Binge-r #138: Dead to Me
DEAD TO ME S1
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All 10 episodes now streaming
“I hope this isn’t weird?” Judy (Linda Cardellini) keeps asking Jen (Christina Applegate) as they awkwardly get acquainted at a support group for the grieving. She’s referring to small queries and minor gestures, but the truth is that for both women everything is weird when your life has gone through the unexpected upheaval of loss. It’s in those gaps – between the petty concerns and the underlying trauma, between the urge to unburden and the need to be left alone – that this subtly sharp comedy takes fertile root. Set in an affluent beachside corner of California, this Netflix series has a glossy surface and a mordant undertow. It also has a way with twists that doesn’t just push the episodes forward, it peels back layers from the central characters so that they come into sardonic focus.
In Liz Feldman’s series opposites attract: Jen is full of rage about her husband’s death in an unsolved hit and run car accident, without time for niceties or the opinions of others, while Judy tries to cope by optimistically reaching out to people. Once the duo of bad sleepers start talking on the phone, bonding with shared 40something references such as JFK Jr. and The Facts of Life, they find a mutual sense of relief. The writing’s great skill is to layer in duplicity and black humour, so that scenes expertly flip from hopeful to withering to telling without losing the narrative thread. The distance between someone who is good for you and someone who is not, the show observes, is never as great as we convince ourselves it must be.
The dark streak of moral complications that come to bear allows the pair to exist outside their various children, jobs, and in Jen’s case a mother-in-law (Valerie Mahaffey) who is a real piece of work, as complex and sometimes compromised women. The same applies to the stars, who too often have been supporting players in the projects of others. Applegate has an unvarnished connection to Jen’s anger that is both cathartic and scary, while Cardellini is expert at revealing the cracks that threaten to crumble Judy’s facade. You can call Dead to Me a soap opera, or a thriller, or a comedy, but in reality it folds them all into a series about truth and deception that keeps you on the hook.
NEWLY ADDED MOVIES
New on Netflix: Told in part from the perspective of an unsuspecting girlfriend (Lily Collins), Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019, 110 minutes) stars Zac Efron as monstrous 1970s serial killer Ted Bundy; Gotti (2018, 112 minutes), headlined by John Travolta as the dapper New York mob boss, is for bad movie aficionados: one gangster movie cliché after another is badly imitated.
New on SBS on Demand: The best of Luc Besson’s freaky intergalactic adventures, The Fifth Element (1997, 121 minutes) is a vivid, immaculately designed science-fiction thriller with lead performances – from Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Chris Tucker, and Gary Oldman – so wildly divergent that the movie lifts off.
New on Stan: A ludicrously amiable comedy about financial reality, The House (2017, 89 minutes) stars Amy Poehler and Will Ferrell as a married couple who beat debt by opening an illegal casino in their home; Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann (2016, 156 minutes) is a compelling and uncomfortable comic-drama about the disconnect between a daughter (Sandra Huller) and her father (Peter Simonischek) that refuses to offer an easy out.
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