There is so much to love about Netflix’s new “traumedy,” Dead to Me. Murder! (Manslaughter?) Sex! Female friendship! James Marsden in well-tailored suits! Extremely glamorous California homes! A perfect set of lead performances from Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini! The biggest scene-stealer of all, though? Cardellini’s #looks. The actress — best known for roles on TV series Freaks and Geeks and ER, not to mention playing Hawkeye’s wife in the Avengers films — delivers a career-best performance over the course of 10 episodes; but she also serves up some seriously enviable ensembles. In today’s TV landscape, it’s incredibly rare to see a character with such a strong sense of everyday style (unless we’re talking about Villanelle, of course), but Cardellini’s Judy Hale makes an enviably quirky fashion statement from her very first appearance on the series. If you haven’t yet seen or finished Dead to Me, beware: spoilers (both style-related and not) ahead!
When Judy first introduces herself to Jen (Applegate) at their grief group meeting, she’s sporting a fabulous warm-toned, ‘70s-inspired ensemble that offers a stark contrast to not only Jen (whose style projects sharp, even spiky realtor professionalism) but the rest of the group. That mustard skirt! The striped top! The wedges. It’s all topped off with a trendy shag haircut maybe only Cardellini could pull off, and boy, does she. It’s no wonder that Jen is drawn to Judy and her refreshingly unpractised personality. When Judy strikes up conversation with a very standoffish Jen, we haven’t yet learned about her free spirit and kooky tendencies, but her outfit tells that whole story visually, without her ever saying a word.
Judy’s closet is the stuff of funky bohemian dreams, full of floral and embroidered dresses, turquoise jewelry, fluttery silhouettes, bell-bottoms, mid-length skirts, and an earthy color palette. She’s perfectly prepared to hang in a ‘70s basement or head out for a trip to Joshua Tree with the hippest people you know. And in a sea of sleek Orange County fashionistas, Judy’s fashion sense couldn’t be more refreshing.
Judy’s cool, comforting sense of style also helps misdirect from the season’s big twist, revealed at the end of episode 1. Who’d have ever guessed that the good-natured woman who works in an old folks’ home and lives in colorful stripes and funky patterns might be responsible for the death of her new best friend’s husband? Well, almost no one. Including said best friend. Whether Judy’s accompanying Jen to a school recital in a whimsical floral number or on a manhunt in a classic stripes-and-denim combo, she lewks as well as lies.
As her terrible secret unravels and she becomes progressively more unhinged, Judy’s outfits remain just as delightfully unique - all the way to her final scene, when she rolls out something a little different for what she plans on being a tragic occasion. After hardly touching the color black for the entire season, Judy dons a green-and-black ensemble complete with lace details at the neckline and chunky ankle boots. This is her farewell number, a fresh take on her own personal funeral.
In the Peak TV era, where women (and men) largely adhere to a similar aesthetic — neutral color palettes; chic, modern silhouettes; no real creativity in putting looks together - Judy’s wardrobe feels fabulously radical. It’s fun and flirty and free-spirited, just like her character, and it’s a treat to watch her near-literally wear her heart on her sleeve. While I might have guessed the Dead to Me “twist” early on, the visual messaging surrounding Judy’s character doesn’t point so obviously in that direction. Cardellini plays her with warmth and eccentricity, and each groovy ensemble only helps set Judy even further apart from the sea of similarly-dressed characters currently on television. When I’m done working on my Judy Hale Pinterest board, I’ll start my Dead to Me Season 2 summoning circle. God knows we could use more of those #looks (and those ladies).
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Jade Budowski is a freelance writer with a knack for ruining punchlines and harboring dad-aged celebrity crushes. She was previously a reporter/producer at Decider and is a member of the Television Critics Association. Follow her on Twitter: @jadebudowski.