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Dead to Me (2019) s02e10 – Where Do We Go From Here

How’s “Dead to Me” going to finish up its second season? How’s it going to resolve all the dangerous situations its characters have put themselves in? With one deus ex machina after another. One could say it’s lazy, but given how hard the show tried to be more than an easy black comedy the first season, it’s kind of nice for it to acknowledge it’s not going to clear any high bars.

And this episode does give cop Diana Maria Riva some good material. It really does. Does it make up for her basically being a lazy Latinx the first season? No. And the second season also just has Brandon Scott around to get racist shit from Jere Burns so its inclusivity is… well, it’s actually not suspect because you wouldn’t expect anything different. So Riva getting good material is a surprise.

She’s helping Christina Applegate tie up her arc, which is one or two of the deuses ex; there’s no point in counting them. Much like the earlier Tell-Tale Heart, you get the feeling “Dead to Me” would be lucky if had heard of deus ex machina from anything but a video game.

Everything gets wrapped up in a nice bow, even after things should get more complicated—including the finale, which sets up another season but also doesn’t have a cliffhanger. It could wrap up in a dark but accurate bow, but doesn’t—though based on the shot and the audio… it’s possible they were at least thinking about it. Maybe “Dead to Me” got saved in post, who knows.

There’s a shot or two of Telma Hopkins, who’s back for one of the strands in the bow wrap-up, and Valerie Mahaffey puts in an appearance for one of the deus ex machinas. Sadly Suzy Nakamura has a cameo too. And gets mocked. Because “Dead to Me” goes for cheap laughs.

The show ends as a full-on comedy, so if there is another season and they keep with it… it’ll probably be better? Like, Applegate and Cardellini are great as wine mom Kate & Allie or whatever. The dramatics… not so much.

Hopefully annoying teenage son Sam McCarthy will be off to college by then.

But until then… there are probably better James Marsden and Natalie Morales performances out there to watch. Ones in much better productions.

Dead to Me (2019) s02e09 – It’s Not You, It’s Me

The episode opens with some post-morning sex freaking out for Christina Applegate while Linda Cardellini is off to the big house. The show’s real cheap about the Cardellini thing, making me think I missed something in the previous episode, but she’s really there to see mom Katey Sagal, who’s not dead, but in prison. Again.

I mean, cool to have the “Married with Children” reunion but not with the actors actually having a reunion… Sagal’s great, even if she’s a stunt cast and even if its poorly written.

Back to Applegate, she’s breaking it off with new James Marsden, who’s so happy after the sex he wants to dance with her. But he’s got to go.

On his way out, he runs into Sam McCarthy, who’s sad and confused to see him go. It’s all a lead-up to Applegate getting a letter from the city saying her stop sign proposal has been rejected.

Now, most episodes of “Dead to Me” this season have started immediately following the previous one, meaning Applegate hadn’t even submitted the proposal in the previous one. But somehow city government answered her in a day—so she storms down to city hall where the zoning commission is always in session so she can yell at them.

It’s a fine enough scene, with a returning appearance from first season attempted rapist Rick Holmes, who’s still a great creep, but “Dead to Me”’s plotting is dismal.

At least the direction—from Silver Tree—isn’t terrible.

Cardellini goes to the cops, where she’s surprised to see Brandon Scott, and Diana Maria Riva threatens to arrest McCarthy for old Marsden’s disappearance and blah blah blah. There’s a cheap cliffhanger as to how Cardellini is going to react but then she’s back home to argue with Applegate about everything.

During the argument, Applegate lays into her, including making a remark about her mother… who Cardellini has been telling everyone is dead. So… not a great script, not great.

Applegate also confesses her first episode of the season secret to Cardellini, which leads to more drama and then a big cliffhanger with Applegate now ready to change all their lives.

Lots of big things happen this episode and none of them go very well, which isn’t a surprise… series creator Liz Feldman cowrote and she’s never written the better episodes of the show.

