“Dead to Me” is a bleakly funny and poignant new comedy-drama about two women wracked by grief who find solace in each other’s friendship.
At least, that’s likely all the show would be if it was on a cable channel like Showtime or TBS, where all that was required of the viewer is to come back at the same time every week to catch the next episode.
But “Dead to Me” premiered last Friday on Netflix, whose business model depends on viewers devouring one episode after the other. So in addition to the personal drama, “Dead to Me” has all this other stuff going on designed to keep you watching and watching. Stuff I can’t possibly spoil in a review.
The press release included a list of spoilers that Netflix really, really didn’t want reviewers to write about, including something that happens about halfway through the first episode. Since I was disappointed that I read the press release before I started watching the show and had those elements spoiled (the spoiler alerts need spoiler alerts!), the least I could do is not spoil them for everybody else.
What I can say is that, even without those jaw-dropping plot twists, “Dead to Me” would be a show worth watching. Created by Liz Feldman, the show gives two fine comic actresses, Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini, the chance to shine and do some things they’ve never been able to do before onscreen.
Applegate plays Jen, a Los Angeles real estate agent whose husband died in a car accident three months earlier. She’s awash in sadness and rage, and can barely contain her contempt for the well-meaning neighbors who drop off casseroles (“It’s my take on a Mexican lasagna!”) or the bereavement counselors who blather about “growth.” This is Applegate’s best role to date, making Jen furious and acerbic while also sympathetic. A scene in the second episode where she finds a half-drunk glass of water her husband left behind months ago is very touching.
At a group therapy session, Jen meets Judy (Cardellini), who lost her fiancé a couple of months earlier. Judy is as warm a presence as Jen is cold, a buoyant and slightly daffy woman who teaches art therapy to senior citizens and dresses in summery colors. The two women somehow hit it off, and soon are drinking wine, watching “Facts of Life” together, and sharing their grief.
I’ve been a fan of Cardellini since she played mathlete-turned-rebel Lindsay on the gone-too-soon 1999 show “Freaks and Geeks,” and she brings all these weird shadings to Judy beneath her sunny exterior. The chemistry between the two actresses is strong as their characters feel their way toward friendship, despite the emotional baggage they carry.
And some of that baggage is a LOT, for reasons you’ll have to watch the show to find out. My guess is that once you’ll start, you’ll finish all 10 episodes in a flash.
Also on streaming: Based on their opening monologue at the Oscars, it was clear that Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and Maya Rudolph should have hosted the annual show. We get the next best thing in “Wine Country,” a new movie premiering Friday on Netflix. Poehler directs herself, Rudolph, Fey, and fellow “SNL” cast members Rachel Dratch and Ana Gasteyer as a group of friends who go to Napa to celebrate one of the women’s 50th birthday.