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July 10, 2004

A Blogwarming Gift

Because this is my first day in a bold new world (not blogging, but blogging under the new format), I offer this gift from the universe of popular culture: Dead Like Me.

If you’ve somehow missed the first season of this Showtime series, you’ve missed plenty. Generally speaking, I stopped watching television when the often-dismissed yet stunningly philosophical and relational BtVS got the axe (if you have to ask, it’s better for both of us if you just keep reading and forget it). However, Dead Like Me is 45 minutes or so that justify the entire cost of the Showtime movie network.

First of all, the acting is just stunning.

Mandy Patinkin is a revelation. His character always knows what to say and the actor always knows HOW to say it. The show as a whole is dialog-driven and Patinkin is the jewel in the crown.

Ellen Muth, a relative newcomer, who plays George (symbolic and short for Georgia), nails her character completely as well. She plays a deadbeat teenager with less-than-zero in the way of prospects who finally starts learning to live after, well, she dies. Struck down by a bit of space junk (specifically a toilet seat) from a Soviet space station. Thus starts our trip into the absurd.

George turns out to be a reaper, one of a group of folks who remain on earth for a while after their deaths to help harvest the souls of those about to die to both ease their suffering (“We’re bail bondsmen for the dead,” Rube (Patinkin’s character) says) and help orient them before their departure into the great whatever-comes-next. Muth plays, at least at first, a cross between helpless confusion and detached irritation, all with just facial expression.

That’s all just setting and window-dressing though. The characters are the key here. Each death in the series, and there are plenty to go around, is poignant in its own way, and George, now forced into other people’s stories, can no longer avoid human contact. Each death touches her in some way.

Adding another layer, the show follows the story of her family, who are now coping with her death in various ways (possible infidelity, definite depression, schizophrenia, all the fun stuff). Since George is visible to the world still, just not in her prior form, there have been a few touching moments when her story and the story of her family connect. One scene in particular stands out: a yard sale where the family is selling some of George’s stuff (I hate the word “stuff” – feels lazy - but that’s what it is in this case). George’s mother doesn’t know it’s her, of course (George literally can’t tell her), but we know and that’s what drives the scene.

All that to say this: the show is art. Literally. The seamless use of music and other forms of artistic expression work with the incredible characterization to make the show feel surreal and important.

The first season, for me, boils down into two images:

1. The last 5 minutes of the pilot episode. George’s first soul. Her struggles with what will be, unarguably, her toughest soul to take in the entire series. As George finally comes to terms with what she is, how she wasted her life and why she has to do what she has to do, a haunting version of “Que Sera Sera” plays in the background (song version by Pink Martini – the amazing Squirrel Nut Zippers also add a tune to the pilot). There are more details adding to the poignancy of this incredible scene (one of the best written I’ve seen in any format in years) that I won’t give away in case you get to watch for yourself. I hope you do. You will be richer for it, and you’ll be asking “why?” the same way George does.

2. One of the last episodes of the first season called “Nighthawks.” I mention this episode as a whole because it all builds together as a feeling. You gradually work your way into the plot in the way you work your way into a painting as you study it. At the end, it all fits together in a sort of “Aha!” moment, and the scene morphs (I hate that word, but that’s what it does) from the diner where the reapers sit into the episode’s titular painting (“Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper). Immediately upon the final reveal you feel the need to watch the entire episode again, to see how all the pieces fit. It’s really a gorgeous bit of camerawork and dialog.

So the new season starts 7/25. Call it my blogwarming gift to you. Share and enjoy.

Then, you know, turn the TV back off.

Posted by Dan at July 10, 2004 03:44 AM

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Popping Culture has A Blogwarming Gift:The first season, for me, boils down into two images: 1. The last 5 minutes of the pilot episode. Georges first soul. Her struggles with what will be, unarguably, her toughest soul to take in... [Read More]

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