As actor John Barrymore once said, “the good die young – because they see it’s no use living if you’ve got to be good.”
All too often, brilliant television shows get canceled before their time in favor of miserable, mass-produced reality shows involving hidden cameras, beauty pageants and Ashton Kutcher.
Dead Like Me, the cult classic dark comedy offering from the Showtime network, has enjoyed most of its success in its afterlife – a fate that is most befitting of a show about an eternally teenaged grim reaper who doesn’t truly begin to live until after she dies.
The short-lived series follows the afterlife of 18-year-old Georgia “George” Lass, played by Ellen Muth, whose young, apathetic life is quickly and unceremoniously snuffed out by a falling toilet seat during her lunch break – no joke.
Before getting a chance to adjust to the idea of being dead, she learns that she is to become a reaper and is assigned the mostly unsavory task of escorting the freshly deceased into the afterlife. This is no stereotypical grim reaper job, complete with ominous black cloaks and menacing scythes – as an undead reaper who walks among the living, George must hold a job and pay rent – but the soul collecting requirements remain the same. As she struggles to come to terms with the complicated rules governing her new occupation, she finds herself unwillingly initiated into a mismatched group of fellow reapers who share her fate.
There’s the drug- and alcohol-addicted drifter Mason, played by Callum Blue, a thief whose threadbare morals don’t seem to prevent him from robbing the dead; sharp-tongued Roxy, played by Jasmine Guy, a meter maid who uses sarcasm to mask her pain; the spoiled former actress Daisy Adair, played by Laura Harris, who constantly brags of her famous sexual conquests; and flighty Betty, played by Rebecca Gayheart, a free-spirited and well adjusted reaper who keeps Polaroid snapshots of the souls she reaps. The group is headed by the mysterious Rube, played by Mandy Patinkin, the boss and father figure who doles out death assignments that he scribbles onto Post-it notes.
The most interesting thing about Dead Like Me – beyond the often comical methods of death – is the character development. One would think that after a person has passed away, they would no longer continue to grow and change – and they don’t, not physically at least.
But for George, life doesn’t truly begin until after it has ended. Before her death, she was a listless college dropout who grudgingly took a dead-end job at a temp agency only because she faced threats of eviction from her mother.
However, during her afterlife, George slowly but surely begins to transform from an uncaring, apathetic wallflower to a confident, well assured young woman who becomes capable of tackling sticky situations involving boys, work and death.
As George navigates through her post-mortem changes, those around her find their lives changing as well – most notably the family she left behind. In the wake of the death of their oldest daughter, the surviving members of the Lass family find themselves drifting away from each other.
Her younger sister Reggie, played by Britt McKillip, takes her death hard and deals with it in unconventional ways (including stealing toilet seats) that lead her divorcing parents, played by Cynthia Stevenson and Greg Kean, to place her in therapy. Ignoring Rube’s stern warnings to stay away, George lurks in the shadows of her former family’s life.
Dead Like Me is unique in the way it approaches what could have been a typical coming-of-age story – after all, the girl is not only dead, but is a grim reaper on top of it. It just doesn’t get much more awkward than that.
Mystery surrounds George’s fellow reapers, which raises questions not only about the way they died, but how they’ve dealt with the aftermath. The almost cartoonish methods of death, which include everything from revolving doors and starving bears to falling pianos, leave the audience anticipating about how the next Post-it appointment will meet his end.
The series comes to an untimely end long before George can sort out her issues regarding her unfinished life and before the audience can learn more background information about the team of reapers – including the manner in which team leader Rube met his end.
However, the show will be revived in the form of a direct-to-DVD movie, rumored to be released in summer 2008. According to deadlikememovie.com, all but three of the original cast members have signed on.
Finally, fans will get a chance to properly pay their last respects to a series that was taken before its time.