puns (I want you to take a shot each time a character makes a “dead” joke) because it's already encoded in the show’s DNA. This new season shows Jen and Judy as anxious nuts as they now have no choice but to face their decisions together. Most of season one was built upon the dramatic tension of Ted’s fate and how we knew something the main character didn’t. Now the stakes are considerably amplified, because they have to worry if anyone suspects them of foul play (looking at you Karen, who shows up in the first episode and begins poking around in the pool).
It becomes a guessing game over the five hour season as to whether or not the two can get themselves out of this situation, but the show-runners make sure to pile on enough subplots to keep our theories occupied. I guzzled down the entire season in one day, and the aftermath felt smooth and left many questions dangling for the next season. But the real treat is to see two veterans - Linda Cardlinni and Christina Applegate - muddy the emotional and toxic waters together. Their friendship is like an unhealthy addiction that’s hard to shake: when asked why she’s still friends with Judy, Applegate’s Jen screams “because she’s like a baby!” And if that isn’t the most truthful statement. Cardellini had to shoulder a wide array of emotions in season one, which left Applegate somewhat empty handed, here, the comedic star is given more to carry, especially as she’s dealing with two whip-smart kids who aren’t afraid to tell it like it is.
There is a romantic subplot that goes down with Judy that tries to make a progressive statement, but it ends up feeling like one too many ideas that could have stayed on the cutting room floor. Still, “Dead To Me” season 2 builds a delicate mystery around its characters and gives answers to some of season one’s more daunting conundrums: the truth behind Steve’s death. It’s a similar tactic that was employed in season one around the secrecy of Ted’s death, and this season executes it’s twists with a wink and nod, and the revelations are more shocking than they are cheap (though the way the writers makes it possible for a certain actor to return this season is questionable).
But give the show-runners credit for trying to keep the audience on their toes, though I anticipate the waiting game for the third installment will prove futile for most fans who will devour this in one weekend.
All episodes of DEAD TO ME season two drop Friday May 8th on Netflix.