Death has always been a prime subject for the black comedy, to permit the audience at the universal fear on the end of your own life.
No television series has taken on this subject in such a novel and intelligent manner as the Showtime series ‘Dead Like Me’.
Unfortunately, this series has met an untimely and premature demise, Showtime ended it after just two seasons, ah, and the good die so young.
Speaking of the young dying that brings us to the focus of the series, Georgia ‘George’ Lass (Ellen Muth). Shortly after her eighteenth birthday she was on a lunch break from a boring temp job when the toilet seat from the MIR space station came crashing down to earth killer poor George.
She is recruited into the ranks of the Reapers, spirits in human bodies that take the souls from people just moments before they are to die. Her supervisor, Rube (Mandy Patinkin) informs George and her fellow reapers who are to die with yellow post it notes containing the initial, place and estimated time of death.
Although George was a slacker in life now, in death, she has to learn about life and actually grow up and take responsibility. So many series and films have considered teen aged angst but none have taken this unique perspective.
It turns out that the afterlife is just one huge bureaucracy. Rube is the supervisor for Unnatural Deaths, usually bizarre accidents caused more often than not by Gravelings, creepy little demonic creatures that take great pleasure in causing these fatal events.
This second season allowed the audience to get to know George, Rube and the small band of reapers in a far more intimate and human way than the first season. Now that the audience was comfortable with the basic concepts and rules of this universe the writers where free to explore the back-stories of each character in greater depth.
Daisy (Laura Harris), a former low-level actress in the thirties shows that she is actually as lonely in death as she was in life. In one particularly touching scene from the first season, the group has the mundane task of recording the last thoughts of decades of reaps.
Mason (Callum Blue) accidentally discovers Daisy’s ‘Why has no one ever loved me’. During this second season Mason stops his constant effort to bed Daisy and befriends her, actually offering his friendship. We also start to learn just what happened to Rube prior to his death, that he has a daughter and was reluctantly involved in some criminal activity.
Just as the story got to the point of true exposition Showtime canned the series.
In this season George truly grows as a human, ironic considering she’s dead. First of all she loses her virginity, something she almost immediately regrets. George also has to face witnessing as an outsider the disintegration of her family.
Her mother Joy (Cynthia Stevenson) is divorcing her father Clancy (Greg Kean) and considering the sale of the home George grew up in. George also watches from afar how her sister Reggie (Britt McKillip) is growing up and how much her sister misses her. While George dismissed her sister in life now that she is dead she realizes just how important family actual is. Because of this she turns to the other reapers as her new family.
Some more of the hierarchy of the reapers is explored in Dead Like Me: Season 2. It turns out that the sweetest assignment for a Reaper is natural causes in a nursing home, most of the deaths are peaceful and the reapers all have nametags. We also see a little boy reaper that George befriended in the first season who takes care of animal deaths. It appears that promotions, job placement and paperwork are all part of the afterlife.
This was such a wonderful cast that worked so well as an ensemble that it makes the cancellation of Dead Like Me more the shame. It is rare that a group of actors gel so well, each willing to turn the spot light over to the others for the benefit of the series.
There are basically three casts at work here, The Reapers, the Happy Time Temp Agency and the Lass family. While it is rare for them to overlap they each carry their part of the story lines in a manner that is always entertaining.
Ellen Muth is absolutely perfect here as George. She has a natural way of acting that translates to forging an immediate emotional bond with the audience. In the first season of Dead Like Me she was the rebel without a clue, now, she has grown personally, accepting her place as a reaper and realizing all she has to learn.
Mandy Patinkin is more than just the supervisor to the group of undead; he is the heart and soul or the group. Part father confessor, part mentor he guides his charges as if they where is own children. We even get an all too brief scene where he gets to show off is astonishing tenor singing voice.
Laura Harris was a replacement in the first season but in Dead Like Me: Season 2 she is a vital member of the group. She shows us a fully developed character in Daisy, always using her sexuality as a wall to disguise her inner isolation. Harris has excellent control and range as an actor.
Callum Blue’s portrayal of Mason also shows excellent growth. In the first season of Dead Like Me he was a small time hustler, always looking for drugs, money or anything else he could pilfer from the bodies of his reaps. In Dead Like Me: Season 2 Blue opens up the character emotionally, letting not only Daisy in but becomes a big brother to George.
The writing and production values of Dead Like Me: Season 2 set it above most of what can be found either on broadcast television or cable.
Unfortunately, Dead Like Me was caught in a battle between MGM who produced Dead Like Me and the distributor, Showtime. MGM was fully behind continuing Dead Like Me but Showtime seemed to have opted for ‘Fat Actress’ instead. While attempts to sell Dead Like Me to another network have failed at least we now can have every episode on DVD.
The writers always provided scripts that entertained while exploring some facet of human nature. It is rare that a series can both bring a laugh and make you think but Dead Like Me never failed in this regard. Instead of letting the rating have a chance to catch on Dead Like Me joins such shows as ‘Firefly’, ‘My So Called Life’ and ’Freaks and Greeks’, quality too much for the executives at the networks to understand.
Thankfully, one of the greatest benefits of DVDs is studios release shows like this often-finding greater commercial success that they might have imagined. As the UPC number reveals, Dead Like Me: Season 2 is released through MGM not Showtime. MGM carried their commitment to Dead Like Me over to Dead Like Me: Season 2.
The full frame video is flawless, not a glitch or artifact to be found.
The Dolby audio is crystal clear, providing a full sound field.
The extras included with Dead Like Me: Season 2 provides a making of featurette that will delight the fans and some deleted scenes.
Rest in Peace, Dead Like Me: Season 2 is gone but thanks to DVD, not forgotten.
by Doug MacLean of hometheaterinfo.com
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