James Marsden

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) 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) 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?

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.

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.

Scroll to Top