Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Dead to Me

Anybody watching Dead to Me on Netflix?  I had fun watching it last week, and one thing that struck me about it is its tone.  A comedy that deals seriously with anger, loss, and grief is tricky to pull off, but Dead to Me does it well.

I don't want to give too much away here, but if you haven't seen the show, you need to know a little bit about it.  Dead to Me centers around the friendship between Jen Harding, a mother of two boys whose husband was recently killed by a hit and run driver, and Judy Hale, who has her own issues.  The two meet at a grief support group.  Christina Applegate plays Harding and Linda Cardellini is Hale, and both sink into their characters with gusto.  Is Linda Cardellini, going back to Freaks and Geeks and through her Sopranos role and her Bloodlines role and a number of other roles, not what you might call a subtle chameleon?  

The creator of the show, Liz Feldman, calls Dead to Me a "traumedy".  That about sums it up.  It is indeed a comedy about trauma, a trauma affecting not just Harding and Hale but Harding's two children. And as I was saying, it is a show that relies absolutely on achieving the right tone.  Screw the tone up just slightly, and the show would lose all plausibility.  It would have no emotional credibility and veer off into sheer silliness. 

As I watched the series' 10 episodes and the plot unspooled with its series of revelations, Dead to Me also came to serve as a reminder of just how much a tiny tweak of a story's tone could make it something related to what it actually is but in fact entirely different. Dead to Me has two strangers come together over a single event but in a somewhat complicated manner, and let's just say, one of those two characters becomes enamored of the other in a way that could be downright creepy.  I'm being vague here on purpose because I don't want to indulge in spoilers, but twist this show's tone a little bit, shift its emphasis, and you'd be dead smack in Patricia Highsmith territory. The basic way the characters interact with each other, Jen Harding and Judy Hale - JH and JH, each with her own emotional baggage - is right out of Highsmith.  So to some extent are the secrets and doings of Judy Hale's ex and Harding's husband when he was alive. On top of my pleasure from watching the show, I came away wondering whether Liz Feldman is a Highsmith fan. 

Not that it matters. The show's creators and actors do their own thing with Dead to Me and make it work.


Steve Weddle said...

We watch and we really dig it. Holly West and I were just talking about it for the podcast. It's a wonderful show.

Holly West said...

We've got two episodes left. Love this show.