So, first things first. Let’s get the negative out of the way; Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum does a poor job of directing. Not quite as bad as a first season episode, but definitely a return to the bad frame composition to cover for some of the actors not being very good. Like Sam McCarthy; I noticed Rosenbaum’s composition during a McCarthy and Christina Applegate scene and the show really just needs to acknowledge it’s not going to do anything special with the two characters.
It seems to come to that realization in the happy night out finish, where everyone—not Max Jenkins thank goodness—hangs out at an arcade and bonds. By everyone I mean, Applegate, sons McCarthy and Luke Roessler, and Linda Cardellini and her genuine, bonafide love interest, Natalie Morales. Out of nowhere, “Dead to Me” gets the major points for Bi-Inclusivity; first with Cardellini and Morales’s smoke out conversation about Cardellini’s relationship with Applegate, then with Morales meeting Applegate. It’s amazing how good sincere nonplus makes something seem when it’s really just not being bad.
The episode’s basically split with Cardellini and Morales and then Applegate and new James Marsden. The Marsden stuff turns into this fantastic T-800 situation; in the insane world of “Dead to Me,” obviously new Marsden is going to be the only one who measures up.
The show’s trying to make McCarthy more likable, giving him an awkward sex conversation with Cardellini and then he’s empathetic to brother Roessler at just the right time. But it’s still blah.
There’s also some more with Diana Maria Riva, who brings Cardellini for some questions and takes the opportunity to manipulate her. It turns out Riva is about to figure into the plot in a very forced “it’s all connected” way, which is a bummer. Though at this point you wish the good cast members—Marsden, Cardellini, Applegate, Morales—would just jump ship to a new series. The first season broke this one too hard.
Oh, and Brandon Scott’s back. He sadly didn’t bring his charm along.