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Dead to Me (2019) s01e09 – I Have to Be Honest

I’m curious about “Dead to Me”’s writers’ room. Did they talk about how Sam McCarthy stole a handgun, brought it to school, sold drugs, yet is totally back to petulant White teenager with no consequences this episode or did they just think… well, petulant White teenager, of course there aren’t consequences. Because when McCarthy decides this episode it’s time for he (and apparently Luke Roessler) to go live with grandma Valerie Mahaffey (who is phenomenal this episode) and there’s no talk about how he got a gun at Mahaffey’s and took it to school.

“Dead to Me” is so White it doesn’t even realize when it’s being White. Though we finally get to the big reveal scene for Linda Cardellini and Christina Applegate and… wow, people on this show are dumb. We have also found out at the point of the reveal a number of new things—like Cardellini and James Marsden have been committing felonies together for years and—after Brandon Scott questions Marsden—it’s every person for themself and so Cardellini sells Marsden out to cop Diana Maria Riva, who has two more scenes of being the disinterested Latinx person who’s missed spotting numerous felonies occurring in front of her.

We also find out Scott’s off the force because he’s on psychiatric leave. And Applegate’s never seen Jurassic Park. And the reason dead husband Ted started cheating on her was because he was disgusted by her post-mastectomy body. And the reason he was out walking the night he got hit was because she threw him out. And he tried called Mahaffey, who didn’t pick up, so she feels guilty.

Oh, and Applegate’s been lying the whole show about not knowing the combination to the gun safe.

What else….

Marsden’s hot for Applegate’s bod.

Oh, and Applegate was Mahaffey’s protege and screwed her over. “Dead to Me”’s got one heck of a story hook but all it’s got is that hook. It’s like if you made the MacGuffin into the the whole thing.

Nice Ed Asner scene, actually pretty good direction (from Geeta Patel), but then the big band music is back. The big band music fits when Applegate’s doing her dance class at the beginning. Not so much the rest of the time.

It’s not so much the characters don’t have self-awareness (they don’t but whatever, they’re just not actualized), it’s they don’t even have autonomic self-preservation skills. They need timers to remind them to keep breathing their behaviors are so breathtakingly stupid.

Upload (2020) s01e01 – Welcome to Upload

“Upload” takes place in a mundane future dystopia where Bloomingdales runs liquor stores and Panera Bread was able to acquire Facebook. The most oddly prescient bit has a bunch of people on the packed commuter train wearing masks. Worker drones take the train it seems like. The middle class and above have self-driving cars, which are apparently super safe.

Or at least after Robbie Amell dies in a self-driving car accident, everyone is surprised because they’re supposed to be so safe.

Amell’s not dead dead, however, because in this future you get to live as long as the company who provides your digital afterlife can keep the servers running. Amell and pal Jordan Johnson-Hinds are trying to design a freeware version and they’re almost done but then he oddly and tragically dies.

Also wouldn’t you know he’s dating a woman who’s an heiress to the biggest in-app purchase version of the afterlife? So much intrigue.

The show doesn’t do well with the intrigue. It does a lot better with Amell bonding with his handler, Andy Allo; Allo’s job is to make sure Amell doesn’t reject his new reality and go jump into a giant data stream and incinerate himself or something. It also doesn’t make sense why they couldn’t re-upload him; though that one is so obvious they’re going to have to address it.

This first episode is overlong—it’s going to be a half hour or so but they stretch the pilot out to forty minutes, which seems like a perfectly good half hour pilot bulked out with the suspicious girlfriend (Allegra Edwards’s obnoxious) and the intrigue.

There are some good laughs—a lot of them considering the protagonist is dead—and pretty much everyone but Edwards is fine. Allo’s better than Amell but they’re both more likable than good. Kevin Bigley’s solid as Amell’s first fellow dead guy friend (Bigley killed himself after losing his legs in the Iran War, so “Upload”’s full of optimism for American Imperialism).

It’ll be interesting to see if the show can maintain so much product placement—you can buy all the soda brands and all the fast food in the afterlife. But not Amell because Edwards controls his in-app purchases and stalks him from the real world.

There are some weird jokes—Amell asking Allo if there’s slavery in Heaven, which writer, director, and show creator Greg Daniels doesn’t seem to know how to execute (or does and it just doesn’t fly)—but the bit about men in the afterlife being able to pee in the urinal from across the room in a steady, infinite stream is… accurate. You know the dude programmers would add that feature.

I’m far from sold on the first one but hopefully the issues are just pilot flitters.

Dead to Me (2019) s01e08 – Try to Stop Me

Early on in the episode, there’s this shot looking through the skylight at Judy (Linda Cardellini) after she’s had a fainting sell and friends Christina Applegate and Brandon Scott have brought her home. They were out investigating the list of 1966 Mustang owners Scott procured (Applegate’s husband was run down by a 1966 Mustang).

