indulge in some quiet time
must-see dvd tv: dead
like me, wonderfalls by Yee-Fan Sun |
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Eighteen-year-old Georgia "George" Lass doesn't know what she's doing with her life. She's dropped out of her first year of college; she's still living at home. She has a mousy little sister who barely registers on her radar, a dad who acts like he's afraid to really talk to her, and a Mom who finds fault in every little thing she does -- including George's lack of a life plan and refusal to be a responsible (read: paycheck-earning) adult. Tired of watching George sleep late every morning and sulk and sass her way around the house, Mom sets up an interview for George at the Happy Times temp agency. With an eyeroll and a sigh, George puts on a suit, and trudges off into the city to begin life as an office drone. As luck would have it, an escapee toilet from a Russian space station happens to fall out of the sky that afternoon, landing smack dab in a city square in Seattle, on the exact spot where George happens to be standing. She's killed on impact. But with that life ended, a strange new one awaits. Instead of heading off towards Heaven or some other plane of post-death existence, George is recruited to be a grim reaper. Reapers, it turns, out, really do exist -- no silly hooded capes, no scary scythes, they're just dead folks who wander around the Earth looking like ordinary citizens. Their job is simple: they get assigned to take the souls of any folks that are slated to bite the bullet -- so that the unlucky victims won't feel the physical pain and horror of their own deaths -- and to escort those souls to the edge of wherever they're going.
George's fellow reapers include Mason, a neurotic Brit whose love of booze and drugs, women and easy money, mean he's always getting himself into trouble, and Betty, a breezily-sexy ex- flapper girl who refuses to let a little thing like death get in the way of her pursuit of fun. Then there's Daisy, actress wannabe and former major-league Hollywood slut, and Roxy, a steely-eyed meter maid who takes no crap from anyone. Heading up the whole team is Rube. Rube gets the orders from the higher-ups, and each morning, he calls together his team to meet at a waffle house. Over greasy diner breakfasts, he hands each reaper a post-it note with their day's assignments. As George and her fellow reapers set off to get their jobs done, they struggle to mingle with the living without tipping them off to their own status, and squeeze in some time for their own undead lives as well. Being dead, it turns out, involves just as much angst, rebellion, and confusion as being alive, and George finds herself constantly getting into trouble as she flouts the rules (including spying on her troubled and grieving family when it's been expressly forbidden). For George, death turns out to be just the kick in pants she needs to take some chances, assume responsibility, grow up, and make a life for herself.
It's easy to dismiss Dead Like Me as Showtime's rip-off of HBO's Six Feet Under. Both center around what happens to people when they die, taking on a topic that our culture generally treats with fear, and in a way that's not morbid but curiously life-affirming (though not in a cheese-filled sentimental sort of way). But Dead Like Me takes a very different look at things; instead of examining what death looks like from our regular old living perspective, it flips things around. The cast is fantastic, particularly Ellen Muth as George, Mandy Patinkin as Rube, and Cynthia Stevenson as George's ironically-named mother, Joy. Even the most irritating characters are allowed to grow as the series progressed; slowly, as we find out more about these characters, we find it increasingly impossible not to identify with each one in at least some small way. The result is a very clever, blackly funny, quietly touching examination of what it really means to be alive.