SPOILER ALERT***Bookmark this post if you haven’t seen the Netflix series Dead To Me, then come back and read it!***
I could use a “Jen” in my life – the kind you find while binge-watching a Netflix series and ponder whether the F-bomb is overused in daily conversation. (In the make-believe world, it doesn’t seem to be but more on that later.) We have “Karens”, don’t we?? So why not “Jens”?
And of course she is not real….She is the product of a writer’s imagination, an invention so off-the-charts you wonder if someone like her truly exists.
In Dead To Me, actress Christina Applegate plays Jen Harding, a grieving widow trying to come to terms with the loss of her husband who dies in a hit-and-run. She develops a friendship along the way with Judy, whom she meets in grief therapy. What ensues is a crazy, complicated female bonding based on lies and a search for closure. Jen and Judy are each other’s “person”, leaning in for compassion, as the truth is cruelly unveiled that they are individually responsible for the other’s loss.
Part dark humor and part gripping thriller, the series is addictive. The writing is truly on point, giving the main character an assertive quality we rarely see in female protagonists. There are perfectly scripted sound bites at every turn. I often found myself pausing a scene to catch my breath from laughing so hard and that is not a common occurrence for me. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, on TV entertains me to that point. It isn’t every day that we see grief depicted in its raw, unequivocal state. It is not supposed to be pretty nor funny and there should be no timeline as to when we are supposed to “get over it”. The show’s writers understand this and allow for a mourning process that runs its course, with a few twists and turns heightened for drama.
So the big question is: am I supposed to like Jen?? The answer is yes. Jen is my new anti-hero and she comes from a long line of corrupt, dysfunctional yet endearing characters that television has manipulated us to like (think Breaking Bad’s Walter White and Ozark’s Marty Byrde). Jen is the woman you root for but shouldn’t because she is a murderer. Jen is the EveryWoman who doesn’t just THINK about lashing out but actually DOES it. She’s the BFF you get drunk with because you know you will have a good time and most importantly, she is the voice of brutal honesty that you need to hear when everyone else is trying not to hurt your feelings. She is strength, rage and humor all wrapped up into one hot mess to be reckoned with.
Jen also curses like a sailor and before anyone thinks that this is gratuitous and for the entertainment value…well it is…but dropping the F-bomb is also as central to her character as breathing. The words roll out effortlessly and with precision, her biatch factor going up a few extra notches with every expletive spewed forth.
Dead To Me is not just a platform for strong, female roles but it is also a representation of complicated female friendships, the ones that we all yearn to have since the school days. Jen and Judy (played by Linda Cardellini) are polar opposites – one is over-bearing and the other over-yielding but what works is that they complement each other’s idiosyncrasies. The series succeeds well in this regard if only to highlight the importance of bonding and being there for one another, no matter what happens to you in this thing called Life. I think that’s why it is so compelling. The lesson to be learned here is that we’re all works in progress. We may hate the parts in us that are hard to change but Dead To Me shows its viewers that it’s okay to accept our imperfect selves because there will surely be someone who will stick with us through thick and thin.
So if one day you tell me: “You’re such a Jen”, I’ll take it as a compliment.