DEAD LIKE ME - "Pilot" -

Television Pilot Review

Mania Grade: B

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  • Reviewed Format: Extended Length TV Pilot
  • Network: Showtime
  • Original Airdate: June 27th, 2003; 10:00 p.m. EST/PST
  • Cast: Ellen Muth, Mandy Patinkin, Rebecca Gayheart, Calluim Blue, Jasmine Guy
  • Creator: Bryan Fuller
  • Writer: Bryan Fuller
  • Directors: Robert Duncan McNeill, Scott Winant

DEAD LIKE ME - "Pilot"

Bail bondsmen for the recently deceased

By Chris Wyatt     June 16, 2003

Showtime's new comedy genre series DEAD LIKE ME
© 2003 Showtime
Watch the premiere of DEAD LIKE ME on Showtime June 27, 10pm ET/PT.

Showtime's new original series DEAD LIKE ME launches next week with an extended-length pilot episode. Showtime, as a network, has long been a haven for imaginative genre fiction. The phenomenon that is STARGATE: SG-1 was born on Showtime; as were two of the biggest risk-takers in genre TV programming, JEREMIAH and ODYSSEY 5.

DEAD LIKE ME is proof that Showtime is still taking risks. This show isn't quite like anything you've seen before, though it's a little bit like a lot of different things. Think of it as MY SO CALLED LIFE meets DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY.

Relative newcomer Ellen Muth plays Georgia "George" Lass, a stereotypically disenfranchised teen who's dropped out of college because of lack of interest. She's sick of being disappointed with life, so her solution is to just not care.

Then one day she dies.

Her soul, thrust out of the body, stands, invisible and incorporeal watching the confusion surrounding the accident that killed her. Suddenly she hears "Hey! Dead girl," and turns to be greeted by two "grim reapers", played by Mandy Patinkin and Rebecca Gayheart.

Grim reapers look like you and me. They aren't dead, but rather "undead," which means that they can interact with humans (whereas normal dead people are just intangible ghosts).

George is escorted by Patinkin's character Rube, who tells her that she's not going to be able to move on to the next life until she's said goodbye to this one. Rube, whose job as a reaper makes him an escort to the newly dead, takes George to her own funeral, and even to her own autopsy (the latter because he says that once someone sees their lifeless body they're more ready to leave it behind... "Its like spilled cobbler," he says. "No matter how good it was, you just don't want it anymore.")

Once George has made peace with this life, she informs Rube that she's ready to "go to heaven". But Rube tells her that it's not that simple... George has been selected to become a reaper. Only once she's collected her quota of souls will she be promoted to the next life.

Now George must log observing hours with other grim reapers and learn the ropes and rules of escorting the dead.

The show is imaginative and broad. It's got ingenious scenes (like a Rube Goldberg-esque sequence involving people in a bank). It also offers some very, very dark comedy (like a scene involving undead people robbing corpses of mob execution victims). And there's even a dash of absurdity thrown in for good measure (example: George is killed by a zero-g toilet seat that broke off from Mir).

As creative as the set up is, the pilot does have some problems. First off, it takes forever to get into the premise, sending many useless minutes on characters and situations that we'll never see again (the most egregious time-suck being an opening story involving a frog). Secondly, the "rules" of the world of grim reaping are treated unevenly. Sometimes a part of the world is thoroughly explained (such as how a reaper makes a living) but other parts of the world are left dim (like how the death assignments are received).

Patinkin undoubted steals the show with his performance as Rube. He carries himself with a charming and world-weary sense of goodwill that causes the character to sparkle. He also balances the uneven performance of some of his co-stars, most notably the dazzlingly uncharismatic Gayheart, who spends most of the episode sleepwalking.

Despite the problems, writer Bryan Fuller's first-person narration presentation nails the tone of the show perfectly, and the expansive canvas will definitely allow for a wealth of story material in the future. The promising DEAD LIKE ME is a show for fans to keep an eye on.

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