16 June 2004 | EricRous
One of the most creative shows on television since Twin Peaks
"Dead Like Me" proves that cynicism, humor, depth, and even compassion can not only co-exist on a single television series, they can actually flourish together. With sharp and witty writing and directing, "Dead Like Me" explores the bizarre world of our working-class grim reapers, the good folks charged with escorting human souls to the afterlife. As the second-lowest level group of bureaucrats in the afterlife system (best not to ask about the lowest), grim reapers must trudge along "popping" the souls of the soon-to-be-departed before they meet their grisly (and, dare I say, often hilarious) ends. And they must also survive, and pay rent, in the living world.
The chief protagonist on the series is George (a.k.a. Georgia), a recently deceased, uber-cynical, 18 year old who just can't seem to resist rebelling against the whole "death" system. Her fellow reapers include an unapologetically opportunistic drug-smuggler, a meter-maid who does a lot more than write parking tickets, a happy-go-lucky pragmatist who has developed a truly macabre taste in photography, and an actress whose resume is surprisingly out of date. And then, of course, there is Rube.
Rube is the would-be foreman of this somewhat strange assemblage of reapers. He is also, arguably, the most sympathetic, complex, and mysterious character on the showâ'thanks in no small part to the superb acting of Mandy Patinkin. As with the other characters on the show, no amount of space here can really hint at the depth alloted to Rube by the writers and directors of "Dead Like Me" or the skill with which Patinkin explores that depth. Suffice it to say that Rube plays a lot more like a real person (or real undead person) than any mere television contrivance. Rube is more alive as a dead man than any television character from the living world.
The very essence of "Dead Like Me" is, in fact, its willingness to explore not only the bizarre world of the reapers, but also the lives and personalities of the reapers themselves. Undead life has had (and continues to have) some pretty strange effects on these formerly-living reapers, and watching their individual responses to the problems of their bizarre occupation provides much of the humor of the show.
And, not to leave out the living world, the creative minds behind "Dead Like Me," also frequently turn their attention to living characters on the show, from the "soon to be referred to the past tense" reaper clients to the families they leave behind (most notably George's grieving family). Just about any character is subject to being fleshed-out on this show (even dogs and frogs). A minor character named Angus Cook makes a more memorable impression in one episode of "Dead Like Me" (appropriately titled "A. Cook") than most TV series regulars will make in an entire season.
Some have compared "Dead Like Me" with shows like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and similar, more pedestrian, fare. But about the only thing Buffy and George have in common is youth and blonde hair. And the only thing the reapers have in common with television vampires is that they've both been around a while. Of course, one of the problems with television vampires is that they never seem to *realize* they've been around a while. They are also generally kind enough to join up with either the "good guys" or "bad guys" teams of the Buffyverse and its ilk, teams which don't exist in the universe of "Dead Like Me."
But you might want to visit the universe of "Dead Like Me" for yourself, and form your own impressions. Just don't stay too long. You might end up with a post-it note and a new job.