WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE EVENTS OF “DEAD TO ME.” This piece was written for those who have also completed Season 1.
I love the pleasant surprise of a great new show that you never saw coming. It was only a week before Netflix released “Dead to Me,” the darkly comic mystery/drama staring Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini, that I had heard anything about it. Not strange for most – but I tend to keep up with entertainment and what’s coming down the pike. All 10 episodes were released for streaming on Friday, May 3, and its first two episodes roped me in like a debate over prison voting. At about the same time that weekend, I noticed a Facebook post from my friend Jeffrey that he was already up to Episode 5. So, who better to talk about this gripping series with than this good friend, who I’ll just say bests any entertainment chops or industry knowledge I have by a country mile.
Before I turn it over to our discussion, I’ll share a quick synopsis and my initial impressions for Jeffrey to take it from there. The show begins as two women in their early 40s meet in a grief support group, which conveniently meets on a spectacular bluff one assumes is in Dana Point, California. Applegate’s “Jen” is a successful, high-end real estate agent and mother of two boys who has just lost her husband, Ted, three months earlier. Cardellini’s “Judy” is a retirement home worker whose motivations for joining the support group aren’t immediately clear. Over the ten episodes, we see Jen and Judy bond, Judy move into Jen’s guest house and build relationships with her sons, only to find out that it is Judy who accidentally killed Jen’s husband in a hit-and-run. New relationships enter the mix briefly for each woman, a Grief Retreat to Palm Springs ensues, and plenty of drama grips the final two episodes with the reveal and twists.
TODD: Jeffrey, I found the casting to be fantastic. Applegate and Cardellini work like they’ve known each other for years, and James Marsden is douche-tastic as Judy’s on-again, off-again boyfriend Steve. But also brilliant are Max Jenkins as Jen’s real estate partner, “Christopher;” Brandon Scott as Judy’s love interest AND detective on leave, “Nick;” Valerie Mahaffey as Ted’s grief-stricken and very narcissistic mother, “Lorna;” and Diana Maria Riva (who has been all over television for two decades) as “Detective Perez.” Of course, no one takes the cake more than little Luke Roessler who plays Jen’s youngest son, “Henry,” who loves some song-and-dance, and thinks his father Ted is still alive in the form of a bird who frequents his window.
Give me your impressions of the casting, the show, and then add on any new elements or questions back…
Jeffrey: The casting is so spot-on it’s scary. I’ve loved Christina Applegate as the tough cookie who doesn’t suffer fools since she played that type in “The Sweetest Thing,” (2002), and Linda Cardellini is one of the most underrated actresses working today. But, you forgot to mention Ed Asner as “Abe,” a resident of the retirement home where Judy works. Thank goodness he’s still around because he’s always so good at what he does, and he adds some spice to the mix.
I thought the show was terrific. It definitely takes you to some dark, unexpected places, but I was 100% here for it. I also liked that the show left a lot of unanswered questions. I mean, we never see a body, so was it actually Ted who Judy hit? I noticed the dress that Judy is wearing on the night of the accident is the same dress she wears when she goes to the hospital when she miscarries, so was her miscarriage a result of the accident? What was the fight about between Jen and Ted on the night of the accident? There are some places to go in a Season 2, so I hope there is one coming.
One thing I noticed about Cardellini’s Judy was she would stand up for herself with Steve, but when he apologized for his behavior she was VERY quick to add, “That’s okay.” It’s like it was an automatically-conditioned response, which makes me want to know more of her backstory.
TODD: You raise some very good points. And yes, how could I forget to mention a legend like Ed Asner, whose “Abe” is a staunch Judy admirer and knows Steve is full of shit? I had the pleasure once of sharing a car ride up and back to Santa Barbara back in 2002 when he was helping us advocate for public financing of campaigns in a previous work life. Tremendous guy, and every bit as tough-but-warm in person as he is on screen.
I like the fact that we never see Ted’s body as both a character technique – keeping him a bit of a mystery – but also for the reason you state. Do we really know for certain it was TED who Judy hit? Could there been two hit-and-runs in the area that night, and if so – where is the other body? Did that person survive their wounds, and will they make an appearance in Season 2? Or is it indeed Ted and we should accept that as canon? It’s an interesting question.
And let’s also remember the name of the show, “Dead to Me,” in relation to Ted. He apparently told his side piece, “Bambi the waitress,” that his wife (Jen) had died of breast cancer. The fact that Jen confides in Judy that she had the BRCA gene and performed a preemptive double mastectomy makes this lie all the more interesting when Jen emotionally admits that Ted hadn’t touched her since the mastectomy. Thus, had Ted rendered Jen “Dead to HIM?”
Judy is caught wearing the same clothing as the day before a couple of times, so your question about her dress the night of the accident and the day she miscarries is a good one, and plays a bit with our knowledge of an accurate timeline. Her confidence around anyone other than Steve definitely proves he has an unhealthy hold over her, which both women attribute to Marsden’s impish good looks as “Steve.”
But here’s one I think I texted you about that also interests me – Detective Nick. We last see him visiting Detective Perez insisting it was Judy and Steve that ran Ted over. Perez may inherently know this to be true, but says she needs evidence beyond a second-hand confession. With the twist at the end, do we think Nick returns in Season 2 (I say most definitely) and does he do so as an ally, or an adversary?