Dead to Me (2019) s02e08 – It Had to Be You

So, funny thing about this season. The cops seem to have forgotten anyone hit Christina Applegate’s husband with a car and drove away. Like. When Diana Maria Riva is recapping her involvement with Applegate and Linda Cardellini for Natalie Morales? Doesn’t come up. It’s very strange.

Though, I guess makes sense given where the show’s gone.

Morales hears all about Cardellini just after Applegate has given the romance the go-ahead—ditto Cardellini giving Applegate and new James Marsden’s romance to go-ahead. Initially Applegate and Cardellini were arguing about it, but then Sam McCarthy showed up to ruin the scene and confront Applegate about old Marsden’s missing car.

Three main plots this episode—first, Morales’s mom (who doesn’t appear) takes a medical turn for the worse, leading to trouble in new paradise for Cardellini and Morales. Bummer there.

Then Applegate goes over to Marsden’s mom’s house to sell it and score a $15 million commission, but Applegate feels bad about the situation. It doesn’t help Marsden mom Frances Conroy appears to have another major organ failing every few seconds. It’s a very weird choice, meant to gin up sympathy for Conroy, but then there’s also how exasperating new Marsden finds her so she’s simultaneously not sympathetic. She’s also apparently a terrible old rich White lady….

If they do a third season, I imagine there will be some notes on her.

But we also discover some of Applegate’s hesitation over a physical romance with new Marsden is because of her mastectomy and reconstruction, which the show could handle a lot better. It gets foreshadowed with new Marsden telling her how he has scars all over his chest from childhood heart surgeries. It’s weird and forced, though not effective thanks to the actors.

But then there’s also this fake-out involving someone writing “I Know What You Did” on the garage, which ends up just being another, Sam McCarthy’s a teenage White boy who doesn’t actually have to be accountable just sullenly nod when Applegate tells him not to be a shithead.

It’s poorly done, but McCarthy’s an abscess on this series.

Oh, Jere Burns. He’s not Marsdens’ dad, he’s the racist, sexist local police chief we heard about earlier. Brandon Scott’s back working—in the police department where he didn’t work last season but whatever—and taking the tip calls on old Marsden’s disappearance. Basically he’s there for Burns to be low-key racist towards. It’s charming. Or something.

Also we hear about Cardellini’s mom for the first time in a while, with the ending implying she’s dead or something, and Cardellini didn’t know.

They maybe shouldn’t have saved all the character development for episode eight of ten. Though it did mean four great episodes of Morales and Cardellini….

Dead to Me (2019) s02e07 – If Only You Knew

Wow, more of the, no, really, you like Christina Applegate and Sam McCarthy as a mother-son comedic pair. He’s quietly sullen and she’s loudly obscene. Please laugh.

McCarthy is a leech on this season, frankly. Thanks to Natalie Morales and new James Marsden, “Dead to Me” has a new lease on life—is that a no pun intended type statement—and the season one leftovers, for the most part, are still dragging it down in the seventh episode of season two.

Applegate and McCarthy generically and insincerely bond while taking data for her stop sign proposal.

Anyway. One of the main plots of the episode involve Applegate telling Cardellini to break up with Morales, even though Cardellini and Morales are in capital L love after only a few days together.

And, why wouldn’t they be, especially since there’s a “twist” in the identity of Morales’s ex-girlfriend, still-roommate, who has a somewhat amusing awkwardness showdown with Cardellini.

The other main plot has Applegate and Cardellini volunteering to organize a vigil for still missing old Marsden as a favor to overwhelmed new Marsden.

At the vigil, we get to meet Marsdens’ mom, Frances Conroy, who’s played as a tragic figure. Also there’s no dad, which it seemed like there wasn’t, but then new Marsden kept referring to parents plural… and Jere Burns threatens Cardellini at the vigil so I was thinking Burns was the dad….

