IMHO 'Dead Like Me" is the all-time best television series. Of course I
like off-kilter stuff that still makes sense and tries to build themes
into the story. For those who have not discovered this gem, imagine a
cross between "Tru Calling" and "Welcome to the Dollhouse" that pushes
the envelope of irreverence about as much as "The Family Guy". Then
imagine that behind all the surface irreverence is a transcendent
reverence for the human condition. If that level of complexity appeals
to you, "Dead Like Me" is something you should immediately track down.
I was permanently hooked by the conclusion of the "Pilot" episode when
the resolution did not take the traditional happy path. Instead of
being able to intervene and change the destiny of the little girl,
George (Ellen Muth) is forced to do her job as a reaper. They go out to
the strains of "Que Sera Sera", normally very corny but here very
ironic. The song was originally written for Hitchcock's "The Man Who
Knew Too Much", a film about parents trying rescue their child which
has parallels to what George is attempting and on another level the
little girl is symbolic of George. And the song's lyrics are a perfect
fit for the "randomness of life" theme of "Dead Like Men".
Each episode has subtle details like this, which may require repeated
viewings just to uncover elements that you missed initially. I
recommended purchasing a DVD of each season just to have the
flexibility to watch several times at your convenience.
"Dead Like Me," has the mark of writers who aren't thinking about
audience reaction or how the Showtime executives will relate to it. The
story just pours out with a lot of verve, wit, and audacity.
Any series that focuses on a teenager killed by a falling toilet seat
from the space station Mir has something going for it. George is
sometimes called Miss Toilet Seat. She is assigned to Rube (Mandy
Patinkin from "Chicago Hope"), who is kind of a platoon sergeant for a
small group of "not always grim" reapers (soul collectors) who meet in
a German Waffle House (listen for the occasional yodeling in the
The story is told from the point of view of 18-year-old jaded slacker
Georgia "George" Lass (Muth), whose voice-over commentary sometimes
contradicts what is happening on the screen. Her intelligence and
advanced maturity give a world-weary "whatever" to the endless bizarre
situations she must deal with; "it looks like death was just my wake-up
There is a running side story about the family George left behind. Her
grieving unhappy mother Joy (Cynthia Stevenson), her professor father,
Clancy (Greg Kean), and her sister Reggie (Britt McKillip) who collects
toilet seats and may remind you of Dawn Weiner.
The reapers might technically be the undead but they interact with the
living 24-7; although in a different body than they had when they were
alive. There is no pay but they need a place to stay and food to eat so
they get day jobs or relieve the dead of their spare cash. They even
have pets; George keeps Mr. Blinky, the little girl's frog from the
Rube gives each reaper a yellow sticky note with a name, address, and
an ETD; it's up to the reaper to collect the soul-ideally just before
the actual death, and guide them to the next life. Reapers don't know
why they got the job or how long they will be performing it; they
accept it because it affords them the opportunity to continue to
experience the things they liked and disliked about living; and they
are not ready to give these up.
As a series "Dead Like Me" establishes a complex and consistent set of
rules that viewers embrace. The writers are good about playing within
this set of constraints and not cheating when they feel lazy or it is
Humor of various kinds is the predominant emotion but things often get
serious and philosophical in a believable and intelligent fashion.
"When I was just a little girl I asked my mother what will I be? Will I
be pretty? Will I be rich? Here's what she said to me.
Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be. The future's not ours to
see. Que sera, sera... "
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child..
Dead Like Me is one of those unique TV series that will be remembered
long after "flavors of the day" shows like The Sopranos are forgotten.
It is bright and dark, hilarious and sad, awe-inspiring and
introspective -- all at the same time. It is a wonderful piece of
I recently saw the season one DVD set and I must say this show is a
marvel. Although it took me a few episodes to warm up to Ellen Muth as
George the slacker grim reaper, the show was easily carried by old pro
Mandy Patinkin as food-loving reaper Rube and his co-stars, including
the gorgeous Rebecca Gayheart who makes a welcome - though all to brief
- return to TV after coming off her own real-life tragedy which rivals
anything seen on Dead Like Me. I won't rehash the details or the debate
-- go look up her IMDb biography if you need more information.
The rest of the cast is outstanding, including Jasmine Guy - much older
and wiser than her Different World days - Callum Blue and latecomer
Laura Harris as George's fellow grim reapers. Harris, as wannabe
actress Daisy, starts out annoying but very quickly develops layers
that make her among the show's most interesting characters.
The format of the show is fascinating as there are two arcs going at
the same time: George adjusting to the afterlife, and her family slowly
falling apart because of her death. Central to this is George's kid
sister Reggie, played by newcomer Britt McKillip. It probably isn't
considered kosher to refer to an 11-year-old as beautiful unless you're
a parent, but keep an eye on this one as she is going to develop into a
Of course, a supporting cast means nothing without a strong lead, and
Ellen Muth more than delivers. As I said above, she took a little
getting used to, with her unconventional looks and a performance that
gives "quirky" a whole new twist. It wasn't long before Muth truly
owned the show and the character, and her narration is hilarious and
There were a few minor missteps in the show's first year. For some
reason it was decided to do a flashback/clips episode at the 3/4 mark
of the season. I will admit that the episode is fantastic and actually
one of my favorites, but it might have been stronger without the
flashbacks. Such things might be necessary when you're trying to create
a jumping on point for an arc, but this isn't the case with Dead Like
Me -- and the first season was only 14 episodes long; too short to need
The other problem I have with the show is the apparent use of the
"Reset button" between most episodes. The events of one episode do not
necessarily carry over into the next. This is very apparent as George
appears to forget certain lessons learned in the previous episode on
occasion. This is probably a minor quibble as this might not be so
apparent if you watch the show in weekly chunks rather than all at
On the other hand, Dead Like Me is the first made-for-cable series I
have seen that integrates adult language and sex (though the latter is
relatively minor) in a way that is not jarring. This is not a kid's
show, but I wouldn't have a problem letting a teenager see it.
Dead Like Me is easily the best series of the 2003-2004 television
season, with Wonderfalls -- created by the same man -- in a very close
2nd place though it only aired 4 episodes. Dead Like Me deserves all
the Emmys it can get..