Is Christina Applegate’s ‘Dead to Me’ a comedy, drama or mystery? Yes.

Christina Applegate plays recent widow Jen Harding in "Dead to Me," a comedy but also "a story about grief and the messiness of coping with grief."
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Netflix’s “Dead to Me” is a deft example of how genre lines are becoming more and more meaningless in this streaming age of long-form storytelling. The series is a wacky comedy about female friendship, a serious drama about grief and a twisty mystery, and it does all those things well. Co-lead Christina Applegate (with Linda Cardellini), nominated for her fifth Emmy, dropped by the Los Angeles Times video studio to talk about the series that she calls a “traumedy.”

Your character, Jen, is coping with the death of her husband in a hit-and-run accident. She meets Linda Cardellini’s character, Judy, at a grief group, and they become very close friends. But secrets keep coming up that change everything. What would you add to that description?

Yes, nothing is what it seems. But it’s more a story about grief and the messiness of coping with grief, and that neither one of them are doing it all that well, and that they’re drowning, and they find each other. And through all of it, it’s also about female relationships, and then it’s also a mystery, and it’s a comedy, and it’s a tragedy, and it’s everything wrapped up into one kind of crazy package.


Some people might have been put off by that, because they want to be able to label it something. But that’s the beauty of it: You can’t really label it as anything; there are no rules. Even though, yes, there’s some sensational story lines incorporated within it, it really is just a look at the rawness and the pain of grief and loss and all of it, and trying to survive in the world as a woman, as a middle-aged woman, as a mother, as all of those things.

Is one of the draws for you that you get to show off your dramatic chops?
Yeah, I mean, I don’t look at it as this is where I’m going to get to show something, because I didn’t even know what was going to happen in those scenes, you know? A lot of the times, what ended up happening wasn’t even written. It was the content, just the person. She broke my heart. And I really loved the idea of this really broken woman who’s kind of the co-lead of something who doesn’t have a lot of likable qualities to her, but to try to find her heart. And I think we find it throughout.

Liz Feldman, creator of the show, said Jen was basically you. What did she mean by that?
(laughs) Foul mouthed. Oh, dark. There’s a lot of me in Jen. I mean, all the grief and loss, and pain ... I’ve gone through so much. I related to her with that. It wasn’t a stressful thing. It was like I kind of eased into her skin. I’m not mean like that. I don’t rage out on people.

My favorite aspect of the show is your relationship with Judy.
Yeah. It’s pretty great. We love doing those scenes because that’s when we also didn’t have to cry. And we could talk about nonsense and be funny, and also those were when at the end of the scene, we could improv and do stuff, because they were very loose about what we did. So, there’s probably 10 minutes of footage of the scene of us smoking pot on the beach, of us just improv’ing two stoned people. And it’s really hilarious ... Those were really fun, fun scenes to shoot, because we could just hang out and be friends.

In a lot of shows, you’re just to assume these two are friends, but this one shows you becoming close.
Yeah, and it’s very hard for Jen to have that because [to her] that’s a sign of weakness; having a close girlfriend is a sign of weakness — the talking it out with a friend. But at some point, she found it a necessity, and Judy allows her to be who she is. To be broken and to talk about facts of life ... somewhere in there, they do really fall for each other in a friendship. And it’s a real friendship.

I desperately want you to say that you and Linda Cardellini are friends in real life.
We are ... actually, we’re closer than even Jen and Judy are. Linda and I, we needed each other, you know, through this shoot. This was a tough shoot, it was a long shoot, lot of hours, lot of stuff that we had to go kind of raw for. And we really have a bond that I’ve never had with a partner ever, and I’m madly, madly in love with her. She is such an incredible human being, and I feel just lucky that she’s doing this with me.