Lucy and Ethel. Mary and Rhoda. Laverne and Shirley. Patsy and Edina. Abbi and Ilana. Television comedy has boasted plenty of amazing duos over the years, and now you should add another one to the mix: Jen and Judy, the lead characters of Netflix’s “Dead to Me.”
Television Academy members are on board, having included both Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini in the lead comedy actress category this year. That’s an improvement over 2019, when voters only recognized Applegate in the show’s freshman run.
Created by Liz Feldman, “Dead to Me” is a dark comedy that centers on Jen (Applegate), a recent widow who’s befriended by Judy (Cardellini) at a support group. The two become besties, but it all falls apart when Jen learns that Judy was partially involved in her husband’s death. From there, the body count rises — and so do the secrets. Jen and Judy have been hurt by each other’s actions, but they also need each other for support and survival. And sure, that doesn’t sound like a comedy — but “Dead to Me” will make you laugh, both out of a nervous place and from some seriously biting asides.
Ultimately, Jen and Judy are the twisted, modern-day peak TV version of Lucy and Ethel from “I Love Lucy.” And yes, at one point they’re burying a body instead of stuffing their face with chocolate, but the farce is still there. Applegate and Cardellini are perhaps the most compelling duo right now in TV comedy. “Christina and Linda are such gifts because they are both hilarious and incredibly heartbreaking,” Feldman says. “They’re so incredibly good at honing in on the emotions of those characters.”
After all, there’s no Laverne without Shirley. As TV historians may remember, the final season of “Laverne and Shirley” att-empted to do just that, as star Penny Marshall went solo after Cindy Williams departed the sitcom in a contractual dispute. It wasn’t the same, and the comedy ended its run after eight seasons.
Applegate and Cardellini have been a part of some of the most memorable TV series in history — Applegate on “Married With Children,” of course, and Cardellini on “Freaks and Geeks.” Applegate later went on to win an Emmy in 2003 as guest star on “Friends” (she was also nominated in the guest comedy actress field for the same role in 2004), and was nominated twice in lead comedy actress for “Samantha Who?” in 2008 and 2009. Cardellini’s previous nom was for guest drama actress, via “Mad Men” in 2013.
Now, it’s this pairing that has brought both of them back to the Emmy table. The last time two co-stars were simultaneously nominated in the lead comedy actress category was 2017, when both Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin were recognized for “Grace and Frankie,” continuing a partnership that dates back to the film “9 to 5.” In 2015, 2016 and 2018, Tomlin was nominated without Fonda, and it never felt quite right.
Conventional wisdom says dual nominees from the same show may cancel each other out, allowing for others to move past them. But in 1984 and 1985, “Kate & Allie” stars Jane Curtin and Susan St. James were both nominated, and Curtin won both times. Last year, both “Killing Eve” stars Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh competed in the lead drama actress race, and Comer emerged victorious.
Applegate and Cardellini face a tough competition where the front-runners include “Schitt’s Creek” icon Catherine O’Hara and frequent “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” awards winner Rachel Brosnahan. But as 1980s hip-hop duo Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock once said, sometimes “it takes two to make a thing go right.”