Luke Roessler

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) 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?

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.

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.

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