Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Dead Like Me - Season 2 (2004)

Dead Like Me - Season 2 (2004)

Season 1 of drama / comedy 'Dead Like Me' was fairly enjoyable, but I had problems with it (which I didn't really make clear when I wrote about it a year ago), and most of those problems continued to bug me in its second season as well. Which is not to say that it's a poor show; that couldn't be further from the truth, because it's actually very original and well made.

In 'Dead Like Me', Georgia 'George' Lass (Ellen Muth) is a Grim Reaper. Reapers look like ordinary people, having once been ordinary people before death caught up with them. It turns out that certain individuals are picked to be reapers upon their death in order to replace a Reaper who has served his or her time and is ready to move on. In the pilot episode, George was chosen to replace another Reaper upon her somewhat comical death by way of 'flaming Mir toilet seat'. She now works with a team of Reapers, led by the stern, fatherly Rube (Mandy Patinkin) and including vain Daisy (Laura Harris), short-tempered Roxy (Jasmine Guy), and druggie screw-up Mason (Callum Blue). Each day, Rube hands out post-its to his team, each of which contains a person's name, location and time of death. The Reapers ensure that the souls of those people are freed just before death, and they then 'escort' the souls to the great beyond. The biggest twist in the concept is that Reapers live and work like ordinary folk - they have to maintain day jobs in order to support themselves and scrounge around for accommodation in between claiming souls.

The show can be broken up into three parts. One part revolves around the activities of the Reapers as they go about with their daily reaping. Another part deals with the Reapers' personal lives and problems, particularly George's; she was killed at the age of 18 and has trouble adjusting to her new lifestyle and letting go of her old one. The third part of the show is about George's family - mother Joy (Cynthia Stevenson), sister Reggie (Britt McKillip), and father Clancy (Greg Kean) - and how it is falling apart following her untimely death.

I actually kinda hate the fact that I don't love this show. When I look at it analytically, it's more than just good, it's great. There are terrific, complex characters who don't fit into any kind of mold and who often dare to be downright unlikable. The cast of actors playing these characters is excellent and perfectly in tune with the spirit of the show. The writing and directing balances outright slapstick comedy with macabre humour and violence, while also presenting compelling character based drama. Being a cable show, it pushes the envelope - the macabre stuff goes beyond normal TV, and the characters are unrelentingly profane. 'Dead Like Me' has a unique concept, a whimsical and imaginative mythology, and original stories. It's smart, funny, entertaining, and sometimes quite poignant, and deals with complex themes relating to life, death, family, friendship, happiness, and fate. And in terms of production values, it's top-notch.

So why don't I like it? Like I said, I have a few problems with it. As a whole, the show sometimes feels unfocused and meandering, like the writers weren't sure where they wanted to take things. This also results in an element of repetitiveness kicking in, with certain issues being addressed over and over, particularly with regard to George's family. Those are the only truly objective criticisms I have, as the rest are somewhat subjective. One thing that personally irritated me was that the mythology, while being imaginative, doesn't really hold up under close scrutiny - yeah I know it isn't meant to be taken seriously, but something about the flippantly shaky logic behind the way the whole 'Reaping' system works irks the part of my brain that likes things to make sense. The other thing is, I just don't like Ellen Muth in the lead role - and yeah, I realize this contradicts what I wrote last year, but hey, it's a different season. There's nothing wrong with her acting, she's great in the role, it's just that her idiosyncrasies eventually grow to be more annoying than endearing; the rest of the cast I loved in their respective roles (although I didn't much care for the character of Reggie as written, either), although I was somewhat disappointed to find that Mandy Patinkin is much more restrained due to his character's storyline.

'Dead Like Me' is a good show, possibly a very good show, that I ultimately don't care much for. I enjoyed watching it, and I admire the quality of storytelling, the imagination, and the originality on display, but it just didn't enrapture me in the way that, say, Wonderfalls (a less edgy but no less unique show by the same creator, Bryan Fuller) did. Definitely worth watching, especially for those looking for something just a little bit different.

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