TV

Netflix’s ‘Dead To Me’ Is A Show About Grief, So Why Is It So Funny?

Also, is there an incredible lesbian chemistry or is that just wishful thinking?

Dead To Me Netflix Review

You could watch the new Netflix show Dead To Me in a single day if you committed to it.

It’s just 10 thirty-minute episodes about the depth and power of human grief. Five hours of dark, strangely elegant television about the worst kind of emotional pain. It’s surprisingly easy viewing.

It stars Christina Applegate as Jen, a real estate agent whose husband is brutally killed in a hit-and-run near their home late one night.

She attends a grief support circle run by the local priest, mainlining bad instant coffee. She checks every car in the area for man-shaped dents on the bonnet, obsessed with the grisly task of finding her husband’s getaway killer.

And she locks herself in her four-wheel-drive with the seat back to yell death metal songs because it’s the only way she knows how to release a little of her all-consuming rage without her sons having to witness it.

It’s About Grief!

Dead To Me is about grief, sure.

It’s about the sorrow and the fury and the aching numbness of sudden, violent loss. It’s about the way people speak to you, the way family members blame each other and the way well-meaning neighbours say fuck-off stupid things when they’re dropping round a Tupperware tray full of Mexican lasagne.

It’s about how we’re altered, as people, when someone we cherish is killed. It’s about how we cope, even if that means talking to the little bird your child-son thinks could be the reincarnation of your dead husband.

But Dead To Me is also about so much more than grief.

It’s about possibility and chance and guilt and healing and friendship and parenting and art and sex and murder. Lies and betrayal. The weight of a dangerous secret. The fallibility of mothers. The way we have to try and forgive the dead for the audacity of dying.

The multitudes in a person who did a very bad thing, but might still be capable of tremendous good.

The notion that even the dead are deeply flawed (some of them total, complete assholes that could make a person say aloud the words “I’m glad they’re dead”). It’s all very morose and profound, but still manages to have moments of joy and relief and silliness.

It’s About Friends!

Dead To Me really nails its depiction of female friendship, too.

It was created by a woman — Liz Feldman — and it shows. It has several women in its line-up of writers and directors — and it shows. These scenes have been created by women who know what it’s like to befriend other women.

In the first episode, Jen meets a woman called Judy (Linda Cardellini) at group therapy. Judy tells the group that her fiancé, Steve, died recently and so they bond over the pain and confusion and insomnia.

Jen is resistant to Judy’s friendship advances at first (Who knew that “No” in response to the question “Can I give you a hug?” could be such an iconic catch phrase? Yet here we are).

Mainly out of loneliness, Jen starts calling Judy when she can’t sleep. They send each other photos of their dead lovers, gorge on tiny choc-chip cookies and stay on the line till they fall asleep. It’s a widow’s sleepover and it works.

It’s exactly the sort of instant, desperate companionship you’d get with a complete stranger who knows what your type of grief feels like: it’s lush, confessional, gentle and funny but still totally defined by your shared anguish. Their conversations are a delight and they get very close, very quickly. Gruesome tragedy can be a shortcut to intimacy, it seems.

Jen invites Judy to come and live in her guest house because she needs somewhere to stay. They dangle their feet in the pool and drink wine. They cook each other delish-looking vegetarian meals. They get high on a beach at night. They go to a grief retreat and try to bang other mourners.

What all great friendship is made of, right?

But Is It Just Friendship?

Is there an incredible lesbian chemistry between Jen and Judy, or is that just wishful thinking from me?

Maybe it’s because I’m not used to seeing such an tender, nuanced friendship between two adult women on a TV show, so I’ve accidentally seen romance where there isn’t any.

Maybe it’s because I’m hypersensitive to implied female sexuality.

Maybe it’s because Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini have been iconic since they were teenagers (Applegate on Married With Children and Cardellini on Freaks and Geeks) and a sexy lady romance between American sitcom alumni is just what we deserve right now.

Who knows; I don’t think I’m the only one who wished these two shared a little kiss between cocktails. I just want them to be happy, alright? I want them to know love again — specifically with each other.

The ending of this series is absolutely screaming for a renewal. A second season announcement from Netflix has got to be imminent. Maybe our two protagonists will find a way to keep their friendship.

Maybe they’ll get together.

I look forward to spending more time with them, either way.

Oh, and P.S. James Mardsen is in this. That face!

Dead To Me is currently on Netflix.


Kate Leaver is a journalist, speaker and author. Her first book is The Friendship Cure. She tweets @kateileaver, mostly about TV, dogs and Harry Styles.