When Dead to Me premiered last year, it quickly went from “just another Netflix show” to one of the most talked about and critically acclaimed shows of the year. Accolades and awards for series leads Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini followed thanks to smart writing, a clever plot, and a unique focus on older female friendships.
Dead to Me returns this week for its second season, almost one year after it left viewers with the ultimate cliffhanger of Jen (Applegate) standing over the dead body of Judy’s ex-fiancé Steve (James Marsden). Is Jen guilty of murder? Was it Jen’s son Charlie (Sam McCarthy), who spent most of the first season acting out and at one point got in trouble for having a gun in his possession? Was it Judy (Cardellini), who at the end of last season confessed to Jen that she had been driving the car that hit and killed Jen’s husband? If we’ve learned anything from Dead to Me, it’s that we never have to wait too long for answers. The first episode picks up the morning after Steve’s death, a narrative decision that allows the season to start with an intensity that only accelerates from there.
Creator Liz Feldman has openly spoken about the personal circumstances that inspired the show’s creation, but there’s a level of intimacy in season two that’s palpable beyond the show’s themes of grief and forgiveness. While most shows contend with the dreaded “sophomore slump,” Dead to Me manages to (just like its plot) subvert expectations. The twists are just as good, the writing is just as sharp, and most importantly, Applegate and Cardellini’s friendship remains an incredible delight. For as much as Jen is the angry storm, Judy is the lighthouse: a beacon of hope that is imbued with the best intentions, even it doesn’t always lead us in the right direction.
Dead to Me‘s incredible cast has always been its lynchpin and they continue to deliver, with Applegate somehow managing to up the ante—Jen remains a volatile bomb teetering on the edge of explosion, balanced with a careful and concealed vulnerability that’s masterfully executed. Newcomer Natalie Morales lights up the screen as Michelle, an easygoing spirit who befriends Judy after her mother moves into the assisted living facility where Judy works. And Diana-Maria Riva returns as Detective Ana Perez in a much-welcomed expanded role, one that proves there’s more to the tough-talking, no-nonsense cop than meets the eye. (It’s worth noting that between Morales and Riva, there’s a significant focus on women of color as both characters have storylines that impact the narrative in significant ways.) Although Steve met his fateful end last year, those who love James Marsden can look forward to seeing him return in flashbacks—after all, what’s a murder mystery without its subject?
But Cardellini is the far and away standout this season, with several key scenes that prove why Judy Hale is one of television’s complex and identifiable characters. (And if you’re someone who wanted more insight into Judy’s past, you’re in luck).
Dead to Me earned praise for its ability to tackle—sometimes bluntly—not-oft-talked-about topics such as infertility, breast cancer, mental health, and abusive relationships; a show created by (and primarily written/directed by) women made it uniquely suited to tackle these issues through the lens of female protagonists. Season two continues to touch on these difficult topics and the result is so nuanced and real, it can only be described as masterful storytelling. While a majority of the season is focused on the developments stemming from Steve’s death, Dead to Me doesn’t spend its time looking back. Instead, it smartly navigates the past while pushing forward, never losing sight of the moments and character growth that led us here—a reminder that we are all imperfect, that its never too late to change, and that sometimes family (and acceptance) can be found in the most unlikely of places.
Featured Image: Netflix