Max Jenkins

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) 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) 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) 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.

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