When Netflix’s original series, Dead to Me, premiered in May 2019, the reviews were mixed. The general consensus seemed to be that the acting and chemistry were great, but the story got lost along the way. A year later season two has arrived, and in terms of both story and acting, the second season definitely raises the bar.
Season two of Dead to Me picks up right where season one left off. Linda Cardellini and Christina Applegate reprise their roles as Judy Hale and Jen Harding, who are trying to cover up the fact that Jen killed Judy’s fiancé, Steve. What ensues is a mix of the best kind of chaos. While this season focuses more the relationship between two women trying to heal after trauma than it does on murder and mystery, it does so without losing any of its comedic or suspenseful aspects.
The show’s writer and producer, Liz Feldman, has a history of writing comedy, which is evident in the dark, dry humor the show is known for. Unfortunately, this sometimes manifests itself in the introduction of some outlandish and overly dramatic plot points. Still, the dance parties and bizarre orange wine-wielding neighbors provide a brief yet welcome relief from the heavy-handedness of the show’s central narrative.
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Despite its humorous elements, Dead to Me keeps itself grounded and nuanced through a storyline centered around loss and healing. The storyline is used to tackle a number of difficult topics — most notably recovering after abuse. Both main characters suffered through emotionally unhealthy relationships that they didn’t realize were unhealthy until their significant others had died or been murdered.
Feldman doesn’t shy away from showing that that sort of trauma has an effect long after the perpetrator is gone. Cardellini does a beautiful job of bringing this fact to the screen. We watch Judy relive Steve’s verbal abuse, even as she mourns him. She punishes herself when she does something wrong, like hitting herself and repeating the awful things Steve used to say to her. Needless to say, it’s a heart-wrenching performance.
This season also continues to build on the difficulties of motherhood, which was a central part of Judy’s character in the previous season. Viewers also get to see Jen’s development and her struggles as a single mother. Applegate, along with Sam McCarthy (who plays her son, Charlie), illustrates this struggle beautifully. She’s angry and erratic at times, and fights with Charlie often about trivial matters, but all of her decisions are based around protecting the lives of her children.
Between these themes, the show maintains its elements of drama and suspense. Each episode is chock-full of close calls, especially the finale. While the ending was a bit abrupt — no spoilers — it opens the door for a third season without leaving too many questions unanswered. If you have the time, Dead to Me is a quick watch that will keep you guessing and have you coming back for more.