It’s a really good shot and I thought for a second I’d be talking at length about how Kat Coiro is the best director on the series. But then the crappy one shot composition comes back with a vengeance and it’s a nope.

Anyway. The episode’s about two things—Cardellini thinking she’s pregnant again (it’s amazing how little her repeated miscarriages have played into the character arc)—and Applegate investigating the car owners. Initially, Applegate is going up to the houses and pretending to be interested in selling them because the block’s taking off while Scott and Cardellini wait in the car.

It’s really kind of dangerous behavior—especially if she found the hit and runner—and you’d think Scott would know it’s dangerous because he’s a cop (albeit on leave) but he’s too busy mooning over Cardellini to worry about Applegate. Or the legality of their private investigation.

So when Applegate decides to investigate the prime suspect Rick Holmes on her own… it’s concerning no one has thought maybe she shouldn’t be doing it. In fact, Scott sends her off with his blessing. So when Holmes tries to get Applegate drunk and make time with her–she rebuffs him, violently—there’s then this weird self-victim blaming from Applegate. But it’s complicated because she did lead him on in hopes of seeing his murder car? Like… okay. Weird.

Not as weird as when Cardellini and Applegate have the “you’re not a real woman if you don’t have a baby” talk. I guess I should just take God not figuring in as a win.

Big developments for James Marsden and Cardellini’s relationship—or lack thereof—and the finale with Scott stumbling onto a big piece of evidence you’d think a continuously covering up manslaughter-er would think about before putting themselves out in public but whatever. “Dead to Me” exists in a universe where people can’t Google each other, apparently.

Dead to Me (2019) s01e07 – I Can Handle It

In a somewhat incredible turn, the episode opens with Christina Applegate and investigator—I guess—Brandon Scott going to cop Diana Maria Riva and telling her about the evidence they found. Riva doesn’t seem to care much about the evidence and seems ready to throw it away; it’s incredible Applegate doesn’t ask to speak to her manager.

And unrealistic, frankly.

Also unrealistic is lawyer James Marsden and Linda Cardellini bonding over a new felony for their eventual prosecution. They’re great together—it’s a damn shame Marsden didn’t get a better career (he should’ve said no to X-Men back in the day, though it’s not like the early aughts did much good for a lot of Gen-x actors)—but… they’re sociopaths. Like. Does the show not realize they’re sociopaths? “Dead to Me” doesn’t seem to understand itself… which, yeah, it’s taken a big bite and doesn’t seem to know how to chew through it.

Anyway, the episode is split between Applegate freaking out after seeing pictures of her dead husband—which Riva didn’t want to show her but Scott thought she should see—and her Realtor partner dumping her. Because Jenkins is a prick. Though his excuse is Applegate’s an asshole and has been for years and not just since the husband died.

There’s also a bit in their breakup where Jenkins says it’s okay for old White people to be racist and Applegate disagreeing makes her the bad guy, in case you’re wondering where the show comes down on that one. Also Jenkins says a little prayer before shitting all over Applegate, which seems to be a way of empowering a casually Christian viewership to be un-Christian to one another.

So later on, when Applegate’s having a weird scene with Ed Asner (because they need an exposition dump scene—it’s concerning episode writer Emma Rathbone is also the executive story editor), we find out Applegate’s had “a shitty few years,” which seems to be her saying there’s a reason for the husband stepping out with the teenager.

And then even later she lies to Scott about her husband’s shoes because we’re going to find out he walked out on her the night he got killed, which was implied back in the second or third episode but has been forgotten since. Also forgotten is Jenkins is directing Applegate’s son in church choir, so things might be awkward. Maybe?

Finally, there’s the big cliffhanger with life coming at Cardellini hard and you realize no one thought enough about the ground situation when they wrote the pilot. Shrug emoji.

Dead to Me (2019) s01e06 – Oh My God

After Christina Applegate opens the episode self-identifying as an atheist, I guess I turned on the religiosity radar. Or did I? Because the Christian imagery is everywhere this episode. Woo-loving spiritual White lady Linda Cardellini takes the cross she and Applegate find at the dead husband’s accident site and puts it up in her bedroom. Troubled sons Sam McCarthy and Luke Roessler both find comfort at the Christian church where Applegate doesn’t want them to go—Roessler in the gay friendly dance choir.

There are also these weird optics to the police detective Diana Maria Riva, who it turns out didn’t do her job investigating the husband’s death. Weird the only Latinx woman, who’s also the only cast member not rail-thin and is mean to Applegate turns out to be shitty at her job. Of course, not even Cardellini’s sort of boyfriend Brandon Scott (who’s real good) figures out how to crack the case before Cardellini.

