Thursday, February 02, 2006


Dead Like MeMandy Patinkin Directed by James Marshall
Starring Mandy Patinkin, et al
Reviewed by Byron Merritt


I don't buy television series' to keep in my DVD collection. I don't own any Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs (although the show has some great acting and dialogue), nor do I own Six Feet Under or The Sopranos or any other form of long term television viewing. So what makes this one so different?

Simply put: everything!

In a time where most of what we see and understand comes through that little lighted box with a remote control near-at-hand, it is refreshing to see something different. Something unlike what Hollywood would normally put out there. I can almost hear the arguments against this show before it was released (probably similar arguments that got Wonderfalls cancelled ...another excellent show with the same production crew, so I understand). "Death! Who wants to hear about the afterlife of an 18 year old girl?!" and "This family is too dysfunctional!" and "Comedy. We need more comedy!" Let's hope some do-gooder never get's his/her hands on this excellent story concept and tries to change it to a light-hearted, feel-good series or some other ridiculously overdone theme.

So what is this series about? The focus is on Georgia "George" Lass, played perfectly by Ellen Muth. She's like millions of other post-highschool graduates out there; she has no idea what she wants to do with her life, or if she wants to do anything at all. Her mother, Joy (Cynthia Stevenson), is fed up with her daughter's attitude and forces her out of bed one fateful morning with harsh words and orders for her to "find a job and become a productive member of society." Little does George's mother know, but these harsh words will be the last she ever speaks to her eldest daughter. On George's first day in the workforce, she takes a lunch break and, as she stand on a street corner, gets snuffed out by a zero-G toilet seat that comes crashing into our atmosphere from the disintegrating Mir space station. But before she's killed, a nice black man asks her name and touches her on the back ever so slightly. George has just been Reaped. The toilet seat kills her, but her soul lives on. Rube (Mandy Patinkin) greets her as her new boss. George is to become a Grim Reaper, taking souls from the lives of those that are about to be violently ended.

The irony is smackingly wonderful: a young girl who couldn't have cared less about her own life only moments before is now in charge of the end of lives of god knows how many people. Leaving behind her family is tough, though. And it is poignantly portrayed without getting heavy-handed in the dialogue department. Her mother retreats into herself and becomes an angry woman who likes very little. George's kid sister, Reggie (
Britt McKillip), tries to contact George in the afterlife by acting out (she steals toilet seats from her school, uses a Ouji board on top of her own toilet seat in an effort to hear anything coming from the `beyond', and collects dead things like birds). George's father, Clancy Lass (Greg Kean), has an affair with one of his graduate students.

What George hadn't anticipated either was the fact that her life has/had actual meaning. She witnesses her family falling apart but is unable to do anything about it. She also has to work a regular job now (Reapers don't get paid by some surreal agency), as well as do the reaping assignments handed out to her by Rube.

Within this little grouping of Reapers are some outstanding personalities, too.
Callum Blue plays Mason, a Reaper who died while drilling a hole into his head in the 1960's in an attempt to reach "the ultimate high." He'll do anything not to work, including stealing from those who he reaps and carrying "illegals in his bottom." Jasmine Guy plays Roxy, a tough and roughshod Reaper who doesn't take anything from anyone. She'd been murdered over money. No wonder she wants to be cop. Laura Harris plays Daisy Adair, a pretty, young actress who knew and had sex with almost all the early movie stars. She's been around the block, trying to find love and acceptance. It's a funny and sad character that comes barreling off the screen.

The thing that'll pull you into this series is the dialogue and the characters. The death of an 18 year old girl and her subsequent enlistment into Reaperville can sound rather heavy. And it is. But the writers let that seep into the story and don't force it upon us (not an easy thing to do). The comedy is spot on and never slapstick or inappropriate. I let my teenagers watch a couple of the series and they were laughing out loud many times, and reaching for tissues at the more poignant moments; a testament to a great show if ever there was one (being able to hold the attention of the instant gratification age).

I cannot recommend this series highly enough.

Click here to see information on Season Two!

No movie trailer available. Soooorrrry!


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