OK, pitch the project.
"Well, OK. Dead Like Me is about a snarky teenage girl who gets killed..."
"Yeah, she gets killed by a space station toilet that's just re-entered Earth's atmosphere."
"No. Anyway, she dies and becomes a grim reaper."
A grim reaper.
"Yeah, but not the sort that you see in all the old movies. These reapers look and act just like normal people."
Only they're dead.
"Yeah, they're dead."
So normal people can't see them.
"...actually, yes, normal people can see them. It's just that the reapers look a little different than they used to."
"No, they just look like different people."
OK, I don't get it, but OK. So then what?
"Well, there will be four or five main reapers, in addition to the teenage girl. She'll be working at a temp agency..."
Wait. A dead grim reaper girl has to work at a temp agency?
"Yeah, it all makes sense in the script, trust me. So anyway, the reapers' job is to remove the soul of a person who is just about to die..."
Didn't you say this thing was a comedy?
"Yeah, it's absolutely a comedy."
So it's a mordant, black comedy.
"Well ... in small doses, yeah, but mostly it's a sly and sarcastic sort of comedy. Glib, clever, character-based. That sort of thing."
With characters who steal the souls from soon-to-be-dead people.
Look, tell you what. This doesn't sound like something that'd fly here at the Fox network. Why not take it over to Showtime? They're always looking for the freaky stuff.
I can only assume that Dead Like Me creator Bryan Fuller went through several meetings that sounded just like that. This series is a tough sell, and that's an understatement, but it's also a vibrant, bizarre, well-acted, and consistently entertaining series as well, so whoever it was over at Showtime who gave the show a shot -- they deserve a hearty pat on the back.
When I learned that I'd be reviewing Dead Like Me's sophomore season, I ran over to Netflix to rent a few platters from the first season. And it took only about ten minutes before I was pretty much hooked. Frankly, the pilot episode of Dead Like Me is one of the most unique and enjoyably bizarre things I've seen in years. It's darkly funny, consistently off-center, and populated with great characters brought to life by fantastic actors.
Ellen Muth plays our lead character, the perpetually acerbic young woman known as Georgina "George" Lass -- and this actress is an absolute joy to behold. With a different performer, George could easily come off like a snide and petulant little whiner, but Ms. Muth has an air of world-weary exasperation that should thrill and delight all who feel more than a little cynical about the modern world in general. She's the oddly adorable anchor in an ensemble that, quite simply, has no weak links.
The always-great Mandy Patinkin plays Rube, head reaper and roundabout father figure. Jasmine Guy does some great work as Roxy, a steel-eyed Reaper who does her duty with equal parts disdain and devotion, while English actor Callum Blue plays an instantly likable reaper called Mason. The lovely Rebecca Gayheart didn't return for the second season, but was replaced by the equally beautiful Laura Harris (as Daisy), who brings a soft edge to material which, often, threatens to become just a little too bleak.
Dead Like Me is certainly not for everyone, but it's a pretty darn unique little concept that's as effortlessly enjoyable as it is strangely insightful. For all the talk about death, dying, and reaping, it's actually a story about enjoying the little things in life - be they simple pleasures like little sisters and big breakfasts, or the really important things like responsibility, maturity, and friendship.
Sadly, Showtime pulled the plug on Dead Like Me following its second season, but of course: That's what DVD was invented for! If you're the type who's always complaining that there's nothing new or different on TV, do yourself a favor and dip a toe into this series. Three random episodes should be enough to tell you if Dead Like Me is your cup of tea or not. Frankly, I think it's one of the coolest TV series of the past ten years ... not that that's all that lofty of a compliment, considering the sort of junk that pours out of my cable box.
Below you'll find the handy-dandy disc inventories, with plot synopses taken from the DVD cases.