But it’s never cleared up here. Because we’ve got to get to Keong Sim making an unexpectedly welcome return (Sim was never bad last season, just badly used) to say some words at the vigil before they kick off a slideshow, which McCarthy happens to see because he likes new Marsden so much but doesn’t want to admit liking a non-toxic male, and recognizes the missing Marsden’s car.

Plus Applegate and new Marsden make out, which is both creepy and unfair (heartbroken over Morales, Cardellini peeps their romantic beach make-out).

The episode also introduces “WWJD”—as in “What Would Jen Do” or “What Would Judy Do” because it took them seventeen episodes to realize their characters have the same first letter in their first names.

Doing a Jen (Applegate) is getting shit-faced no matter what the time of day. Doing a Judy (Cardellini) is being a good person no matter what the situation.

The show would be a lot more fun if they’d classified those tropes sooner.

Also Jennifer Getzinger’s direction is a step down from the season two usual. Not as bad as first season, but still incapable of finding a good reaction shot.

Dead to Me (2019) s02e06 – You Don’t Have To

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.

Dead to Me (2019) s02e04 – Between You and Me

Much like the season premiere, this episode takes place an indeterminate time from the previous episode’s cliffhanger and skips over what theoretically should be some very interesting scenes as Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini have now committed federal crimes by digging up a national forest to hide their other crime.

Crimes.

But it makes Applegate feel a lot better, which is nice because we’re no longer asked to believe she’s really worried about going to jail for all time and instead she’s at least acting like she’s in a TV show.

Lots of relationship building for Applegate and Cardellini, who stop off at a motel following their latest felony. Cardellini—now so upset she’s not talkative for the first time in the history of the show—needs to crash and Applegate needs to shower. We find out the boys (Sam McCarthy and Luke Roessler) are at home, with Max Jenkins babysitting; why aren’t they with Grandma? Because we’re going to have a small tragedy requiring them to be at home.

Applegate and Cardellini lie their way into a wedding party’s open bar and spend the evening getting drunk and bonding, with Applegate forgiving Cardellini her previous trespass and Cardellini already having forgiven Applegate for her recent trespass, though Applegate hasn’t divulged the full extent of said trespass because… well, the show’s not ready for it. The show’s not ready for Applegate the cold-blooded killer. Though Applegate at least seems ready with it.

When they get home to find the tragedy, which involves Jenkins’s little dog too, there’s a chance for Applegate to redeem herself a little as far as Cardellini goes; at least for the episode; at the end, it’s pretty clear Applegate’s not going to be troubled with keeping secrets. Cardellini, who spent last season wrestling with it, isn’t as strong.

Or as cold-blooded.

There’s a subplot involving McCarthy wanting a car because he’s a spoiled little White shithead male and it leads him to Applegate’s storage unit—what is it about this show and storage units; I mean, did Cardellini tell Applegate what they used her storage unit for last season—and sets up, presumably, the next stage of the series.

“Dead to Me” is leaps and bounds better this season, even if Jenkins and McCarthy are still major drags.

Dead to Me (2019) s02e03 – You Can’t Live Like This

Not only is the writing better this season—Cara DiPaolo this episode—but the direction is a major improvement as well. Tamra Davis directs this episode (Liza Johnson did the first two) and Davis has a whole bunch of experience. No more stupid portentous angles this season. I imagine the notes on “Dead to Me,” based on what’s happening this season, are a read.

This episode is more of Christina Applegate freaking out about needing to dispose of some evidence, to the point she eventually yells at younger Luke Roessler because he’s in the garage where the evidence is being kept. Applegate’s got a tell-tale freezer, though when she starts hearing it… you get the feeling they’re getting to Poe through “The Simpsons.” But still. It’s effective, especially since the freezer has rats under it—great guest spot from John Ennis as the rodent murderer.

