With the upcoming movie in post-production I've decided this week to write about a show which I'm very fond of; Dead Like Me.
Ellen Muth as Georgia "George" Lass
Mandy Patinkin as Rube Sofer
Callum Blue as Mason
Jasmine Guy as Roxy Harvey
Cynthia Stevenson as Joy Lass
Britt McKillip as Regina "Reggie" Lass
Christine Willes as Delores Herbig
Laura Harris as Daisy Adair
Crystal Dahl as Crystal Smith
Greg Kean as Clancy Lass
Patricia Idlette as Kiffany
and Rebecca Gayheart as Betty Rhomer
Dead Like Me (hereafter known as DLM) is a low-fantasy, comedy-drama that aired on Showtime for two seasons. It ran for twenty nine episodes before being cancelled and it was created by Bryan Fuller, who later went on to create Pushing Daisies.
The series stars Ellen Muth as George Lass, a young girl who is a classic under-achiever, flunking out of college she is forced by her mother to join the workforce and after a poor interview with one Delores Herbig at Happy Time Temp Services she is given a basement filing job; fortunately for her she doesn't have to work at this job for long, unfortunately this is because she is killed during her first ever break by a toilet seat plummeting to earth from the disintegrating Mir space station as it de-orbits. Upon discovering this resulted in her untimely demise she is met by one Rube Sofer who reveals that she has been chosen to become a reaper, one of the undead who help manage death. Specifically she has been assigned to the department of untimely deaths, which covers accidents, suicides and homicides. Her job is to collect the soul of the deceased before the event, the actual deaths themselves are not caused by reapers. A collection of strange creatures called Gravelings are the ones who perform the actual deed, or at least set up the events with strategically placed items.
George discovers that life after death is just more life and drudgery, she is assigned to Rubes team of Reapers - which includes Mason (a try anything, thieving Brit), Betty (a very happy go lucky individual) and Roxy (a no nonsense Meter Maid). Each reaper is assigned their allotted task(s) for the day on a yellow Post It note from Rube; all they are given is a name, a location and time of death. They must collect the soul as instructed, there is no room for creative thinking or saving people.
Despite the service they provide there are no free rides for reapers, absolutely nothing is provided for them and they have to sort out a way of living in the world. So George returns to Happy Time Temp Services as Milly Hagen, where she is re interviewed by Delores (reapers look different to the living in order to hide who they were before) and has a better interview which results in her gaining employment on the office floor. Throughout the series we will return to Happy Time and experience
The show focuses on this new unlife for George and revolves mostly around the experiences she and her fellow reapers have both in their unlives and while collecting souls. But it also deals with George's family and explores how they cope (or don't) after George's passing away. It hits each of them in a different manner; her mother Joy attempts to move on by getting rid of George's things, while her father Clancy becomes distant and buries himself in his work; but her younger sister Reggie is the most traumatised by George's death, acting out in a variety of ways and demonstrating a most macabre interest in death.
DLM is a forty five minute drama show with a black sense of humor. Much like Six Feet Under the show derives much of it's thrust from death and contains a naturally high body count. Many of the deaths featured are either hilarious or touching in their nature and often feature very complex set ups that mount up before causing the actual death. Cause and Effect in action. Likewise there are very real consequences should a reaper fail to collect their target, the reapers job is not to choose who dies but just to collect the soul.
DLM looks hard at loss and what it's like to lose the people you love, just about every main character has suffered a tragic loss of one kind or another and it also deals with coming to terms with that loss then moving on. George has to accept the loss of her family and eventually comes to understand that the reapers are now her family, while in parallel as her old family has to come to terms with the fact that George is gone from them. It's a touching show that handles the subject of death with a great deal of sensitivity and intelligence, but can also make you laugh.
At it's core the show is not just about death, but it is also about depression, close to every character in the show is depressed; George and Rube hold their sadness openly for everyone to see, Mason deals with his through excessive use of drugs and alcohol, while Daisy hides hers with an external shell that appears happy and Roxy with aggression. But it's this undercurrent that makes the show a little more special, despite having a second life after their first every reaper is intensely unhappy (apart from Roxy who is definition of fun and perky) they continuously get left behind as they watch each soul move onto the next stage. But they themselves are all trapped in the circumstances of their new unlives, stuck performing an unpaid job with a whole series of rules that must be obeyed because the consequences are very serious indeed.
Ellen Muth is a great lead in this show, providing the primary method through which the viewers learn about the rules that reapers live by. She portrays a young lass who is deeply troubled and depressed but quite likable none the less. But the strongest performance comes from Mandy Patinkin, who is effortlessly brilliant as Rube, but this is to be expected because the man is an acting genius of the highest order. His mentoring of George is firm but fair and as the head reaper his is also the member of the group who knows the most. He remains mostly a mystery throughout the series and is nothing short of brilliant.
DLM is a fantastic little show about death that sadly ended before it's time; it's touching, intelligent, funny and sweet all at the same time. It's one of those shows that doesn't feel a need to explain everything to it's viewers with clunky exposition, preferring instead to allow discovery through extrapolation of known facts and still presenting mysteries. The show doesn't explain where people go after they die, who chooses them and who is above Rube in the organisation. It instead deals with the here and now, just like life.
The show is worth watching for anyone who enjoys comedy as it is enjoyable without being too pretentious or overly clever. It's well put together and includes some really memorable visuals, the toilet tree for example. It has cracking dialog and a great set of characters with well defined personalities that you can relate with. The themes for the show are well picked and stand in great contrast with the light nature of the humour and camera work. Just like Pushing Daisies (it's spiritual successor) DLM is a beautiful and fun show that deals with a very serious subject in a manner that is simultaneously thoughtful and lighthearted.
Do yourself a favour and give it a try.
And here are the opening credits for the show:
For the previous offerings in the Why You Should Watch... range see here.