The pilot episode of Dead Like Me begins with a girl’s monologue paired with a camera shot that zooms around the outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. The girl introduces herself as Georgia Lass (Ellen Muth). “Once upon a time,” she says, and embarks on a Garden of Eden-esque tale about a frog who, at the beginning of time, broke the “jar of death” and made it so that everyone has to die. Because apparently before then, death never occurred and the world was destined to be overpopulated.
Has your belief been suspended? Okay good, onward: we, the viewers, soar through the earth’s atmosphere and coast into an office building where we find ourselves face to face with the aforementioned narrator. She is a blond girl, slumped in a waiting room chair, zoning out big time. A woman, Dolores Herbig, comes into the waiting room and introduces herself to Georgia. “Herbig, as in her big brown eyes,” the woman says, and points an ecstatic finger to her normal sized, dark irises. Dolores leads Georgia into a cubicle, and the two discuss George’s job qualifications. Apparently George has dropped out of college, isn’t fluent in Microsoft Excel, and has a mother who really, really wants her to find a job.
In the next scene we find ourselves at the Lass family’s dinner table. Georgia’s narration from the previous scenes continues here and one by one each character freezes in an awkward eating pose that they hold while Georgia rattles off a list of their idiosyncrasies We learn that Georgia has a terrible relationship with her family—especially with her mother, and that she doesn’t care about accomplishing anything in her lifetime. We then learn that the her lifetimes comes to a close the following day, when a space station toilet seat plummets to earth and lands right on top of her. Well, it is called, “Dead Like Me.” What were you expecting?
From Bryan Fuller, the creator of Pushing Daisies, a show that features a guy who can touch people and bring them back to life for a brief period, Dead Like Me candy coats death in a different way. After she dies, Georgia Lass becomes a reaper whose job is to extract the souls from bodies of people who are about to die, so that they do not feel the pain of death, and can easily move onto the next life. She receives the names and time/place of death of these people on post-its handed to her by Rube (Mandy Patinkin), the leader of the show’s group of reapers.
Just to be clear, George is not the typical grip reaper. She doesn’t personify death, and doesn’t wear a long black coat or carry a scythe. She isn’t even the one who kills people, that’s the job of the gravelings: poltergeist-like creatures that scamper around dangerous construction sites and break things, pull children to the bottom of pools, and do other such things that cause death. The show orbits around the idea of destiny: that death is something that happens exactly when it is supposed to happen. When it is a person’s time, lectures Rube, there is no stopping death.
What I really like about Dead Like Me is that each episode has a theme to it. And I’m not talking about corny ones, like the “Everyone is beautiful in their own way!” messages chucked from the depths of 7th Heaven episodes. These themes are fresher, quirkier, and they always reappear the end of each episode, with flair.
For instance, one episodes revolves around the Edward Hopper painting, Nighthawks. At the beginning, all the other reapers (there are three others in George’s group plus Rube, their supervisor) are sitting around in a cafe at night and filling out self-evaluations. Apparently even the dead can’t avoid paperwork. George, suffering from a bout of insomnia, wanders into the cafe and joins them. The episode is united by the ways that George and the others are both alike to and unlike the lonely individuals in Hopper’s painting. At the very end of the episode, the camera zooms out on the cafe, and all the characters are positioned like the people in Nighthawks.
One thing I don’t like about the show is its name, because it’s not really something that flows catchily in conversation. What I mean is I can’t see myself saying, “Did you see the latest episode of Dead Like Me?” as easily as if it were another show like Lost or Pushing Daisies that I was talking about. The other thing I don’t like is that after Dead Like Me’s two-season lifetime, someone thought it would be a great idea to make a made-for-DVD movie that takes place after the end of season two. Not only that, but the same person thought that it would be perfectly fine to hire half a new cast for the film. This is all to say, watch the show, you’ll will be disappointed that there are only two seasons, but just remember that however sad you are, do not put yourself through that horrid film.