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Dead Like Me is an American television comedy-drama starring Ellen Muth and Mandy Patinkin as grim reapers who "live" and work in Seattle, Washingtonmarker. Filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, the show was created by Bryan Fuller for the Showtime network, where it ran for two seasons in 2003 and 2004 before cancellation. Fuller left the show five episodes into the first season due to creative differences; creative direction of Dead Like Me was then taken over by executive producers John Masius and Stephen Godchaux. A direct-to-DVD movie entitled Dead Like Me: Life After Death was released on February 17, 2009, with an option to restart the series.

Eighteen-year-old Georgia "George" Lass (played by Muth) is the show's protagonist and narrator. George dies early in the pilot episode. She becomes one of the "undead," a grim reaper. George soon learns that a Reaper's job is to remove the souls of people, preferably right before they die, and escort them until they move on into their afterlife. George's death leaves her mother (Cynthia Stevenson) and the rest of her family behind at a point when her relationships with them were on shaky ground.

The show explores the "lives" and experiences of a small team of such Reapers, as well as the post-mortem changes in George and her family as they deal with George's death.

Synopsis

Georgia Lass is aloof and emotionally distant from her family and shies away from her life. After dropping out of college, she takes a temp job through Happy Time Temporary Services. On her lunch break of her first day, she is hit and killed by a toilet seat from the de-orbiting of the Mir space station. She is informed shortly after her death that, rather than moving on to the "great beyond," she will become "a grim reaper" in the "External Influence" division, responsible for reaping souls of people who die in accidents (many of which are of a Rube Goldberg-style in their complexity), suicides and homicides.

Through the first season, George has trouble adjusting to her circumstances: collecting souls, while holding a day job at Happy Time. By the second season, she has mostly adjusted to her new role, though still has unresolved issues with her life and her afterlife.

George's family is struggling to deal with her death. Her mother, Joy, is depressed, and visibly repressing it, while Clancy, her father, is cheating on Joy. George's sister, Reggie, acts out — stealing toilet seats from neighbors and school, and hanging them on a tree — before being sent to therapy by Joy. She clings to the belief that George visits her, but is starting to lie to cover this up. At the start of the second season, the family begins to break apart as Joy and Clancy divorce.

Nearly all of the main characters have some form of depression, but they cope with it in different ways: Mason resorts to alcohol and drugs; Daisy puts on a veneer of perkiness; and Roxy is physically and verbally aggressive. Rube and George are more straightforward about their sadness.

Cast and characters

Reapers

  • Georgia "George" Lass (Ellen Muth): (1985–2003) The show's protagonist, an 18 year old college dropout. In addition to being a grim reaper she has a day job at Happy Time Temporary Services, under the assumed name "Millie Hagen". She was killed on June 27, 2003 when a toilet seat from the de-orbiting Mir space station fell on her.


  • Rube Sofer (Mandy Patinkin): (1876–1926) The head of the group of Reapers. He is responsible for passing out reaping assignments, nearly always on yellow post-it notes. He becomes a father figure for George (whom he calls "Peanut") in her grim-reaping afterlife, and had a daughter named Rose ("Rosie"). The manner of his death has yet to be revealed, but in one episode his name and picture are seen on an old "Wanted" poster declaring that he was a bank robber.


  • Mason (Callum Blue): (1939–1966) A British drug addict, alcoholic and thief, but a likable person. He acts as an "older brother" figure to George, and is attracted to Daisy. He is originally from Londonmarker, UKmarker, and he died in 1966 by drilling a hole in his head to achieve the permanent high.


  • Roxy Harvey (Jasmine Guy): (before 1960 – 1982) A strong-willed, sassy, independent woman. Her day job is initially as a meter maid, but she later becomes a police officer. While physically the second oldest Reaper in the group, Roxy is the second newest to the afterlife. She was strangled to death in 1982 by a jealous roommate with leg warmers, which Roxy had invented.


  • Betty Rohmer (Rebecca Gayheart): (1899–1926) A confident, well-adjusted Reaper in the first five episodes. She keeps Polaroids of each of the souls she reaped in department store shopping bags, organized by personality type. George begins to bond with her early in the first season, but she "hitches a ride" into the afterlife with one of the souls George had reaped and is never seen again. She died in 1926 while cliff-diving with her fiancé. In a similar fashion to the reaping of George, though Rube did not personally reap Betty, he did collect her soul, as shown in the season 1 episode "Reaping Havoc".


  • Daisy Adair (Laura Harris): (before 1915 – 1938) A spoiled actress who often tells stories about her (alleged) sexual escapades with classic film stars. She died on December 13, 1938 of asphyxiation/smoke inhalation in Marietta, Georgiamarker, though she originally claimed this occurred on the set of Gone with the Wind. Her last thought before she died was, "Why has no one ever loved me?". Daisy is sent from New York City to Seattle in episode six as a replacement when Betty leaves.


