Mel Brooks once remarked that "tragedy is when I get a hangnail, comedy
is when you fall in a open manhole and die." The creators of Dead
Like Me have taken that concept and really run with it, creating a
show that is funny, entertaining and oddly touching.
Georgia Lass (or George as she likes to be called,) is an angst filled
18-year-old girl who has a miserable life. She's dropped out of college,
is living at home, she can't find a job, her mother drives her to distraction,
and she doesn't know what she wants to do with her life. She is very
cynical and just doesn't see the point of it all. In an early episode
she muses, " I don't have a lot of interest in being a good person or a
bad person. From what I can tell, either way you're screwed." But
her life is about to take a dramatic turn. It's about to end.
While going out for her 35-minute lunch hour on the first day a of a
crappy temp job, she looks up in the sky just in time to be struck dead
by a zero-G toilet seat from the falling Mir Space station. While
this would end most stories, it is just the start of George's. While
looking at what is left of her body, she hears someone yell "Hey, dead
girl!" It is Rube, the Grim Reaper. Well, one of them anyway.
It turns out that there are a number of reapers whose job it is to claim
the souls of those that die and pass them along to the afterlife.
Each reaper has an unknown numbers of souls to collect, and when they reach
that number they get promoted. George happened to be the last soul
her reaper needed, so she inherits his job; whether she likes it or not.
It turns out that being an undead reaper isn't such a great job.
There isn't any pay, you have lousy hours, and you still have to support
yourself somehow. Many reapers live off of the cash they find on
the bodies of those they take, but George thinks that stealing from dead
people is tacky. So she gets a job in the same temp agency she was
working in when she died, and squats in the apartment of a deceased head
There is an emotional toll that you have to pay when you spend a lot
of your time killing people. Each morning George gets a name, place,
and an ETD (Estimated Time of Death) on a post-it note. She has to be at
the place at the appointed time to "pop" the soul of the dying person,
preferably just before they die if it is going to be painful. But
when the targeted person is a six-year-old girl, or a young married couple,
it isn't easy to kill them. George finds out that there is a cosmic
balance though, and that her job, no matter how low paid, is very important
and that there are horrible repercussions if she doesn't perform her duties.
Though it may not sound like it from the description, this is a funny
show. George's cynical outlook on life (or un-life in this case)
is riotously humorous with her deadpan delivery. "I'd say I'm sorry
to disappoint you, but I'm not. I excel at not giving a sh*t." Then
there are the deaths themselves. The creators come up with interesting
Rube Goldbergian ways for people to die, being skewered by a stuffed sailfish,
accidentally urinating on an electrical outlet, or my favorite, slipping
on a banana peal and falling with your head laying just inside the track
of a revolving door as a person in a hurry rushes in. Ouch.
But the amazing thing about the show is that it isn't all comedy, if
it were the premise would quickly go stale. They are able to skillfully
weave drama into to stories that have a lot of impact, without breaking
the mood or killing the humor. There is a subplot about how Georgia's
family, her kid sister in particular, is handling her death. George
desperately wants to talk to her mother or sister, but her physical appearance
has changed (to the living at least) and they don't recognize her.
She finds that bad things happen if you try to contact your relatives,
and she can't find a way to connect with them. So she watches them
from afar, although it's very painful for her.
There are a lot of nice little touches to this show. I like the
way the reapers use slang terms that were popular when they died, calling
convertible cars 'breezers' for example. Then there are the
little jokes that a lot of people may miss. My favorite is the meeting
place where George gets her assignment. Every morning the reapers
gather at a German waffle restaurant called Der Waffel Hause where polkas
are piped through the speakers in the background. I can't think of
a restaurant more likely to fail. There is also a popular fictitious
candy in the show that is basically salted M&Ms. Ugh. But
it's the odd little details like that that keep the show fresh and amusing.
The cast for this show is wonderful. Ellen Muth plays the sarcastic,
angst-filled Georgia with just the right mixture of anger, indifference,
and fear. This role could have easily become a two-dimensional caricature,
but Muth's strong acting keeps the character real.
The actress who steals the show though is Cynthia Stevenson who plays
Georgia's mother Joy. (Some people may remember Cynthia as Bob Newhart's
daughter in his excellent, though short-lived series Bob.)
Stevenson plays the very difficult role masterfully. Joy is not a
good mother, but she's not a bad person. She just doesn't know how
to handle her 11 year old daughter. She doesn't want to constantly
fight, but every conversation turns out that way. A lesser actress
would have made the character into a wicked mother suitable for a Disney
cartoon, but Stevenson is able to give Joy a human side, and show the pain
she is going through even as sells all of Georgia's possessions in a garage
sale or berates her living daughter to just get over the death of her sister.
I am constantly amazed at the nuances and subtle meanings that she is able
to bring to her character with just a pat on the shoulder or a look on
her face. She steals every scene that she's in.
The first season of 14 episodes come on 4 thin pack cased DVDs in an
attractive slipcase and cover. The only irratation I had with the
set was concerning the chapter stops. While each episode does have
a few chapters, there isn't one right after the credits. The show
is often prefaced with a "previously on Dead Like Me" segment, before
the opening credits. These two can run up to three minutes, and it
would be nice to be able to hit the 'skip chapter' button to get to the
start of the show, but you can't.
The 5.1 English soundtrack was very satisfying. The sound was
clear and there was good use made of the full soundstage, with crashes
and effects coming from all corners of the room. The music sounded
bright and crisp. There wasn't any evidence of hiss or distortion.
Although the discs were closed captioned for the hearing impaired, there
were no foreign language subtitles. A very good sounding set.
The video quality was excellent. Since this was a recent show,
I was expecting a good-looking image, but this exceeded my expectations.
There were no noticeable digital artifacts (and I looked for them) and
the dreaded edge enhancement was nonexistent. I colors were bright
and the detail and contrast were outstanding. MGM did a great
job with this set.
This set has a fair number of extras. They are all included on
the first DVD, which isn't the best place for them since there are a good
number of spoilers mixed in with them. If you haven't seen all the
shows yet, you might want to save these for last.
Audio Commentary: Cast members
Ellen Muth, Mandy Patinkin, Jasmine Guy, Callum Blue and Cynthia Stephenson,
provide the commentary. I was a little disappointed in this audio
track. The cast spends a lot of time complimenting everyone associated
with the production, and stating how much fun it was working on the show.
Not a lot of information on the actual filming of the show, though there
is some. I think that there were just too many people in the room
at the time, but whatever the reason, I found it a little dull.
Deleted Scenes: 30 minutes
worth of cut scenes. I enjoyed these. Some of them were funny,
and some scenes explained filled out the episodes a little better or gave
background details about life as a reaper.
Behind the Scenes: A six-minute
promo piece. Nothing too exciting.
The Music of Dead Like Me:
Executive Producer John Masius and Composer Stewart Copland (drummer for
the 80's pop rock band The Police) give a short four-minute interview.
I really like the way they way music was incorporated into the show, and
would have liked this piece to be a little longer and more in depth.
Photo Gallery: Your standard
series of production photos.
Dead Like Us Weekly: "A Journal for the Recently
Deceased.": This is a funny tabloid like magazine that
has bio's for the shows victims, a list of Top Ten deaths, and other amusing
This is a great show. It is funny and touching while never becoming
maudlin or silly. The acing is great, and the premise is wonderful.
I really like the idea of the Grim Reaper having to come up with money
for rent and food. The second season starts on Showtime soon after
this set is released, so of you missed it when it originally aired, be
sure to grab this set. Highly Recommended.