And now Cardellini has got herself into a whole bunch of trouble—sadly, the episode doesn’t really get into how she’s feeling about it outside reaction shots, which is sort of “Dead to Me”’s problem; it’s entirely about the interiority of its cast and can’t figure out how to visualize any of it.

But it’s all getting very real. The cliffhanger is very intense and big things are seemingly about to happen, which are going to be absolutely devastating.

The main plot of the episode is McCarthy dealing his dead dad’s pills at school and Roessler freaking out on the school choir. Then there’s a whole gun subplot, which has Applegate hating guns—as much as she hates Jesus—so will she end the series a gun-and-Bible toting Mama Bear?

I mean, it’s probably more realistic than what they’re going for now. But we’ll see.

Director Minkie Spiro tones down the bad, intentionally awkward composition but there’s still some of it.

Dead to Me (2019) s01e05 – I’ve Gotta Get Away

This episode’s set an indeterminate time since the previous, with Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini poolside in Palm Springs, taking it easy. Except they’re on a retreat with their grief group—the one other group members we see in the episode are the leader, Pastor Wayne (Keong Sim) and Telma Hopkins.

Cardellini and Applegate aren’t going to do anything with the grief conference, until Applegate decides she’s going to knock boots with hot guy Steve Howey no matter what it takes, even sitting through a presentation from Sim. And Cardellini goes to a miscarriage group, which confirms her stories about the multiple miscarriages for the first time. There’s a baby’s room at James Marsden’s but… the show still hasn’t explained how the miscarriage flashback fits in with the more consequential flashbacks.

Things take unexpected turns when Howey turns out not to be the stud Applegate’s looking for and Cardellini, who’s not interested in a convention hookup, meets soulful mourner Brandon Scott (after Scott sings the Cars’s Drive at karaoke) and gets romantic, leaving Applegate to fend for herself. And leads to Applegate having a come to Jesus moment, which is not a particularly good come to Jesus moment (and happens offscreen).

Abe Sylvia’s script is… eh. Guess Sylvia’s a better director for the show than writer. Episode director Minkie Spiro brings back the trying way too hard composition, which is a bummer.

Sylvia’s also got a lot of gay jokes. For Applegate. She’s drunk and making a bunch of gay jokes and then saying the equivalent of “not that there’s anything wrong with it.” It just makes Applegate seem like a jerk instead of a cynic.

She does get a good scene with Sim, finally. Who knew Sim would have good scenes.

And Hopkins gets to karaoke. Applegate and Cardellini are both surprised she can sing, which seems weird because I’d think Thelma Hopkins can sing but maybe that’s just because Thelma Hopkins can do anything.

Also, I’m pretty sure if the episode passes Bechdel, it’s on a technicality. Though Applegate having two sons to fret over kind of limits.

And the ending—with Cardellini trying to get new beau Scott (a police detective) to investigate Applegate’s husband’s death seems a little much. “Dead to Me” usually gets away with its little much but this one might be too much little much. It’s going to require one hell of a scene from Cardellini and the writers (and director) someday.

Dead to Me (2019) s01e04 – I Can’t Go Back

James Marsden’s character loses all appeal when—in the morning after scene with he and Linda Cardellini—he starts listening to his White man self-actualization podcast. Then he does his workout on the trampoline and you wonder just how Marsden came up with his characterization. Did he get to see the whole series script with all the character details and reveals or what. Because, even if he’s not appealing, Marsden’s performance as a mundane sociopath might end up being “Dead to Me”’s standout performance. Depending on how things go with Christina Applegate and Cardellini.

After Cardellini does the walk of shame home—or gets a ride because she’s still not driving—she finds out Applegate is upset about something, namely dead husband Ted cheating on her. Thanks to Cardellini knowing how to use the Internet, they convince the girlfriend they’re the dead husband and they’re going to meet her after work. So they go to the girlfriend’s restaurant—she’s a waitress—and try to spot her.

Unluckily, their waitress (Olivia Macklin) turns out to be the girlfriend. Applegate understandably gets hostile while Cardellini plays the good cop and gets information out of Macklin. Amid all that drama, Applegate’s also upset because Marsden has pulled his house off the market… because he’s getting back with Cardellini, which turns into an argument between the two.

Marsden’s already told Cardellini to pick a fight to break up the friendship and come back to him, so there’s a lot going on even with two characters sitting at a table.

Cardellini’s getting back together secret, which doesn’t even last the episode, is probably “Dead to Me”’s shortest secret. The show runs on them—it’s like if you found out Bruce Willis was a ghost every twelve to seventeen minutes—and this episode has two more? Three more? Ted had secrets on top of secrets for a lot longer than Applegate knew. But Applegate’s also got a previously undisclosed character backstory detail getting revealed and playing into the plot with Macklin so it’s a lot.

