In her adult career, Christina Applegate has never had quite the role that fit her acerbic personality so perfectly as the role of Jen in Netflix’s new dark comedy Dead To Me. Here, she’s a complete force of nature. Widowed mom. Grieving lover. Vengeful bitch. It’s a role filled with notes of sarcasm and contempt, heartbreak and longing. And Applegate sings it beautifully and with terrifying gusto.
Dead To Me stars Applegate as Jen, a recently widowed mother of two unable to cope with the absence of her seemingly idyllic husband. In a presumed moment of extreme desperation and weakness, she attends one of those touchy-feely religious grief circles in which she clearly doesn’t belong. There, she meets Judy (Bloodline‘s Linda Cardellini) who reveals she, too, has a dead husband. Wouldn’t they make the best of friends?
Revealing any more would give away some of the juicier secrets of the series. For a while, Dead To Me really balances the revelations with insightful and touching moments of pathos for these two damaged souls. And then, of course, all of that is undercut by Applegate’s wicked sense of humor and, dare I say, gorgeous contempt for artifice. Technically, the series qualifies as a comedy, although an exceedingly dark one, thanks to its sarcastic tone and 30-minute running time. Yet, as it stretches on across the 10-episode first season, most of the early insights and quiet moments between the two leads give way to a fairly standard whodunnit plot.
Still, Applegate and Cardellini are really a joy to behold. They have fantastic chemistry and really balance off each other well. Cardellini’s doe-eyed optimism and desperate spiritualism perfectly serves as a proper foil for Applegate’s dead-inside Jen. They’re well supported by a seasoned cast that includes James Marsden, Ed Asner, Brandon Scott, and in a brilliant cameo performance, the great Valerie Mahaffey (Emmy-winner for Northern Exposure).
Netflix really has perfected the intensely bingeable half-hour comedy, and Dead To Me is a worthy entry into that canon. For all my misgivings about the ultimate direction of the series, I do cherish the series’ first half for its dark comedic insights into loss, grief, and rage. The best comedy always reflects nuggets of truth within, and Applegate’s brutally honest portrayal of a woman whose life is ripped out from under her (not to mention Cardellini’s equally torn Judy) carries more than enough truth to sell the whole series.
Dead To Me premieres Friday on Netflix.