Christina Applegate’s ‘Dead to Me’ Performance Is a Tour de Force 1

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Christina Applegate Is So Damn Good

In the first 10 seconds of the second season of Dead to Me, Christina Applegate says “fuck” seven times. 

Not those showy fucks that are used to accentuate a joke or add uncouth swagger to a diatribe. They’re those gritty, miserable, scraped from the frazzled, flat-lining depths of the soul fucks, gasped like dying breaths in hopeless situations. They’re really good fucks. 

The fucks are about the toast that burnt while trying to get breakfast ready for her two kids. They’re about that peanut butter jar that won’t open, which after a brief break from that original expletive aria, elicits another, “Come the fuck on, are you kidding me?” They’re about the man who was killed in her backyard the night before, whose body had to be fished out of the pool and hidden. Also the kids are going to be late for school. 

In the first minute of the season premiere, Applegate’s character has to explain to her two sons why a borderline sociopath who she befriended and then cast out of her life (Linda Cardellini’s Judy) is back in the house, explain to Judy under her breath that she set all of her belongings on fire in a fit of rage, deal with her teenager’s guilt trip about buying him a new car, and make school lunches. 

She has cutting one-liners, outbursts of expletives, muttered asides, breezily handles daily chores, and has a sweet exchange with her youngest son, in which she has to lie to him about what happened in the backyard… all while the DEAD MAN plays on loop in her head. 

The morning routine is a TV comedy staple, but there’s never been one like this. It’s two minutes of some of the most exciting acting I’ve seen this year. And, at only the first minute of the season, it’s just the appetizer for the full-course meal that Christina Applegate makes out of season two of Dead to Me. 

It’s hard to explain what’s going on in the Netflix series, which premiered its new episodes Friday, without spoiling too much for new viewers. 

The broad-stroke version is that Applegate plays a widow named Jen, who is processing the hit-and-run death of her husband with unapologetic anger. A stranger named Judy she meets in a bereavement group becomes an unexpected foil and confidant, until it’s revealed slowly—first to the audience, bit by bit, and then to Jen—that Judy was involved in that hit-and-run. By the time season two starts, as you’ve likely gathered, Jen finds herself involved in an unexpected death as well. 

There was something remarkable about Jen’s anger in the first season of the show. It was there, laid bare. You get it, why she’s angry. But it was jarring, and cathartic, to see it uncouched, unhesitant, and at times unhinged. It is what motivated her to pursue justice for her husband. It is what drove her to be a good mother. It is also what made her funny and unexpectedly enjoyable to be around. 

She’s callous and straightforward, which is strangely endearing to people, like her neighbor Karen (Suzy Nakamura, excellent). “Jesus Christ, Karen, you snuck up on me like a fucking Prius,” Jen barks when Karen pops over one afternoon to see if she’d like to split a bottle of orange wine with her. “What the fuck is orange wine?” Jen responds, unfiltered. 

She’s extremely sarcastic, and she’s cognizant of where that comes from, which is unique. It’s empathic sarcasm, if that makes any sense, which I’m not sure it does because I’ve never seen it quite like this before. 

The smart thing about Dead to Me, which envelops this fascinating character study in the adrenaline of a murder mystery and the suds of a soap opera, is that these aren’t just empty, maybe even cruel interactions. Each of them comes with a revelation—the exchange with Karen surfaces the news that the dead man was filmed going into Jen’s house on Karen’s security camera—and, usually, an epic bruiser of dialogue jabbed by Applegate. “Well, you don’t how I fuck” is, out of context, an iconic one in this scene.

Dead to Me is about two women who have become codependent navigating what they want and what they need from each other. It careens through its twists and turns with a recklessness that is unnerving and exciting. But most thrilling of all is this emotionally volatile, hysterical, ace performance from Applegate, a woman flailing through life, shooting off sparks from the frayed wires at her wit’s end.

Christina Applegate: Never not good. She’s great in everything, as national treasures are. But her work here is something next-level. In other words, watch Dead to Me!