Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Dead Like Me

This Showtime series from Pushing Daisies creator Bryan Fuller (Daisies was actually conceived originally as a Dead Like Me spin-off) has its dedicated following despite lasting only two seasons. It seems to have found enough of a life on DVD that MGM is putting out a straight-to-video movie sequel next year as a possible testing ground for another go at the series, or further movies. The quirky show, about the everyday lives of grim reapers whose jobs turn out to be strikingly similar to the 9-to-5 drudgery of the living, seemed like it would be a nice break from my continued viewing of The Wire and its depressing (but compelling!) view of society's bleak condition. It turned out that Dead Like Me was plenty lighthearted (though not without its serious moments), but just not very good.

I slogged through all 14 episodes of the first season anyway, spurred on at first by an optimism that the show would find its footing and direction eventually, and then simply by my irrational completist's desire to hit the stopping point at the season's end. Fuller left after only five episodes, and the show definitely betrays signs of turmoil behind the scenes. As much as I like Pushing Daisies and enjoyed Fuller's previous series, Wonderfalls, I didn't find the initial episodes of Dead Like Me all that entertaining; they basically recycled the same plot (about main character George, newly dead and made into a reaper, refusing to go along with the afterlife rules and, er, reaping the consequences) for three or four episodes straight with little forward motion.

After Fuller's departure, the show continued meandering, abruptly writing out Rebecca Gayheart's reaper character with virtually no explanation and replacing her with Laura Harris' irritating Daisy Adair; stretching in increasingly strained ways to include George's still-living family; sending the various reapers off on unrelated storylines resulting in disjointed episodes; and resorting to a glorified clip show, of all things, after not even a full season of material. I did like Ellen Muth's performance as the sarcastic, introspective George, which was what made me want to keep watching at the beginning, as well as Mandy Patinkin as her gruff reaper boss (except when he kept having to be an exaggerated hardass in the same way over and over again). The other supporting characters I could have done without, although they each had their moments.

The biggest problem was that I never understood what the show was meant to be about, from a thematic or big-picture perspective; the world of the reapers was ill-defined, with guidelines that seemed to be constantly shifting, and always felt very superficial. This could very well be the result of ever-changing creative visions among producers and writers, or it could just be that nobody knew what to do with the show once Fuller left. I've heard that the second season isn't as good as the first, and given my sustained frustration with the show, I don't think I'll be giving it a chance. It's back to the stark realities of The Wire; at least those are fully realized and always engrossing.

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