Send in the Clown -- As George develops a crush on the cute intern at her temp agency, Happy Time, everyone discourages her from allowing it to blossom into anything more. Meanwhile, Mason's assignment to collect a soul at a kid's birthday party devastates him. (Original airdate: 7/25/04)
The Ledger -- George assumes that the bad luck she had in life is going to be made up for with better luck in the afterlife. But when her bike is stolen and she learns that her parents are divorcing, she finally starts to understand that she's on her own -- and she'd better look out for number one. (08/01/04)
Ghost Story -- Feeling like she doesn't fit in, George decides to shirk her reaping duties and go on Happy Time's annual camping retreat. Back on the job, Daisy and Mason must scramble to find the Post-it note he lost, before tragedy occurs because of his ineptitude. (08/08/04)
The Shallow End -- Recalling a painful childhood event, George realizes that nice girls always finish last. Apparently, being mean is the key to popularity! Fresh off his last blunder, Mason has trouble convincing the old man whose soul he just reaped that he cannot attend his own funeral. (08/15/04)
Hurry -- When an efficiency expert comes to Happy Time, George's boss Delores forces her to crack the whip like never before. But the need for speed extends everywhere. With a collection deadline looming, Daisy must search for her next soul at a speed-dating event. (08/22/04)
In Escrow -- George is paralyzed by indecision when she must hire an employee from a desperate pool of applicants. Her sister Reggie is paralyzed by fear when she's left home alone because her mother, Joy, spends an evening with a man she met while hunting for a new place to live. (08/29/04)
Rites of Passage -- George's co-reapers become jealous when she's assigned to pluck the soul of a famous rock star. But the duty proves to be more of a pain than a pleasure, due to the idol's entourage. Meanwhile, her eccentric grandmother comes to town and takes Reggie to a sacred place. (09/05/04)
The Escape Artist -- While collecting a soul at a country club, George nearly falls for a reap. Rube, who's terrible with kids, struggles when he must transform into a second-grade teacher to get close to his next soul. Mason and Roxy, however, get the best assignment of all: reaping in Cancun. (09/12/04)
Be Still My Heart -- George attends a funeral to chase her new love ... a boy whose father's soul she reaped a week earlier! But trouble brews elsewhere, when Reggie's science experiment pits her parents against one another, and Daisy gets involved in the murder of a hapless mistress. (09/19/04)
Death Defying -- After George loses her virginity and then doesn't hear from the guy, she spurns every male who crosses her path. Feeling quite the opposite, Daisy makes sparks with smarmy TV producer Ray (Eric McCormack), while Rube travels to a small town to get information on some people from his past. (09/26/04)
Ashes to Ashes -- After George helps a homeless man die with an identity, she learns the cost of getting too involved in her work. Reggie finally makes a friend, a Goth girl who's organizing a séance, while Mason questions his attraction to Daisy as her relationship with Ray grows. (10/03/04)
Forget Me Not -- George gets stuck in a hospital when she can't get an Alzheimer-plagued soul to acknowledge her own death. In need of money, Joy seeks temp work at Happy Time. To make matters even worse, Mason decides to face off with Daisy's boyfriend ... in the boxing ring! (10/10/04)
Last Call -- While George regrets the things she didn't accomplish in life, Mason must contemplate his accomplishments in the afterlife. Meanwhile, Roxy suspects that Daisy is harboring a secret about her missing ex-boyfriend, and Reggie searches for J.D., who escaped from the yard. (10/17/04)
Always -- After screwing up big time, a homeless Mason begs to be allowed back into the Waffle Haus while George urges Daisy to allow him to crash with them. Facing his past, Rube visits a very special person on a very special day. And in the mortal world, Reggie, Joy and Clancy bury J.D. (10/24/04)
Haunted -- A crazed serial killer strikes on Halloween, and the reapers must pick up all the souls of the victims. The busy workday cuts into George and Mason's trick-or-treating, while back at home, Joy must cajole Reggie into the Halloween spirit following a session with a psychologist. (10/31/04)
Video: The episodes are presented in a rather excellent Widescreen (1.78:1) anamorphic format, and fans of the series will find little complaint about the picture quality. (A "play all" feature would have been appreciated, but that's a minor gripe.)
Audio: The audio is delivered in a very solid Dolby Digital 5.1 format, with optional captions available in English.
Extras: There are two featurettes that run about 23 minutes combined: "Dead Like Me ... Again" is consists of several cast & crew interviews, and it seems pretty clear that all involved really dig this series. "Putting Life Into Death" takes a close look at some of season two's special effects highlights. (Gotta love those gravelings!) Also included are about 11 minutes of deleted scenes, a fairly extensive photo gallery, and a handful of trailers for Dead Like Me, Stargate: SG1, and Stargate: Atlantis.
Kind of a shame that Showtime pulled the plug just as I was falling for this strangely excellent little series. But we'll always have thirty fantastic episodes to enjoy, so please do consider giving Dead Like Me a shot some time soon. You'll know right away if it's for you or not, but if you dig the series, you'll want to devour both seasons right quick. I know I sure did.