Spoilers are the worst thing you can do to any fan of series and movies, and in extreme cases can lead to grievous bodily harm, as recently happened with Avengers: Endgame at a cinema in Hong Kong.
And they’re currently trending, thanks to Game of Thrones hater trolls on social media, who seem to take malicious delight in revealing details long before we’ve caught up with the latest episode.
While you can block certain words and phrases on Twitter preemptively, you can’t prevent your innocent Google searches from inadvertently leading you to information that cannot be unseen.
And now you’re reading this review about the new Netflix dark comedy Dead To Me, and what do you know, you’re about to run into (ahem) a pretty large spoiler right here.
But forewarned is forearmed. If you want to avoid it, stop reading now, and come back later. In fact, don’t even read Netflix’s own synopsis because it’s there too. Delete your Facebook account while you’re at it.
That’s because it’s almost impossible to write or talk about Dead To Me without revealing the major twist, which takes place in the very first episode.
Okay. Here we go.
Jen is a widow who decides to attend a grief therapy group after her husband is killed by a hit and run driver. There she meets airy-fairy Judy. They soon become friends, but Judy is hiding more than one secret, the biggest of which is that she was the driver who knocked Judy’s husband into the afterlife.
There. Phew. It’s out. Luckily there’s a lot more to this series to keep you engaged for the other nine-and-a-half episodes. And it’s funny in itself that a series that has as its foundation death, grief, anger, betrayal and deception can even be a comedy. But as much as it rests on these devastating and destructive emotions, there are the shining lights of hope, love and loyalty.
Oh, and friendship. Deep, strong, womanly friendship, which we know can often surpass anything.
Give us dresses with pockets and a best friend and we’ll rule the world.
Jen is played by Christina Applegate, a television veteran who began her career in the Fox sitcom Married… with Children (1987–1997). She plays a tightly-wound real estate agent, and Ted’s shocking and sudden death has made her very, very angry. In fact, she is openly hostile, taking it all out on her well-meaning neighbour and the gentle and chilled Pastor Wayne (Keong Sim) who facilitates the grief group.
It’s here she meets Judy (Linda Cardellini, most recently of Mad Men, for which she was Emmy nominated).
Prickly Jen is stand-offish at first but Judy – who at that point hasn’t joined the dots either – taps away at the brittle exterior and provides the support Jen needs.
After Judy’s dreadful crime is exposed to us (not Jen), we’re party to many deeper revelations; for example, Judy’s very presence in the therapy group is called into question, because of something Jen discovers accidentally after she pitches up at what she thinks is Judy’s house, only to meet her ex-fiance Steve (James Marsden, Westworld) living there solo. Is he hot? Yes. Is he creepy? Could be. Time will tell.
While this initially layers even more rage on Jen, causing her to viciously lash out at Judy, she somehow forgives her and invites her to move in with her and her two sons, much to the older one’s disgust.
At the same time, Jen is determined to find out who killed Ted; she obsesses over any car she finds with “person-shaped dents” and harasses the local PD to investigate, even though, statistically, hit and runs almost always remain unsolved.
Judy, of course, is wracked with guilt, because she really is a nice person who burns incense and wafts around with cleansing bunches of sage. She seems to be on the verge of confessing several times, which causes some extremely tense moments for the viewer. Flashbacks slowly uncover what really happened that fateful night, as we realise nothing is ever black and white; the world is 500 shades of grey.
Even dead Ted had a few mysteries, and we’ll come to learn that Jen has her own blame issues. Maybe it’s a subtext of those so-called stages of grief that survivors will grapple to come to terms with sudden and meaningless death.
Ultimately, there are as many ways to grieve as there are to die, which is softly communicated in the context of humour. It hurts like hell, but we get through it.
Dead To Me was created by Liz Feldman, who has a solid background in comedy writing, including 2 Broke Girls. Do not let that influence your decision to watch this one, which is so much better.
Adam McKay and Jessica Elbaum co-produced alongside Will Ferrell, which is worth mentioning because many of his producing credits are on projects which carry far more weight than a lot of his acting jobs. Try HBO’s family drama Succession on Showmax, plus the offbeat comedy No Activity, which Ferrell both produced and stars in.
Another Hollywood heavyweight with a small recurring role in Dead To Me is the legendary Ed Asner (Mary Tyler Moore Show to Elf with Ferrell to The Good Wife), as Judy’s friend Abe, who lives in the old age home where she works.
Dead To Me is a solid series, well set up for a second season.