Your turn, and then should we get into some Season 2 predictions?
JEFFREY: From a producer’s point of view, it’s smart to not cast the part of “Ted” during the first season because not only does it increase the intrigue, it saves on salary for a major character. If there’s no Season 2, there’s no need to cast a high-profile actor to play a dead guy. But, if there IS a Season 2, you can count on Ted being alive in flashbacks, and they will cast a name actor, for sure. The show is doing well enough, I think, to warrant a Season 2. To the show’s credit, it is structured in such a way that I cynically question everything, so I do think Ted is good and dead, but more twists would not surprise me.
I like your point about the title of show. “Dead to Me” refers to the interactions between so many of the characters. Lorna is “dead” to Jen just as Jen is “dead” to Lorna. No love lost there. Judy is “dead” to Steve, but then resurrected. Jen becomes “dead” to Christopher, her business partner. As you noted, Jen is “dead” to Ted after her mastectomy. By the end of the show, Abe is dead, literally. Ted is dead to both Jen and Bambi, literally. And then, in the end, Steve is dead to them as well, again, literally. There are a lot of layers.
You make an excellent point about Judy’s dress. In real life, people wear their clothes more than once, so those two events might have happened on different days, but I wouldn’t be surprise if the accident caused the miscarriage.
Which brings us to Detective Nick. There are no accidental characters, so Nick will play prominently in a Season 2, but he’s a wild card. How much does the guilt and desire for justice he feels after his partner’s death play into his everyday life? His discovery of Judy’s paintings at Steve’s art gallery should bring an interesting aspect to another season. Maybe he goes rogue and really starts digging into Judy and Steve’s past. Maybe he wants to protect this woman he feels a connection with. I mean, they met at a Grief Retreat. So much of Nick’s character is still unknown.
There are a lot of loose ends in Season 1. Lorna is not one to just let things go. Jen humiliated her, plus her son is dead. She’s got a lot of motivation to stir up some shit. Nick is onto a lead about a ’66 Mustang. Henry is a singer/actor/dancer in Christopher’s church. What is that about? And then, there’s a dead Steve floating in Jen’s pool. There is more to these stories.
Here are my predictions for a Season 2: Before they call the police to come fish Steve out of Jen’s pool, Jen and Judy concoct a story that Steve was the one driving the night Ted was killed. He psychologically manipulated Judy to not tell, but now that he is dead, she feels free to come clean. Jen will back it up to keep her friend out of jail, but what does finding out Judy killed Ted really do to Jen? Is she happy about it? Does Jen plan some revenge of her own?
TODD: I completely agree with you on the non-casting of Ted. And I think enough people are talking about the show – plus, I’m sure the star power is attracting the “recommended for you” viewers – to earn it a Season 2.
I also agree that Lorna will continue to be a thorn in Jen’s side (and anyone else she can find) for the length of the series. But she does love her grandchildren, so look for brief moments of clarity on her part as well. Speaking of, I think Henry’s song-and-dance routine is about control, and “dancing off the stress” of his father’s death. It’s a coping mechanism just as the bird was/is. It also serves as a lighter moment and adorable character-building for viewers to root for on what I think will become an increasingly tense show.
Predictions for Season 2: I agree that Jen killing Steve ties her to Judy for the foreseeable future. They are partners now, whether Jen likes it or not. So yes, they concoct a story to free Judy of any jail time, and continue a tense relationship, though Judy may grow on Jen. She’ll harbor long-term resentment at times, but Judy IS infallibly likeable, no? The show really doesn’t work without them intimately involved in each other’s lives, and I think the wizards at Netflix will figure out the audience wants them as friendlies.
I see Nick coming back as an adversary, the new person they have to outwit or … “get rid of?” because he persists for justice regardless of losing Judy forever. And I predict this because HIS coping mechanism for losing his partner has to be finding some kind of justice somewhere. He won’t relent. I may be way off, but we’ll see.
My other prediction is the introduction of some new character – perhaps a romantic interest for Jen – who they have to spend a LOT of time hiding truth from and sneaking around to put various machinations in place. And yes, maybe we learn more in flashbacks with Ted. Not sure if I want to make casting predictions, but it will be someone on fame/accomplishments par with the three leads this season. If I were an actor watching this show, I would certainly be calling my agent saying, “Get me on ‘Dead to Me!’” Wouldn’t you?
Let’s hope we don’t have to wait an entire year to find out! But I, for one, and am willing to wait if they can work to top themselves.
Thanks, Jeffrey! Let’s hope we’ve sparked some comments from readers.
JEFFREY: Thanks, Todd. This was fun! I hope we get to do it again
I think we have found our modern day Siskel and Ebert! Two
of my favorite writers and pop culture savants! Thanks for the intriguing commentary.
I love these insights! I hadn’t really thought about Ted not being dead, but now that you say it, that would be really awesome. I think for sure Jen and Judy have to concoct a plan and remain tight. Can’t wait for Season 2!
Have been waiting to read this until I finished Season 1 (moments ago). SOOOOOO good! Can’t wait for Season 2 and to see if some of your predictions come true. Excellent work, Todd and Jeffrey!
Great read Todd! Brilliant to get the outlooks of 2 people in the 1 review!