But more important than anything else is Adora Soleil Bricher being back as Shandy, this time as a friend for Roessler. Bricher’s sociopath in training was one of last season’s highlights and… oh, wait, it’s like the show figured out she was great. And she continues to be great. Especially as her first scene is trying to tell Applegate the does and don’ts of… well, let’s just say evidence disposal.

We get to see Applegate at work, trying to con a family into buying a home so it’s nice to know she’s a shitty human being as a Realtor (this season is a lot more comfortable with Applegate as a caricature). Then Linda Cardellini—who’s very upset at the idea of the evidence spoiling in the freezer–smokes out Natalie Morales at work. Morales is daughter of retirement home resident Renee Victor; Victor doesn’t like it there, Morales is stressing, Cardellini’s got some weed. Morales is quite good. Casting is another improvement this season.

There are some effective jump scares—the rats—and the ending does present the leads with one heck of a dilemma; there’s a blackout (we even get an unlikely phone call to confirm it’s county-wide) and Applegate and Cardellini’s fear of spoilage is now an imminent concern. So now they’re going to go dump it. Not really a cliffhanger but a setup for what’s next.

And in a new twist for “Dead to Me,” it’s actually a potentially interesting what’s next.

Dead to Me (2019) s02e02 – Where Have You Been

How’s “Dead to Me” going to keep James Marsden in the cast when his character, Steve, has apparently absconded to Mexico following Linda Cardellini turning him in for money laundering? Well, luckily the creators of “Dead to Me” have seen “The Book Group” too, and James Marsden has a twin brother—Ben—and he gives Christina Applegate quite the surprise before we find out he’s old buds with Cardellini.

In fact, new Marsden thinks old Marsden was never good enough for Cardellini. New Marsden is a bit of a goof, but also adorable and sweet. And Marsden’s performance is fantastic. I can see why they’re compartmentalizing his presence this season—he’s just too good to have around “Dead to Me” for too long, nothing else ever comes close.

The main plots of the episode involves Cardellini being somewhat honest with new Marsden about old Marsden—like how she turned him in for the money laundering (but new Marsden understands because he’s wonderful)—while Applegate is freaking out about going to prison. She’s trying to set up a legal guardian for the boys, which brings Valerie Mahaffey back for a scene, and generally freaking out.

She also gets to see old partner, current pal Max Jenkins (who’s annoying, especially at the church, but at least has a cute dog now). The show does not miss Jenkins.

Also back are Diana Maria Riva and Brandon Scott. Riva is trying to investigate the case everyone told her to investigate last season while Scott’s turned into a drunk. It’s funny how Scott gets less entertaining the more sympathetic he gets.

The show also integrates some more of its season two notes—Applegate keeps calling Sam McCarthy “Char” instead of “Charlie,” which started last episode out of the blue. Also out of the blue is the show’s new gimmick of Applegate and Cardellini talking over each other when answering questions and giving diametrically opposed answers.

I mean, whatever, it’s cheap but effective.

I credit new co-executive producer and episode writer Elizabeth Benjamin, who seems to have figured out how to make the show work a little more consistently this season. So far anyway.

Dead to Me (2019) s02e01 – You Know What You Did

Maybe the first half of the episode is following up from last season’s cliffhanger. The second half of the episode is then trying to get “Dead to Me” to a place where the show can go on. There’s been a seismic change to the relationship between Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini, a seismic cast change—or has there been—but for the first half, writer (and show creator) Liz Feldman does whatever she can to convince the viewer things aren’t going to go exactly where they’ve got to go for the show to continue.

It’s kind of a predictable forced pivot because the episode starts six or eight hours after the dramatic cliffhanger, meaning we’ve missed a bunch. We’re also going to learn—because there have got to be secrets in Feldman’s scripts, secrets from the supporting cast so you can get a scene and then haranguing for the rest of the episode and secrets from the audience so you can gin up a big surprise.

