Gina Rodriguez has made her highly anticipated return to TV in ABC’s Not Dead Yet, starring as lead character Nell Serrano, a 37-year-old woman whose life is, by her definition, a disaster. After breaking off a five-year relationship with her fiancée in London, she moves back to California to pick up her thriving journalism career where it left off. The problem is, she discovers she will have to start from the ground up as an obituary writer. Luckily, she has a lively band of friends at the newspaper, Sam (New Girl‘s Hannah Simone) and Dennis (Josh Banday).
There are also some new additions to her orbit that cause some friction. Her new roommate Edward (Rick Glassman) is particular and brutally honest, and her new boss Lexi (Superstore’sLauren Ash) is the office snob that often undermines Nell. Unfortunately, she also happens to be Sam’s good friend, making them a package deal.
Not Dead Yet premiered in February of this year and was initially on the receiving end of some lukewarm reviews. It didn’t seem to make a big splash with critics, many thinking that it didn’t have the emotional weight or comedic chops to define itself as a long-term addition to the weeknight lineup. As the season progressed, however, the series began to develop its own distinct voice.
Each character in the quirky ensemble cast proved themselves to be a pillar in the structure of their group and their respective flaws were slowly peeled back to humanize their over-the-top personalities. In the 13 episodes that make up Season 1, Not Dead Yet has definitely proven its ability to keep an audience coming back for more — and now that it’s been renewed for a second season, there’s even more story to look forward to. But what happens in the Season 1 finale? Let’s recap.
Nell’s Gift Haunts Her
Nell’s world has been turned upside down, but the biggest change she has had to adapt to is her sudden ability to speak to the dead. Ever since Dennis handed over her first assignment, she has been able to see and talk to the subjects of her obits. They are each only with her for one episode, which is how long it takes for Nell to complete her write-ups. Until she hits submit, they are by her side 24/7.
She quickly gets used to her new companions, learning to lean on them for advice and using them as a sounding board for her own problems — but they also put her in a complicated dilemma of having to hide her gift from the closest people to her. Her first encounter is with Monty (Martin Mull), who inadvertently introduces Nell to his widowed wife, Cricket (Angela Gibbs). As Nell and Cricket develop their own unique and beautiful friendship, the guilt of being connected to someone that Cricket dearly loves and misses often weighs on Nell’s conscience.
Wrong Person, Wrong Time
The emphasis on a chosen family is the biggest strength of Not Dead Yet. In the midst of restarting her life, Nell has done tremendous work in opening up to her friends and being honest about the pain hidden behind her irresponsible, or sometimes blatantly rude behavior. The people around her teach her that she is not an island, and just because one important relationship didn’t work out, that doesn’t mean everyone else will eventually leave her as well.
As Nell finally becomes comfortable in her new life, the two-part finale finally introduces the audience to the person that triggered her train wreck in the first place, her ex-fiancee Phillip (Ed Weeks), who is suddenly back in town and wants to make amends. After agreeing to meet with him, and accepting his apology, Nell is taken aback when he asks for one in return.
This is when we learn that Nell was not completely innocent in their messy breakup. As we’ve seen time and time again with this character, she avoids uncomfortable emotions at all costs. But, because she has ghosts observing her every move, she finds that she can’t really get away with that behavior anymore. For better or worse, she always has a literal angel on her shoulder holding her accountable. Because of the advice she gets from ghostly guest Rhea Perlman, she has the courage to return Phillip’s openness, which sparks a rekindling of their connection. After a few weeks, Phillip and Nell have all but officially gotten back together and there is a notable change in her, she is more put-together.
This might also be due to her current spiritual buddy, a former professional organizer who urges Nell to make sense of all the chaos in her life and create her ideal space. It seems as though Phillip is helping her do that, but in his company, Nell ditches more than her untidiness — she sacrifices quintessential parts of herself.
Nell tries not to notice or care that her personality is completely rewritten in Phillip’s presence because her friends are really coming around to the idea of them getting back together. Edward is relieved that Phillip’s cleanliness and tediousness have rubbed off on her and Sam seems impressed with his efforts to gain the group’s trust. All of these things reinforce that Nell has made a good decision in letting him back into her life. One thing that she really misses though, is that since she decided to give this relationship another chance, she has lost her ability to speak to the dead.
Hold Onto the Past or Create Your Own Future?
Nell makes a bold move for the sake of honesty in her relationship and finally reveals her secret. When she tells Phillip about her ability, his reaction is not only patronizing but extremely controlling. Though he disguises it with a caring tone, he completely dismisses her experience, chalking it up to a wild imagination that is playing tricks on her due to the “dark times” she experienced without him.
Now that he’s back, he insists those times are over. She will quit her stressful job, move out of her apartment and start a new life. Luckily, she has him to guide her every step of the way. Though she accepts his proposition, she knows something isn’t sitting right. But why? This is everything she thought she wanted.
Out of habit, she asks her ever-present ghost friends for their input but is met with silence. Instead, Edward hears Nell’s distress and offers her the insight she needs to hear. She realizes that she is longer in a phase of her life where she needs to lean on a partner that isn’t right for her in order to get the love, support, and guidance she craves. The people that she already has in her life fill that role and do so without trying to change her.
It is only when she says goodbye to Phillip for the sake of her own growth that the ghosts reappear. They symbolize the vulnerable, messy parts that she tries to hide or ignore. Now that she is surrounded by the right people, she doesn’t need to pretend these parts of her don’t exist in order to feel accepted. Nell bravely ends the season by looking ahead to a path she will carve on her own. She is just now realizing how much power and potential she truly has.
Everyone Has Something to Learn in ‘Not Dead Yet’s Season 1 Finale
Nell’s friends are also making big strides in the finale. Sam learns to speak up for herself when dealing with Lexi’s entitlement. They both learn an important lesson in balancing work, motherhood, and their own friendship. Lexi has also become more engaged and excited about her work friends’ lives. She is beaming as she helps Dennis stay vigilant about any incoming calls from the adoption agency.
When the call finally comes in, Dennis is forced to make a time-sensitive decision about whether to adopt two children without being able to get ahold of his husband. Nell steps in to help him by relaying what she learned about creating an ideal space, now taking the lessons she learns from her spiritual guides and using them to help other people. This is a very different Nell than we saw at the beginning of the season who was too self-involved to think to do such a thing.
When Nell ultimately decides to end her relationship with Phillip, she is finally committing to making decisions rooted in growth rather than fear. She is no longer taking the easy way out by avoiding all the challenges that have forced her to move forward. If she has learned anything from spending so much time with the dead, it is that the time she has to live her own life is precious. We will see next season if her unpleasant experience sharing her secret with Phillip will hinder her from coming clean to Cricket, too.
Not Dead Yet Season 1 is available to stream on Hulu.