Dead Like Me: The Complete First Season (review)

Blame HBO and its hugely successful Six Feet Under for starting a fad in undead hip. Not quite a ripoff, the Showtime series Dead Like Me nevertheless spins a cynical, unsentimental angle on mortality and nondenominational religious fantasy into something attempting insight on contemporary attitudes about life and death, and manages to hit every imaginable wrong note along the way. Directionless 18-year-old Georgia (Ellen Muth) — call her George — bites it in a spectacularly unlikely mishap involving space debris, and now she’s been inducted into a gang of “bail bondsmen for the disembodied,” undead grim reapers who must collect an unspecified number of souls before they can be released into an unspecified afterlife. But these reapers don’t actually kill anyone (CGI creatures called “gravelings” do that), and as episode after tedious episode makes abundantly clear, they have no choice about the soul-taking, either — George is simply stuck in literal limbo, in a pointless shadow existence. And yet for all its depressing nihilism, the series is so deeply in love with its own wackiness — the undead hang out at the Waffle Haus; even grim reapers have to do laundry — that it’s hard to know whether one should laugh at the self-involvement or cry at the blockheadedness. And if that weren’t enough, the cast — featuring Jasmine Guy, Rebecca Gayheart, and Callum Blue as reapers and Cynthia Stevenson as George’s uptight mother — is uniformly grating, and even the usually delightful Mandy Patinkin, as George’s boss Rube, is downright insufferable. The 32 deleted scenes among the extras seem more a curse than a bonus.

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