Dead Like Me: Life After Death
March 17, 2009
Fans of the television series Dead Like Me were heartbroken when it was canceled five years ago and thought that they would never see new adventures of George (Muth) and her fellow grim reapers. Like Firefly however, Dead Like Me has been given a second lease on life with a film, although, in this case it has gone direct-to-DVD instead of a theatrical release. The good news is that most of the cast is returning but the glaring omission is Mandy Patinkin who played the cantankerous head reaper Rube. He’s been replaced by Lost’s Henry Ian Cusick. Laura Harris, a reaper, has also been recast with less than stellar results, by Sarah Wynter.
An animated comic book panel opening credits sequence recaps the two seasons of the show and establishes the rules of the world for those new to the Dead Like Me universe. In the opening minutes, the reapers’ beloved meeting place Der Waffle Haus is unceremoniously burned down and they meet their new boss, Cameron Kane (Cusick) as Rube has finally been allowed to move on. Kane quickly establishes a new way of doing things. Gone are Rube’s Post-It notes, replaced by snazzy new cell phones.
Fortunately, the reapers haven’t changed much: Mason (Blue) is still a sleazy pig constantly on the make, Daisy (Wynter) is a saucy flirt, Roxy (Guy) is a bossy go-getter, and George still has a knack for a sarcastic quip but she’s become much more responsible and grown up quite a bit in the time between the end of the show and the film. The same could be said of George’s sister Reggie (McKillip) who is learning to drive with her mom’s (Stevenson) help. George faces a conflict of interest when one of her reaps is a high school football player that was secretly romantically involved with Reggie.
To make matters worse, under Kane’s new regime, all of the reapers are encouraged and indeed break the rules, acting wildly out of character leaving George to be the responsible one. They’ve all become drunk on their own power thanks to Kane’s influence. The most interesting sub-plot involves Reggie and her evolution from the bratty kid from the series into someone who secretly loves a dying boy. She’s grown up to become this fascinating character and the scenes that she has with George are the highlights of this film.
Aside from the miscasting of Wynter as Daisy, the film’s biggest misstep is in the motivations behind the enigmatic character of Cameron Kane. The reasons behind his actions are never explained, nor are the reasons why the powers that be would replace Rube with someone like him? What was his purpose other than to test the reapers? As a result, his character feels underdeveloped.
Ultimately, Dead Like Me: Life After Death is about making peace with one’s past and achieving closure with your loved ones after they’ve died and trying to let them know how you feel about them while they’re still alive. The reapers learn that their actions and inactions have serious repercussions for them and for the ones they reap. I really can’t see this film adding any new fans to the franchise’s loyal fanbase and a result its creation is a nice love letter to the devoted for sticking by the show during its run and for the time since its cancellation.
There is an audio commentary with director Stephen Herek and actress Ellen Muth.
“Back From The Dead: Resurrecting Dead Like Me” takes a look at how this film came to be and the things that were changed from the T.V. show. The cast looks genuinely happy to be reprising roles that they clearly loved playing. This is a fine look at how this film updates the Dead Like Me universe.