The currently strangest thing, one episode into “Dead To Me”—not counting director Amy York Rubin’s pointlessly pensive shot composition, which just distracts in a thirty minute “sitcom”—is how the show handles the humor. Outside the cold open, which has lead Christina Applegate short with neighbor Suzy Nakamura (Applegate’s husband has died and Nakamura is bringing over food and can’t quite figure out the condolences), all the humor is left to the supporting cast at Applegate’s support group.
And it’s a great bunch of supporting cast to do humor, no complaints; Telma Hopkins, Edward Fordham Jr., and Keong Sim are all good at the humor. It’s a strange kind of support group. They meet outside. Sim set the whole thing up after his aunt died falling down stairs to go get him a soda. The episode doesn’t do the traditional support group thing of introducing everyone. It even skips Applegate.
But we do get to know other early forties with it White lady Linda Cardellini, who’s already established as weird because she introduces herself to Applegate while they’re getting the lousy coffee. Cardellini makes oddly inappropriate jokes and not for laughs, rather for Applegate to not laugh at, actually. Cardellini has lost her fiancé.
She and Applegate become phone buddies—they both have insomnia—and bond of “The Facts of Life” reruns. Soon they’re night owl buddies, hanging out in Applegate’s outdoor living room and watching the show, or driving around trying to find cars with Applegate husband-sized damage to the front right bumper.
Everything’s going great—it’s an indeterminate period of time, long enough the rest of the group knows they’re outside friends but not long enough for Applegate to think about introducing Cardellini to her two sons—but then Applegate finds out Cardellini hasn’t been honest about fiancé James Marsden.
The episode ends with some personal growth for Applegate and a major reveal on Cardellini’s level of deception… and her moving in with Applegate because sitcom.
There are some “give me an Emmy” moments for Applegate, like uncontrollably crying with taking a shit, but the show’s very careful never to be insincere. Like Rubin’s direction; whatever she’s doing, it’s not out of insincerity or hurriedness.
It does seem like it was written for a very specific audience—not just “Facts of Life” familiar, but “Kate & Allie,” which is not a realistic reference in 2020—but whatever. It does, however, make a big ask as far as the setup and Cardellini’s relationship with Applegate and it remains to be seen whether or not the show (and creator) Liz Feldman can make it into anything. So far, it’s all still conceptual and potential.
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