Dead Like Me: Life After Death

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Ellen Muth as George Lass
Callum Blue as Mason
Sarah Wynter as Daisy Adair
Jasmine Guy as Roxy
Britt McKillip as Reggie Lass
Christine Willes as Delores Herbig
Cynthia Stevenson as Joy Lass
Henry Ian Cusick as Kane
with Crystal Dahl as Crystal

Dead Like Me was a short lived comedy/drama from Bryan Fuller which centered around Georgina "George" Lass, an eighteen year old girl who achieved exactly nothing before being killed by a toilet seat from outer space. It ran on Showtime between 2003 and 2004 and was one of their best programs in that period. Dead Like Me was a bitter-sweet story that asked 'what if there was life after death and what if it was just more life, with a job?'

George is met by Rube (Mandy Patinkin) and told that she will be working as a Grim Reaper, collecting souls of the living just before their death due to 'external influences' (Murder, accidents, the like). The series was very much a coming of age story, with George learning to grow up and take responsibility for her actions only after her demise. It also told the parallel (and almost unlinked) story about George's family dealing (or not as the case was) with the loss of George.

Frankly it was a completely brilliant series which mixed funny and light alongside sadness and death with great ease. It's influence can easily be seen in (the now also sadly ended) Pushing Daises, as the two shows have many parallels and if you enjoyed watching Pushing Daises I can't recommend Dead Like Me enough.

Life After Death is set in 2008, five years after the end of the series and it returns us to George's world. Letting us once again see where she is and how things have developed.

Beyond the link I'll talk about the film, cut for spoilers...

I have to deal with the single biggest issue in the film before moving on, the TV series was hugely anchored and influenced by the brilliance of Mandy Patinkin's performance as Rube, he effortlessly controlled the scenes he was in, providing a mix of serious and comedy which grounded the entire series. Unfortunately Mandy did not reprise his role for this film, apparently Rube left having 'got his lights' and there's a gaping hole where he used to be. Kane does not function to fill this hole at all and as such I found myself wishing and hoping for Rube to make an appearance. Sadly he does not and the film suffers as a consequence.

The other major issue with Life After Death is the recasting of Daisy Adair, who was initially played brilliantly by Laura Harris, I don't quite understand the decision making behind this recasting. Rube is written out because Mandy isn't available but Sarah Wynter is cast as Daisy because Laura also isn't available? Maybe there was some feeling that writing out two characters would be too much for the show. But if that was the case they might have been better off postponing the project until Laura could clear a space in her schedule. Sarah is reasonable as Daisy, but she doesn't have the same presence or 'peppiness' that Laura brought to the role. I found the recasting to be rather strange, especially when you realise that Daisy has never been a major character in the show.

Now, onto the film itself. Much like the TV series the film deals with two separate and loosely interlinked stories. The first is the arrival of Kane, this new reaper who influences everyone apart from George into a life of debauchery and slacking off of duties. Honestly this story thread isn't that strong, there's no real urgency to it all. Everyone falls for Kane's life very quickly, while Daisy and Mason are quite weak personalities and as such believable it was the rapid seduction of Roxy that felt strange and condensed. There's no real explanation why Kane wanted them all to slack off, his explanation at the end is rather weak. It seems like he did it because he wanted to be evil, or something. Irregardless of his reasons I was pleased to see him shipped off into space at the end of the film just because he was rather rubbish.

But luckily for us there's a much, much stronger story revolving around George, or more accurately around Reggie who finally meets Milly (George's new persona) and discovers that Milly is George. Most of this story lets us see more of Reggie and where she's grown to. Back in the TV series she was a strange little girl who turned dead birds into planes and hung toilet seats from trees, all forms of grieving over George's death. She's grown up into a rather insecure, lonely young woman and her life is turned upside down when the lad she was having a secret affair with, one Hudson Hart, is hit and ends up in a coma (instead of being reaped by George, Kane apparently messed up her times -- but it's possible that this was outside influence).

As Reggie discovers about Milly/George and the two of them spend time together we get to see the real heart of the film. George helps Reggie to stand up and go to Hudson before he passes (reaped by George) and then the pair of them talk, George helping Reggie to finally move on and start living.

Finally the film ends with George being showered in post-it notes, suggesting that the "upper management" have put her in charge of 'The Club' now. This is where I hoped Rube would stroll back in, but no such luck.

Overall Life After Death is an enjoyable piece, it suffers somewhat in several aspects. The lack of Mandy and Laura are huge problems and the Kane storyline seems to be very weak. It's possible it was written to make up for Mandy not returning instead of a different and that's why it feels so inconsequential. But the emotion and feeling in many scenes, especially the ones revolving around Reggie and George, is strong and touching.

I'd happily watch more Dead Like Me if this film managed to get the series returned to our screens. I'd watch it in a heartbeat. As for Life After Death, it's a great film which can move you, but it's held back by several shortcomings and enormously misses Mandy Patinkin.


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