'Dead to Me' Wraps Up Its Three-Season Run with a Last Easy-to-Binge Round of Grief, Friendship and Twists
The Christina Applegate- and Linda Cardellini-starring Netflix black comedy gets soapier in its final season, but still remains compelling, hilarious and heartfelt.
November 18, 2022
After a few wines, fun can get messy. Without any alcohol at all, life always is. Since arriving on Netflix in 2019, grief-fuelled black comedy Dead to Me has always understood this. Just as crucially, it has always appreciated how the chaos that being alive brings is far easier to handle with a true friend by your side. Its key pair: Christina Applegate (Bad Moms 2) and Linda Cardellini (Hawkeye) as Jen Harding and Judy Hale, who started the show as strangers linked by tragedy, and by lies about exactly how deep that connection goes. With Dead to Me finishing with the just-dropped season three, the duo ends the series having changed each other in ways that neither could've initially imagined.
Hit and runs, murders, duplicitous connections, secret twins, police investigations, shallow graves, money laundering, incriminating surveillance footage, big coverups: these aren't regular occurrences for most of us. But dealing with life, love, death, loss and disappointment is, and struggling to know how you want to spend your days — and who to spend them with. To navigate all of this, the only-on-TV and the everyday alike, Dead to Me bundles its leads together to help them cope. Sometimes, that involves big glasses of vino. Too often perhaps, leaning on a stereotype. Still, the fact that Jen and Judy need each other, and are better because they know each other, remains as heartfelt as Dead to Me's pile of twists proves tumultuous.
When Dead to Me began with heavy A Simple Favour vibes, it was with Laguna Beach real-estate agent Jen left widowed with two kids (Condor's Sam McCarthy and IT: Chapter Two's Luke Roessler), and furious about it, after her husband Ted was killed in an accident. Aged-care nurse Judy comes into her orbit at her grief support group, telling a tale about similarly mourning after the death of her fiancé Steve Wood (James Marsden, Sonic the Hedgehog 2); however, her story is just a ruse to get close to Jen. The chalk-and-cheese women still find comfort in each other's company, with the free-spirited Judy countering Jen's acerbic, acidic, angry demeanour. Then, the revelations start flowing — and the more that their friendship is tested, the more the pair gravitate towards each other.
When Dead to Me's ten-episode first season came to an end, it was with secrets being exposed and a growing body count. In season two, which dropped another ten episodes in 2020, Jen and Judy worked through the fallout, and the reality of having Steve's kinder, cornier twin brother Ben (also Marsden) around. This is a show about cycles and circles, so when its second outing finished, it was with another hit and run, this time with Jen and Judy as its victims. That's where season three's ten episodes pick up, with the two women in hospital weathering yet another aftermath to a significant event with yet another round of life-changing consequences.
Hanging out with Jen and Judy as they endure several soap operas worth of turmoil — and just as many big life events, complete with romances, kids and health woes — has been one of Dead to Me's drawcards from the get-go. Creator and writer Liz Feldman (2 Broke Girls) perfected the show's lead casting, so much so that even simply putting Applegate and Cardellini together with a bottle of wine has always sparked compelling, touching, insightful and hilarious moments. That's hardly surprising given both actors' prior resumes, and their screen presence. In her first lead TV role since 2011–12 sitcom Up All Night, Married with Children and Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead alum Applegate plays world-weary and just weary with relatable force, while ex-Freaks and Geeks, Scooby Doo, Mad Men and Bloodline star Cardellini knows how to give the positive-thinking Judy both weight and heart.
Applegate and Cardellini have deserved their past Emmy nominations — two for the former, one for the latter — and they're each as adept at balancing Dead to Me's dark comedy and rampant dramas in season three. There's a greater sense of what the bond between the show's protagonists truly means this time, though, befitting its final go-around. As even more hardship, heartbreak and law enforcement officers are thrown at its central pair, the series also sees them lean on each other as a constant when little else earns that description. That said, because everything changes including our dearest relationships, it contemplates what Jen and Judy can always draw on from each other even if they're not perennially side by side.
Finding solace in complicated bonds, the strength to confront life's challenges, and the savviness to know when to appreciate the small wins and big delights: that's Dead to Me season three's arc. It's the series' in general, and was long before it was announced that it would finish after a third and final run. In fact, that's why all the trauma and twists have worked, reflecting the truth that anything and everything can happen to us all every day, so all that we can do is work out how to soldier on. Of course, now that Dead to Me is bringing its odd-couple tale to a conclusion — a fitting one, that keeps recognising the gifts, shocks, joys and sorrows that greet everyone — farewells and heightened feelings frequently go hand in hand.
Accordingly, unexpected diagnoses, meddling cops (returnees Diana Maria Riva, Kajillionaire, and Brandon Scott, Goliath), sleuthing federal agents (series newcomer Garrett Dillahunt, Where the Crawdads Sing), old flames (Natalie Morales, The Little Things) and frustrating neighbours (Suzy Nakamura, Avenue 5) all pop up. So do creepy rooms filled with twin dolls, plus outlaw names: Bitch Cassidy and Judy Five Fingers (who chooses which is obvious). Yes, Dead to Me goes all in on as many more plot swings as it can fit in as it rides off into the sunset. In the process, the show's swansong evokes as many emotions as it can, too. Amid the twists and laughs in tandem, however — and all the murders, mysteries and other doses of mayhem along the way — this show has always been able to make its feelings stick, just like its against-the-odds core friendship.
Check out the full trailer for Dead to Me's third season below:
Dead to Me's third season is available to stream via Netflix.
Images: Saeed Adyani / Netflix.
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