I promise you, this is not a rant about the Twin Bomb, ish. Forget that, I don’t know how the ‘ish’ works. (And I get all praisy towards the end; it’s not all that bad)
I can’t believe I’m saying those words in the headline. If, like me, you waited a full year, joined the #DeadtoRewatch party on Twitter (and actually rewatched the entire first season), you’d perfectly understand how hard and disappointing it is to say those words. Or not. Cos some of you liked it, right? RIGHT???
It’s safe to say Dead to Me is one of the best shows on Netflix. The Emmy nominations aside, Dead to Me highlighted a side of Netflix that embraces dark humor set in realistic situations. Fronted by Liz Feldman and the Gloria Sanchez crew, all related to the comedy greats, Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, the show redefined female-led comedies on TV.
Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini play two friends who are brought together by unlikely circumstances, and a relationship, built on lies and misguided altruism, was built. Several times in the ten-episode pilot season, that relationship collapsed but China-d itself back up almost as soon as it crashes. It was one of those comedies that feels like a representation of the life you see around you. But most importantly, it delivered something that’s rare on TV: genuine female friendship.
Applegate’s Jen and Cardellini’s Judy never did any of those things Hollywood wants us to think happens when two single women stay too long together. It was surreal but it reminded you of better times… on TV. In fact, it reassures you that you can get together with your same sex best friend, talk the whole night till the next morning, actually care for them and HOLD each other without fear of being misunderstood. Sometimes, you need that friend to hug you and tell you it’s all gonna be alright. But who am I to tell you about that?
The story was crazy (run away if you’ve never seen season one): Judy killed Jen’s husband in a Hit-and-Run. Judy, as we slowly discover, is a pretty unstable individual (kill me). She’s had five miscarriages, loves her fiancé to death and is very clingy (she kinda wants to hug every one). Judy decides to be friends with Jen, who’s another unstable rageful newly widowed single-mother of two polarized boys, who needs to find her husband’s killer to feel better. Judy kills off Steve, her fiancé, just to get close with Jen. (Steve is alive and well. He only broke up with her and she declared him dead.) Jen finds out, loses it (if there’s anyone that actually loses it, it’s Jen. You do not want to piss her off.) But they ended up back in bed together — watching Facts of Life, their favorite show.
Judy is not a psychopath. In fact, she’s sorry and occasionally finding it hard to keep the secret but she’s spell bound by Steve, her ex-fiancé, who has some sort of control over her. Breaking News: he was in the car the day Judy hit Jen’s husband. Judy might have saved him but he forced her to drive away.
The season ended with a confrontation between Jen and Steve, after she finds out the truth, and one CUT TO scene after, Steve’s dead body is floating in Jen’s pool. It was a really funny show with massive twists and a long life. We were left with questions: What happened? Did she shoot him with the gun she carries around? Did her neighbor Karen do it? Was it her son? Why did she call Judy immediately? Will they work together? Too many questions and theories floated online.
Today, we have what looks like answers.
ISSUE NUMBER ONE
I respect a show that’s able to let a very good actor or character go — a major character who might have carried the series in a secondary role, equally charming and skillfully seductive. Steve, played by James Marsden, was a life-force on his own. The show would have survived without Steve/Marsden but it wouldn’t have had that striking exceptionality without Steve’s antihero-like interferences and Marsden’s delectable portrayal. He was the Lena Heady/Cersei Lannister to their Game of Thrones.
But he died.
At the end of the season, the cliffhanger was Steve’s dead body floating atop the swimming pool, with blood from his head making watery fireworks.
Okay, the show got renewed. Okay, maybe you can bring him back in flashbacks cos he’s good. Okay, maybe you can just let him go and let’s see how well you can pull off another fantastic season without the best actor on set. They did none of that cos the premiere, in its usual, sometimes tiring, cliffhanger style, brought him back at the end of the opening episode just before the credits.
Episode two. BLACK.
EXT. JEN’S HOUSE –
Jen and Judy open the door to see the person behind the door. BEHOLD — –
It’s BEN. Steve’s twin brother, played by JAMES MARSDEN himself.
To all of you who loved it the moment you saw it, didn’t freak out or almost hit cancel to watch something else, or curse at the writers, kudos! You’ve lost the right to find fault in anything that comes up on your TV from now henceforth.
I do not need to elaborate on how ridiculously stupid it was to bring up an identical twin that was never mentioned or hinted because even the writers know how crazy it is. Did it feel like an afterthought to you? Well, that’s because it was.
It’s crazy reading interviews these days and you hear a TV show creator saying, “I was sitting in my room one day reminiscing over an email an actor sent me because he really enjoyed acting on my show and would like to return and all of a sudden, it hit me: why not introduce an identical twin brother who looks exactly like the guy who died so we can have the same actor play him and blow the audiences mind because they are stupid dumb and don’t really give a fvck?”
