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Dead Like Me: Season 2 DVD Review

Dead Like Me: Season 2

December 5, 2005

Director: James Whitmore Jr., Steve Beers, David Grossman,
Starring: Ellen Muth, Laura Harris, Callum Blue, Jasmine Guy, Cynthia Stevenson, Mandy Patinkin, Greg Kean, Britt McKillip, Christine Willes, ,

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DVD Review

Dead Like Me (2004) is yet another example of a TV show cut down in its prime. MGM and the show’s creator, Bryan Fuller, butted heads over creative differences and this led to his departure during the first season. The show survived with very little disruption for a strong second season and then was promptly canceled by the studio. Dead Like Me took a smart, clever and very entertaining look at death that was free of the pretension that plagues a show like Six Feet Under. It is much more playful in tone, much like the also defunct Wonderfalls.

Georgia “George” Lass (Muth) is an 18-year old girl who was killed by a flaming toilet seat from a Russian space station that broke up in the Earth’s atmosphere. She was resurrected (sort of) and became a grim reaper. She is part of a group of reapers that include Roxy (Guy), a gruff woman who works as a parking enforcement officer when she isn’t reaping souls; Mason (Blue), a slightly sleazy, sometimes rude reaper always on the make and one step away from being homeless; and finally, there’s Daisy (Harris), a flighty reaper who perished in a fire on the set of Gone with the Wind (or so she claims) and still yearns to be an actress. Rube (Pantinkin) is their boss, a no-nonsense guy who gives out their assignments: souls they are supposed to harvest on Post-It notes. They always meet at a diner called Der Waffle Haus where they hang out and get their assignments.

The first season introduced and established these characters and their world while also establishing the show’s rules. Little gremlins known as Gravelings cause the deaths by putting things into motion (what look like accidents or acts of fate). Reapers can see them and try to find the departed-to-be just before they are scheduled to die, touch them and then take their soul to the next stage in life, whatever that might be.

At the start of season two, George has finally come to grips with and finally gotten closure on being dead. In the land of the living, George’s parents are on the verge of divorce and are now living apart. As the season progresses, every so often we learn a few tantalizing bits of insight into the pasts of our cast of reapers (approximately when they died, what they were like, and so on), in particular, the enigmatic Rube.

Dead Like Me tackles all sorts of fascinating themes. One episode deals with luck and the random nature of life and death. Why do certain things happen? Whose fault is it? Who’s responsible? Another episode has George reaping the soul of a popular, up-and-coming rock star and she learns how much the death of one person can affect so many others. One episode is all about slowing down once in a while and enjoying life because you never know when it will be over—enjoy things while you can.

Like Wonderfalls (another short-lived TV show that Dead Like Me’s creator Bryan Fuller wrote for), Dead Like Me maintains just the right mix of whimsy and poignancy. It’s not surprising that both these shows have strong parallels. Both feature young, female protagonists with a sarcastic sense of humour. Both shows are based on a fantastical premise: Wonderfalls is about a girl who talks to inanimate objects who tell her to do things while Dead Like Me is about a girl who is a reaper of souls. Both shows cleverly blend sometimes absurd humour with thoughtful drama.

Dead Like Me treats reaping as a job just like any other except for the crucial difference that these characters are harvesting peoples’ souls. There is a playful, whimsical side to the show that is largely a part of its appeal. In the episode, “Send in the Clown,” there is a spot-on parody of Hill Street Blues, right down to the music, a famous line of dialogue and so on but for parking enforcement. Six Feet Under this ain’t – unless it merged with Harold and Maude (1971). It’s frustrating when such an obviously brilliant show is cut down before it really is allowed to reach its full potential.

Special Features:

All of the extras are located on the fourth DVD. “Dead Like Me…Again” is an 11-minute featurette about the show. Ellen Muth points out that her character isn’t as angry as she was in the first season because she’s finally accepted her lot in life. The cast talk about their characters and gush about working on the show. Sadly, the irony is that everyone talks as if another season is in the works when we know that the show has been cancelled.

“Putting Life Into Death” takes a look at how the special effects technicians bring the CGI Gravelings to life and how they pulled off five other effects, such as souls passing through live beings and how the death ripple, when a reaper touches someone before they die, is achieved.

Also included are nine deleted scenes totaling 11 minutes that are not put into context, so, at times, it’s difficult to figure out which episode they come from.

Finally, there is a photo gallery featuring some stills from the show.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 90%

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