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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Dead Like Me - The Complete First Season
Dead Like Me - The Complete First Season
MGM // Unrated // June 15, 2004
List Price: $58.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted June 6, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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P R I N T
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The Show:

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 banger.

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 DVD:


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.

Audio:

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.

Video:

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.

The Extras:

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  pieces.

Final Thoughts:

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.

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