Yes, along the episodes, Ben slowly grows on us. Yes, you forget it’s James Marsden, AGAIN, because this wizard of an actor believably played an irredeemable dork with a drinking problem. But no, that doesn’t make it professional or a creatively sound decision. Even shows on children TV wouldn’t stoop that low.
The first half of this season struggles to bring the laughs. Comedic moments are underutilized: Jen’s usually admirable outbursts becomes unwanted speaker noise; Judy is now just a plain repetitive lifeless clown. The show brings back EVERYTHING that worked in the first season but to appalling results. And as they try to shove down everything from the first season (went as far as remaking scenes to create some sort of call-back?? One time, they literally lifted a line of dialogue from the first season. It was unbearable), they forget the things that really worked and why they did.
Here are a few bullet points to be considered:
· Jen and Judy only worked when we didn’t see Judy as a supersized codependent fiend who lies flat on the floor for anyone to step on her.
· Lorna, Ted’s mom, was villainish but her eerie presence, conspicuous rival with Jen and that one frightening scene in the bathroom with Judy in Season One are some of the top highlights of the show. But they barely… BARELY even used her. She became a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it guest star.
· While they underused Lorna, they overcooked the mean frittata called Tandy. Tandy is the weird kid who can graphically describe a dead body and knows horrific things no child should know. Guys, they put Tandy in the same house as our main cast. What kind of mother allows her kids play with a girl that knows where the mob buries their dead bodies? Oh, it’s Jen we talking about here, maybe I should chill.
· Suspense is cool but don’t you dare make every single line of dialogue a potential clue or Easter egg. Dead to Me (season 2 at least) is obsessed with the “Almost got caught” syndrome. Every time a character speaks, it’s either a half-spoken truth, melodramatic irony, cliffstatement or there’s an interruption that changes the character’s mind about revealing the secret they already started telling.
· And when did everyone start calling Judy, Jude? I never heard that the whole of the first season. Did I miss something? How come every one now thinks her second name is Jude?
I bet you’re like “Really? All the rant before this doesn’t portray your disappointment enough? You need another subheading?” Well, that’s because I think if a show doesn’t want a character to be misrepresented by fans and the media, they should be pretty clear about the character’s resume. I typed ‘disturbed’ when I was trying to describe Judy earlier but I had to delete it cos many women have been labelled disturbed for centuries and it’s just not right. But this show is really missing the point of a character like Judy.
In the first season, Judy was portrayed as ‘obsessed with Steve.’ He broke up with her but she kept on breaking into his house, sleeping with him even after having a new boyfriend and ended up turning him to the police for money laundering because she saw him with a new girl. It all feels calculated but the new season’s refusal to address this makes it feel less and less circumstantial.
When Steve was alive, anytime he yelled at Judy or offended her, she’d protest and Steve would say “I’m sorry” and she’d reflexively say “It’s okay.” It happened so much the worst viewers noticed. Every single time he apologized, she’d say, like a knee-jerk action, it’s okay. It made me, and a handful of viewers, think there’s more to the connection between Steve and Judy. Whether unintentional, Steve could control Judy and Judy was a choiceless slave to his needs. We were hoping this would be addressed in the second season but the amount of embarrassment Jen put Judy through, both in private and public conversations, makes you want to just throw all the logic you think existed in the show out of your brain so you can just enjoy a poorly thoughtout show. I mean, she lied that she “lost” her Mom just to console someone weeping for a mother-figure on life support only for us to find out her Mom was only in prison. Can I say disturbed now? Probably not.
Now to some good parts
It’s not as if it wasn’t funny. I’ve been talking about the first half for a while. The last five episodes of the second season are actually exciting. The comedy, though dark and sometimes ridiculously obscure, actually started making you laugh. Remember this scene?
If there’s one thing Liz Feldman is good at, it’s the build up to a twist. A lot of twists actually delivered (for lack of a better industry slang for gloriously satisfying. Oh, there it is).
The Perez twist is, admittedly, jaw-dropping. Remember how I said the show was poorly thoughtout? That’s just because the emotional investment of the audience to the characters was barely even considered. The twists could not have been better. But if you think the twin thing was a twist, stop reading. We are done. The twin thing was blasphemy.
Then the ending did what I previously thought was impossible: restart the show so as to repeat the same thing in the third season. Judy and Jen are driving home in the new car Jen got for her son, Charlie. And right at the intersection Jen spent half the season fighting to have a stop sign placed, a drunk Ben hit them. Don’t worry, they were wise this time to confirm that none of them died. Because your viewers are dumb, right? See, if you put Jen in a wheelchair next season and have Judy push her around, I wouldn’t care. Because… because, I thought of it first. Does anyone know how I can copyright this idea so I can get paid? These guys are not that smart.
Sorry Team Feldman. Great show. I loved it but seriously? A twin? That’s the type of sin people can go to hell for. I could still give this season a 7/10 cos it’s hard to hate the leads and I don’t watch that much dark comedies. Okay a 6? 6.5? Have Christopher say a prayer or two for the writing team.
What other season 3 ideas are you hoping to copyright too?