‘Dead Like Me’ Gives New Perspective on Death

by Shannon Baldo
Columnist

In honor of Halloween, I have decided to focus this week’s column on a show which adeptly and comically handles one of the concepts most central to this holiday: death. Thus I present to you yet another show canceled far before its time: “Dead Like Me.”

Flowtv.orgOriginally broadcast by HBO in 2003 and 2004, “Dead Like Me” offers a fresh new take on death and the afterlife. Originally developed by television mastermind Bryan Fuller – whose other projects, such as “Pushing Daisies,” have met some acclaim – this show remains distinct for its inventive concept, phenomenal development and clever comedy tackling otherwise serious and at times dreary topics.

“Dead Like Me” follows an 18-year-old girl called George Lass (Ellen Muth), who begins the pilot episode as a college dropout feeling out of place in her dry, suburban life. Yet, halfway through this introduction, she dies suddenly as a toilet from the space station falls directly onto her from orbit. The end of the story? Not in this world. Her soul appears 20 feet from her body, and, as she swears at the deity who condemned her to such a short life, she meets a man called Rube (Mandy Patinkin in his best role yet) who invites her to work as a Grim Reaper.

George reluctantly takes the job and begins her afterlife, charged with the job of guiding souls peacefully through death. Assigned to Rube’s division of “external influence” deaths (murders, suicides, accidents, etc.), George joins three other Reapers as they interact with souls on the brink of death and attempt to navigate a world in which they do not and cannot entirely belong.

Such a strange concept may at first seem rather ridiculous, yet the show’s brilliant writing manages to save it from the traps such a premise would seem to lay for itself. George narrates each episode, a piece of writing filled to the brim with sarcasm, wit and dry humor which never fails to make me laugh; plus, usually a life lesson or moral ends up buried within her cynicism, marking the profound depths to which this show can reach. What’s more, each of the characters is given a distinct personality, backstory and identity which allow the writers to toy with each of them and to explore many themes.

Yet, above all, “Dead Like Me” presents a fantastic perspective on death. Because the show focuses almost exclusively on the subject through comedy, death here takes on a brighter tone than in other shows where it is filled with despair and depression. In “Dead Like Me,” death becomes nothing more than part of life. When each of the characters exists solely to bring death, it loses its terror and becomes something natural, understandable and even ordinary – a fascinating and relatively profound perspective.

And, most of all, this show is absolutely hilarious. With a sarcastic, clever, witty sense of humor, “Dead Like Me” places its characters in supernaturally comical situations, whether it be filing people’s final thoughts or threatening rude drivers with their power to remove souls. The juxtaposition between the Reapers’ undead state and the normal world in which they live forms the stuff of many jokes, which the series constantly uses.

“Dead Like Me” consists of two seasons and a subsequent movie released in 2009. The series can now be streamed for free on http://hulu.com.

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