Dead Like Me

Today we pay tribute to one of the most underrated shows of the last decade. Dead Like Me lasted 29 episodes, spread over two seasons, but then the network (Showtime) pulled the plug. The final episode was shown on Halloween night 2004. Five years later, the fans’ calls to tie the loose plot knots were answered in a straight-to-dvd movie, Dead Like Me: Life After Death. Not a bad title for a series about the grim afterlife of Georgia Lass.

Georgia (Ellen Muth) is 18 years old and a school drop-out. Her mother has had it with her lazy child and kicks her out of bed for her first day of work. It’s a horrible filing job, the result of Georgia’s sarcasm against Dolores Herbig of the temp office. That’s not the worst part of the job… the lunch hour only lasts 35 minutes and during her lunch break Georgia is hit by a toilet seat that came loose off the space station MIR. Georgia is instantly killed, but that’s not the end of her. It turns out there’s such a thing as Grim Reapers, whose job it is to touch those about to die. The gang of four is led by Rube (Mandy Patinkin), the calm leader who insists the Reapers have breakfast as Der Waffle House. This is where everyone gets their post-it notes, containing the name of the nearly deceased, the place and estimated time of death.
However, it’s not the Reapers’ job to kill people. This is caused by accidents and occasionally these accidents are helped by Gravelings, a kind of monster that can only be seen by the Reapers. Reapers can be seen by the living, but they can’t be recognised. To the living, a Reaper looks different than they used to do. Which is why Rube often tells Georgia not to hang around her parents’ house.

Georgia’s parents are Joy (much like the character in Drop The Dead Donkey an ill-chosen name as Joy is bitter and sarcastic), Clancy (a teacher who seems to have been sleeping with one of his students) and Georgia’s younger sister, Reggie (Britt McKillip). In her first scene, Reggie is represented by a floating pair of glasses. As far as Georgia was concerned, her sister might as well have been invisible. Something she regrets in her afterlife: not only did Reggie look up to her older sister, Georgia’s death causes Reggie to become a troubled kid with weird hobbies and more sarcasm and bitterness than is good for an eleven-year-old. Clancy’s adultery causes Joy (Cynthia Stevenson) to become even more sarcastic towards her husband and overprotective to Reggie. Who’s absolutely not amused. In fact, what keeps Reggie sane (at least to herself) is the belief that, albeit deceased, Georgia is still hanging around. She may not be wrong there: Undead George even shows up at Joy’s yard sale, where she hopes to sell George’s stuff. Which is painful in many ways: it makes George talk to her mum (who doesn’t recognise her) and Reggie upset because she felt a need to cling to her sister’s stuff.

This scene very much embodies the spirit of Dead Like Me, it’s a dark comedy with a lot of tragedy. There isn’t a main character that doesn’t have a couple of layers. Rube is a bit of an enigma, equally to the viewers as to the other Reapers. Reapers don’t age, by the way. Rube still looks the same as he did in the 1920s, when he died. Reapers keep their function till they’ve touched enough nearly dead. Which means that George will have to stay eighteen for the rest of her afterlife. Something she isn’t too happy with, a sign the writers actually remembered how most 18-year-olds felt.

I have mentioned the other Reapers, so it’s only fair to introduce them. You’ve heard of Rube and George, then there’s Roxy (Jasmine Guy) who makes a living writing parking tickets and hopes everyone will swallow her rock-hard façade. Mason (Callum Blue) died in the 1960s during a drug experiment and has been testing every kind of drugs every since. It’s not as if anything can kill him… The most familiar looking Reaper will be Betty, who’s played by Rebecca Gayheart, the daring woman George looks up to. Not for too long… after a couple of episodes Betty grabs a chance to leave the Reapers and follow the Big Lights (I’m trying to make it sound as unreligious as the show managed to portray it). Taking over from Betty is Daisy Adair (Laura Harris), former extra in the movies, who died during the making of Gone with the Wind.
As mentioned above, Roxy has a job and she isn’t the only one. Rube advises Georgia to get a job as well. Which is why Georgia Lass creates Millie, who gets a job as the helper of… Delores Herbig of the temp agency Happy Time. Of all the jobs in the world… actually, Millie has a much better relationship with Delores than Georgia ever had.

The first season of Dead Like Me, fourteen episodes including a feature-length pilot episode, is remarkably strong. There’s only one weak episode, which mainly exists of flashbacks and a bit of filler material to make it look like an episode, but overall it’s a very strong series. I’ve mentioned before that the show is also funny and most of that is in a brainy sort of way. But there’s also the recurring pleasure of certain deaths, engineered by the Gravelings, which look like the better moments from the Final Destination movies. Not that every death is funny, one of Georgia’s first death is a young girl, played by Jodelle Ferland (Tideland, Silent Hill). We’ve once said that Jodelle had a nose to end up in the better horror movies. Looks like the little girl was also a guest actress in one of the better series of the noughties. Overall the show may have earned eight nominations (including two Emmys), but it never won an award and you’ll have a tough time finding people who’ve seen the show.

Which is a bitter shame. Try and find the show on DVD and have a look at the show’s opening credits:

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