December 21, 2004

Just when you think your day can't get any worse.

They cancel your favorite TV show.

Honey? Cancel Showtime!

This really is a loss. The second season was notably less gripping than the hyper-poignant first season, but the storylines available were still rich with possibility.

Ellen Muth was a find and fit her character perfectly, and Mandy Patinkin was pure gold. Mostly I liked the show because it faced death head-on and didn't back away from it or romanticize it like so many clutching-for-your-heartstrings-and-wallets dramas do these days.

Gads, I'll miss Dead Like Me.


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July 26, 2004

Season Two starts with a bang!


Dead Like Me literally started with a bang as the group took about 5 souls from a gas explosion at a vegetable market. We get explosions and flying veggies, but despite the smooth look of the show, it's still the dialogue that drives it.

The Second Season picked up the great dialogue where it dropped off. Last night's episode was a treatise on sadness.

Mason, who we find out was sober all summer, drops off the wagon by episode's end after being forced to take the soul of a man at his daughter's sixth birthday party.

Daisy gets little real substantive play in this episode, but we know from last season she is carrying around some secret from her past that consumes and drives her. George said last season "I watch her sometimes. She's sad about something."

George's folks decided, finally, to get a divorce, leaving the already only-partially-stable Reggie to miss George even more as she has to deal with it alone. The pair broke up after neither of them was able to overcome the sadness that last season's hurts left them alone with. This is utterly believable... how often do we deny ourselves what we really want (in this case, reunion) because pride won't let us?

George herself took a soul early in the episode that was eerily similar to her own death just over a year previous. That put her in mind of the fact that she died after squandering her life on hiding in her room and rebelling against her mother. Her death at 18 left her, in her words, "a virgin with a death certificate," and it's pretty clear that virginity won't last forever in this new season. George also got a promotion at work, but just so that her boss Delores could keep her from a relationship with the boss' son. Rube, the head reaper, doesn't want George to take the promotion at the ironically named "Happy Time", fearing she has too much on her plate already. Of course, she takes the money; she's broke. Just the multi-directional tension George needs to drive another full season.

Rube was the only character who seemed changed, all the others picked up where they left off. Rube was always sarcastic but with words of wisdom and an "old soul" in the first season. This time out Rube didn't seem to have any concern for the reapers at all, especially George, and was solely a force for sarcasm and bossiness. Maybe this was necessary to set up the tension with George or maybe he's just had enough of her antics. There was a melancholy allusion to a daughter of his, but just a mention. Maybe that points to sadness of his own that is the root of his change. We'll see.

Expect that happiness will remain possible in each of these cases. George's ray of light in this episode is symbolized by a flower that she receives from a merchant who is destined to die in the market explosion. While she tries to get rid of it (she's too sad to see any beauty or hope?), it appears again later, rescued by the florally-named Daisy. George sees it in full bloom as she gets in from the end of a very hard, very sad day and carries it to her grave, acknowledging her own death and life-cut-short. The last scene is her running from the grave site, hair in the wind and a huge smile on her face. Symbolism, anyone?

Popping Culture's sources tell us Season Two is even better than Season One as a whole. I can't imagine it, but I also can't wait to find out.

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July 22, 2004

The Sopranos kill them... Six Feet Under buries them... THEN the fun really begins.


The second season of the best-written original series for a premium network EVER begins Sunday night on Showtime. DO NOT MISS it.

Gads, I'm still haunted (literally and figuratively) by images from the first season (see my first Dead Like Me post in the archives, found in your right sidebar).

From the show's description:

Following an unfortunate encounter with a Soviet-era toilet seat, this smart and sassy 18-year old learns that she is the newest recruit for the Pacific Northwest chapter of grim reapers.

A very good season one video recap is HERE.

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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.

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