We’re also finding out Applegate gave up her dreams to support the husband, who was a failed musician, and it compounds a lot with her just revealed history secret. The episode ends in a very complex place for both Applegate and Cardellini; it appears “Dead to Me” is about to explore whether or not the truth truly sets one free… or maybe how that freedom might not be better. It’s complicated. And a good puzzle.

Also, Abe Sylvia’s direction is a really nice development for the series because you don’t notice it. There’s no forced pretentious composition with Sylvia.

Kate Robin’s script has some excellent barbed dialogue and sometimes it’s funny but it’s a very grim half hour.

Dead to Me (2019) s01e03 – It’s All My Fault

Even more secrets! Not only does Christina Applegate find out something she didn’t know—and not Linda Cardellini’s secret, even though Cardellini puts her secret out into the world in the form of a confession in a balloon—to send up to Heaven to Applegate’s dead husband, along with the family (it’s his birthday), which the show plays for a cheap bait and switch because it can’t help itself… And not even the secret martyring mother-in-law Valerie Mahaffey talks to Applegate about, a secret she’s keeping from… well, the audience. Because why shouldn’t everyone be keeping big ol’ secrets.

There’s a lot to the episode, what with Cardellini and ex James Marsden reconnecting after she has to call him to get her out of jail for damaging private property, which Cardellini copped to in an effort to help Applegate. If Marsden isn’t a complete sociopath who’s playing Cardellini, it’ll be the most surprising thing the show’s able to pull off. Because Marsden and Cardellini, in their extremely dysfunctional relationship, play off one another really well. If Marsden isn’t a villain, it’ll mean less great material for him, so I guess I’m hoping he’s a villain.

Then there’s Mahaffey, Applegate’s dead husband’s mother, grandmother to her children, and rival Realtor. Mahaffey belittles and demeans Applegate whenever she gets the chance, but Applegate’s in no mood to be pressed right now. Great performance from Mahaffey; Cardellini actually gets the more interesting scene opposite her, because most of the Applegate stuff is played—initially—for laughs.

Gay Realtor partner Max Jenkins comes through as a good friend to Applegate this episode, which initially redeems him, but then he’s the way they’re shoehorning in religion. Applegate apparently used to have cast and crew pray before takes (on a not “Married With Children” show); her character’s not religious on “Dead to Me” because she needs to be irate, but the gay White guy’s there to remind everyone it’s all good because God.

Eye roll.

Group’s back for a scene; nice to see Telma Hopkins and Edward Fordham Jr. And Ed Asner’s around a bit.

Abe Sylvia’s direction keeps up with some of the quizzical composition but not all of it, which is nice.

“Dead to Me” probably ought to have been called “So Many Secrets,” just because they’re what’s keeping it going but whatever. It works out. And it’s great to see Mahaffey.

Dead to Me (2019) s01e02 – Maybe I’m Crazy

Oh, the secrets. So many secrets. Linda Cardellini has secrets from Christina Applegate—the scene where Applegate tells Cardellini she’s a saint and Cardellini says something like, “you’ll come to find out I’m the Devil,” is a little too on the nose. But then the show has its secrets too. Creator and writer Liz Feldman wants to surprise viewers instead of just trusting in both them and her show. It’s a bummer.

Also a bummer is director Amy York Rubin, who’s back with her fake artsy composition and questionable focus blurs.

But otherwise—and Applegate’s exaggeratedly gay business partner Max Jenkins—it’s solid. Applegate’s arc this episode involves selling Cardellini’s ex-boyfriend James Marsden’s house while Cardellini gets comfortable staying with Applegate and sons. Younger son Luke Roessler gets a lot less to do than very upset teenager Sam McCarthy, who Cardellini sets about bonding with.

Now, given what the show’s reveals about Cardellini at this point, a bunch of the show just becomes trying to figure out her character motivations moment to moment. It’s a potentially great, showy part. It’ll be interesting to see what Cardellini does with it. At this point, she’s very interesting, which is the most she can be at this point.

Applegate’s got a subplot about calling the cops to report a speeding car in her neighborhood—apparently both she and her dead husband ran in the street instead of on sidewalks, which is… well… you’d think she’d move over to the sidewalks is all I’m saying. But the arc with the speeding sports car is pretty awesome. Gives Applegate a great last scene.

There’s no group this episode, so no guaranteed laughs. There’s a bit with the kids—Cardellini and McCarthy banter on the same level. Plus Ed Asner. And he gets lines this episode. He was background last episode.

“Dead to Me” is either going to work or it isn’t. It’ll probably be a waste of time if it doesn’t. But it’s engaging enough at this point I’m hopeful.

Dead to Me (2019) s01e01

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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