So when Feldman reveals the first secret, it’s not even one anyone would’ve thought about. Sure, Applegate and Cardellini aren’t with it enough to think of a cover story for Applegate’s kids, Sam McCarthy and Luke Roessler—who the show now refer to as “the boys,” like there was a memo to the writers’ room to make Applegate seem more like a mama bear this season.

Applegate’s plot this episode is coming to terms with the cliffhanger as we find out, no, she did fire off a revolver outside in her shishi poopoo L.A. suburb. Because even the “Dead to Me” writers aren’t that stupid. And when they actually get to the reveal at the end, it’s not a bad one. And they didn’t wait six episodes to do it like I was expecting.

Meanwhile, Cardellini is living out of her car. Actually, out of a dead friend’s car because there’s no room for Cardellini to crash at the retirement home. We get to meet the newest retirement home resident, Renee Victor, and her cool, 420-friendly daughter Natalie Morales. Are they important? Don’t know, but they give Cardellini something to do before Applegate has need of her again.

Turns out show punchline and punching bag Suzy Nakamura has the block wired for video, which means no matter what Applegate covers up in her backyard, there’s video of the front and there’s damning evidence on there.

So she calls Cardellini to talk and ends up bringing her back in so they can watch “Facts of Life” and Cardellini can reveal she grew up homeless and make Applegate check her privilege (sort of) and we can get on with season two.

Or, as the shocking cliffhanger asks, can we?

Dead to Me (2019) s01e10 – You Have To Go

This season finale is a trip.

And not in a good way.

Though I guess Geeta Patel directing probably saves it from being any worse, no matter how insipid writers Liz Feldman and Abe Sylvia’s plot points get. Like when forty-one year-old Linda Cardellini, who’s all spiritual and worked in a retirement communities for however long, but has never heard the Jewish take on the afterlife.

Or when Christina Applegate discovers teenage son Sam McCarthy has taken grandma Valerie Mahaffey’s pills to sell again at school and ends up apologizing for being such a bad mom he had to steal guns and sell drugs. “Dead to Me”’s interesting in how it never manages to be cringe because you’re too busy rolling your eyes. Can’t wait for the season where McCarthy pulls a Brock Turner and Applegate says he can’t be responsible because affluenza.

There’s some more Diana Maria Riva being the terrible uncaring detective—seriously, of anyone on the show, Riva should fire her agent.

There’s also Max Jenkins getting his wish and influencing Applegate’s younger son, Luke Roessler, to get baptized. It opens with Jenkins sitting next to Applegate like he didn’t destroy her career two episodes ago. Do the writers not even watch the show? I mean, I get it. I’m only writing about it in three hundred word bursts and it’s exhaustingly insipid. I can’t imagine working on it, day after day, and it never getting any better.

There’s a blah argument between Applegate and Cardellini, which comes after we’re supposed to hate all the prospective buyers for a property because they don’t want a gross sandwich roll from Applegate, but pretty soon Cardellini’s just off trying to drink herself to death while James Marsden shows up at Applegate’s.

They have some real talk and he tries to hashtag feminism at her, then dramatic season finale cliffhanger.

Interestingly, the show tries to bookend a little with Suzy Nakamura (from the first episode and scene I think) getting to come back and hang out with Applegate. Nakamura’s not cool, however, and she’s a gun-freak so very uncool.

Until Applegate wants to learn how to shoot.

So I guess they have a shooting lesson in the backyard of Applegate’s house? No one calls the cops in L.A. for shootings? In White neighborhoods? Unclear.

It’d be a lot to hope the show’s creators had seen The Crossing Guard—during Cardellini’s big dramatic, predictable scene I thought about how it could be done well… then remembered it had been done well with that film. However, you’d think the creators would’ve at least seen Sunset Blvd. but apparently not.

Actually, no, I can believe they’d haven’t seen Sunset Blvd.

Anyway. I’m sure all problems they never worked out this season will magically resolve next season.

Not.

But maybe they’ll get better writers and directors?

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