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This review contains spoilers for the Season Three Premiere of ‘Dead to Me.’
It’s been quite some time since viewers last heard from Jen and Judy, the beloved duo at the heart of Netflix’s buzzy dramedy “Dead to Me.” However, fans will likely remember that Season Two ended with the cliffhanger of Jen and Judy’s major car accident. And despite almost three years separating Seasons Two and Three, the series’ new (and final) installment picks up where it left off in the aftermath of this brutal crash. What follows is a surprisingly mundane premiere, lacking much of the flashy shock value that cemented “Dead to Me” as a bingeable treat.
After opening with a rather bizarre and somewhat misplaced dream sequence, the show quickly establishes that both Jen and Judy survived Season Two’s hit-and-run with miraculously minor injuries. And while this choice greatly cheapens the narrative impact of the crash in retrospect, it is all worth it to get another season of chemistry between Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini. Truly, this duo and their impeccable comedic timing comprise the core of this show, and without the tangible camaraderie they share it could not survive.
In the premiere, Applegate’s unbreakable shield of sarcasm and cynicism provides ample opportunity for strong observational humor, with the episode feeling slightly “Seinfeld”-esque as Jen rails against the perceived shortcomings of her hospital care. However, Applegate is careful not to let this schtick become all-consuming, as she softens the edges of Jen’s character by allowing some poignant moments of fear and regret to sneak through her steely facade.
As the endlessly cheery foil to a jaded Jen, Cardellini’s Judy quickly reminds viewers of just how delightful her character can be. Never taking a moment to mind her own health after the crash, Judy showers Jen with love and care, two emotions that Cardellini has mastered by this point in the show’s run. In fact, it is rather fascinating how Cardellini transforms what could have been a one-note optimistic character into the compelling and deeply complex Judy, whom audiences cannot help but adore. One scene involving an elaborate pain-killer heist reminds viewers of Judy’s ability to rationalize morally dubious acts through her care for others — a deft moment of characterization by the creators.
However, despite the unsurprisingly strong performances from two actors who have inhabited their roles for quite some time, the rest of the premiere falls flat. With most of the action happening within the confines of a hospital, the episode feels like a poorly paced and dialogue-heavy prelude to what promises to be a more eventful season in the subsequent episodes. However, after audiences have waited years for the return of a show that thrives on gasp-inducing plot twists, this reintroduction feels rather tepid.
The necessity of an entire episode dedicated to setting up so many plotlines also reveals one of the show’s key weaknesses: There is simply too much going on. Without watching a comprehensive review of prior seasons, viewers will never be able to remember all the issues that need resolving in this final season. And while “Dead to Me” does at times lean into its soapy nature in blue-tinted flashbacks and other over-the-top moments, its overstuffed plot can feel slightly messy, taking away from the fun of the show. And with the reveal of Judy’s cancer diagnosis towards the end of the premiere, it’s clear that the show is not going to slow down any time soon.
Despite the shortcomings of its premiere, “Dead to Me” continues to deliver a funny and compelling story with a spectacular representation of friendship as its beating heart. And considering this will be the show’s final opportunity to give viewers a dose of its trademark shock and awe, there should be little fear that “Dead to Me” will flatline in Season Three.
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