Netflix's 'Dead to Me' is proof that tragedy can go hand-in-hand with humor making tragicomedies universally relevant
On July 17, offering its latest peek at viewership data, Netflix announced that its tragicomedy 'Dead To Me' was "sampled by 30 million subscribers worldwide in its first month".
Created by Liz Feldman, 'Dead To Me' is a tragicomedy starring Christina Applegate as Jen Harding (a role for which she earned an Emmy nomination) and Linda Cardellini as Judy Hale, two women who are connected by a tragedy and develop a strong friendship as the byproduct of the tragedy.
In Netflix terminology, a "view" consists of a member account watching 70 percent of one episode of a series or 70 percent of a feature film. Even at 30 million views, 'Dead To Me' hasn't gone close enough to Netflix's other series such as 'The Umbrella Academy' (which amassed an audience of 45 million), 'Sex Education' and 'You'.
In between these numbers lies the fact that tragicomedies are essentially universally relevant.
In an interview, Cardellini said, "This show, we call it a traumedy, because there's so much of traumatic stuff that happens, and then there is humor to alleviate that tension and stress." In literature, this genre is known as "tragicomedy" and it reflects life on the screen. "In life, we laugh and we cry and we get surprised and shocked by things and people are not what they seem. It's what life feels like – dark and twisty and funny," Applegate added in the same interview.
There is some sense of acknowledgment when the audience sees tragedy on screen, but when it is interspersed with humor, it becomes digestible. Unlike watching only tragedies on the screen, which do not add or subtract from the experience of watching the series, the dark humor in 'Dead To Me' lets viewers see that tragedies could go hand in hand with humor.
Antonio Barrenechea, Professor of English at the University of Mary Washington has a different opinion about the 21st Century's vicarious morbidity fans. "Dark humor responds to our absurd condition with the armour of world-weariness. Except that, of course, we also know we can't really laugh such troubles away — which is why dark humor has a fatalistic dimension built into it," he shared in a chat with MEA WorldWide (MEAWW).
Another show that fits perfectly here is Phoebe Waller Bridge's mastermind 'Fleabag'. A show that follows the titular Fleabag, played by Waller Bridge, it tells the story of a woman dealing with the loss of her best friend, but does so in a laugh out loud, hilarious manner.
The beauty of traumedies/tragicomedies – whatever it is that you may call it – is that it allows the audience to explore what it is like to live through trauma and find humor in it.
The first season of 'Dead To Me' is currently streaming on Netflix. The show has been renewed for a second season, which is likely to see a 2020 release.