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Law in Popular Culture

Stop right here if you still haven't watched (or are at least planning to watch) Netflix's newest dark comedy, Dead to Me. Reader beware: There are a few spoilers ahead. I'm not going to give everything away, but this column will touch on a few of the series's surprise twists and turns.

From the looks of IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, perpetual content-creation king Netflix has done it again. Both aggregator sites give Dead to Me high marks, and rightfully so. The series is a morbidly fun whodunit with enough suspense to keep viewers guessing, and a balance of high- and low-brow humor to simultaneously keep them laughing as well.

Another plus? You can watch all 10 30-minute episodes in one lazy weekend afternoon. Believe me I watched my wife do it. It was entertaining enough to keep my attention as I meandered throughout my weekend tasks, but not so detail-oriented that I couldn t hop in and out of the narrative. Not all death is treated equally.

The series stars Christina Applegate as a mother and wife who loses her husband in a tragic hit-and-run accident. Applegate s character, Jen Harding, is a strong woman who is working to cope with such a painful loss and still function in her role as a provider and parent. She begins to attend a grief group, where she meets Judy Hale (played by Linda Cardellini), another woman who has lost the man she loves.

With local law enforcement failing to give her the closure she so desperately needs, Jen spends a great deal of her time searching for the vehicle that hit her husband. She develops an obsession with driving around inspecting vehicle bumpers sporting human-sized damage. She feels, perhaps rightfully so, that law enforcement has given up on trying to find her husband s killer. Much of the show focuses on Jen s difficulty accepting that the perpetrator may never be apprehended.

Which makes the initial big reveal all the better. By the end of the first episode, you know Judy ran over Jen s husband. Talk about a potential obstacle to a budding friendship.

Consequently, an excellent dynamic develops between both character arches: Jen is constantly angry, not only regarding the loss her family unfairly suffered, but also with the impression law enforcement won t spend the time and resources she believes her husband s death deserves. Judy, on the other hand, is constantly in fear that Jen and other non-law enforcement citizens will find out her horrible secret.

It does appear that Jen and her assortment of friends spend more time looking into the situation than law enforcement, and the series implies that the cops are simply too busy to find out who mowed down a pedestrian. Sadly, that is often the case in real life as well. The hopes of finding a hit-and-run perpetrator in a large city are extremely difficult absent eyewitnesses or other circumstantial evidence.

MANSLAUGHTER VS. MURDER

There are moments when Judy refers to herself as a murderer even though the killing she caused was accidental. She is corrected by her lawyer boyfriend, though, as he explains that she committed manslaughter, at worst. The distinction is essential in more ways than one. Obviously, the potential legal ramifications are less harsh for someone facing manslaughter, as opposed to murder, charges. For the purposes of Dead to Me, though, the differences manifest internally as well.

One of the series s most interesting aspects is the way it subtly touches on the mental ramifications various parties might manifest depending on their role in a killing and connection to the deceased. The audience observes the fallout, not only in the way the death affects Jen and her two sons, but also in regard to Judy as well.

Depending on the circumstances surrounding a death, it s arguably easier for someone to cope with the guilt of killing another person. That premise presumes, of course, that the person in question subscribes to the same social contract as the majority. Taking another person s life is bad, and people should, in turn, feel bad when they commit those actions in varying degrees depending on their culpability....