George's Family

  • Reggie Lass (Britt McKillip): George's younger sister. Though George ignored her while she was alive, Reggie is very much affected by the death of her sister. She believes that George's ghost still roams about the city and visits their home from time to time – technically, she is right. Due to her eccentric, borderline-pathological way of grieving her sister's death, Reggie is placed in therapy.
  • Joy Lass (Cynthia Stevenson): George's mother. She is a virgo who has a pathological fear of balloons and who hates the word moist because she thinks "it sounds pornographic". She likes to have order, rules, and control in her life. Other characters in the show, such as Joy's own mother, believe that her obsession with control is how she copes with denial of her own out-of-control life: her daughter George's death; her younger daughter's rather unconventional style of grieving George's death; and her divorce from her husband.
  • Clancy Lass (Greg Kean): George's father. He is an English Professor at the University of Washington. His relationship with Joy begins to seriously deteriorate after George's death. He has an affair with one of his Shakespeare class students, which becomes the final death knell to the marriage.


Happy Time Temporary Services

  • Delores Herbig (Christine Willes): George's boss. Delores disliked George, but becomes friends with "Millie", for whom she becomes something of a maternal figure, offering advice and support, and on one occasion bailing "Millie" out of jail. Delores is optimistic, dynamic, and motivated; she has an active Internet presence through various social and dating sites, and runs a website (her home life on webcam) called 'Getting Things Done With Delores'. Occasionally Delores will try to empathise with George by revealing startling facts about her past – including a cocaine habit, tattoos, and "all those restraining orders".


  • Crystal Smith (Crystal Dahl): Happy Time's mysterious receptionist whose Happy Time record indicates that she speaks several languages and previously served as a special forces operative in Southeast Asia. Crystal once helped the Reapers organize into computer files a collection of souls' last thoughts. She also dressed as a grim reaper for Halloween. She is also seen to steal great amounts of Post-it notes (like those used to notify Reapers of their assignments) from Happy Time. The evidence suggests that Crystal is not a Reaper (the most obvious fact is that Crystal "sees" George as her un-George Millie incarnation, whereas a fellow Reaper would see her still as George), however her behavior around George and the other Reapers (such as helping them file Last Thoughts) suggests that she is aware of their other-worldly activities.


Miscellaneous characters

  • Kiffany (Patricia Idlette): The Reapers' usual server at "Der [sic] Waffel Haus". She is a quiet observer of the Reaper group. The characters talk openly about reaping in front of her, suggesting she may know what they are and what they do. Some of the characters believe her to be psychic.


Episodes

Each episode lasts approximately 45 minutes and usually follows the events of a single day.

DVD releases

Season Release dates Includes
Season 1
Region 1: June 15, 2004

Region 2: June 20, 2005

Region 4: July 12, 2005
  • All 14 episodes of the first season.
  • Commentary by members of the cast.
  • Thirty minutes of deleted scenes.
  • Two behind-the-scenes featurettes.
  • Photo gallery.
Season 2
Region 1: June 19, 2005

Region 2: April 16, 2007

Region 4: July 18, 2007
  • All 15 episodes of the second season.
  • Deleted scenes.
  • Behind-the-scenes featurettes.
  • Photo gallery.


Direct-to-DVD film

On April 18, 2007, MGM announced that they are developing several direct-to-DVD movies and sequels. First among them is a new film based on Dead Like Me.The movie is set five years after the first series episode. The movie's release date was originally set for the summer of 2008, then changed to February 17, 2009. An exclusive television debut occurred on January 1, 2009 on SuperChannel in Canada.

Grim reapers

In the world of Dead Like Me, Grim reapers do not wear black cloaks or carry scythes (cloaks and scythes are only featured during the opening credits, for humorous effect), but their role remains traditional: they remove the souls of the living shortly before death and escort them into their afterlife.

Death has a list of who is scheduled to die and when. This list is delivered to the head of each group by a shadowy figure (when the delivery is made to Rube's apartment, it is shown that the delivery is made by an actual shadow, with only the list of names becoming corporeal when it is delivered). The head of each group then gives each Reaper a non-transferable assignment to collect a particular soul or souls. Completing that assignment is often difficult for the Reapers who only receive the first (and sometimes middle) initial and last name of the person about to die, the location, and estimated time of death (ETD). If a Reaper refuses to take a soul at their place of death and the person somehow survives their appointed time, the soul will "wither and die and rot inside" them. If a Reaper does not take a soul and the person does die, the soul remains trapped in the body, and is subject to certain extremely traumatic experiences such as witnessing the autopsy of their own body. Deaths can be at least temporarily postponed without risk to the soul's well-being by interfering well in advance of the time of death, thus Reapers would not be interfering with the events that lead to the death. However, this may have unintended consequences, such as more people dying because of actions taken by the person who should have died, but remained alive.

Reapers have a physical body and may interact with the living and the dead. Besides collecting souls, Reapers have powers to remain ageless, heal extremely quickly (George once severed her middle finger, but was able to reattach it by just putting it back in place), drink alcohol without suffering a hangover (see "Gravelings"), and forcibly pull a soul from a living body and replace it (as seen done by Roxy in Episode 9 "Sunday Mornings"). When seen by the living, Reapers' physical appearances are different from those they had when alive, except on Halloween when the living see them as they were in life, though fellow Reapers always see their original appearances. Rube's image was recognizable in a wanted poster seen during some research into his past life. Laura Boddington portrays lead character George's 'undead' appearance in six episodes.

The passage into the afterlife is shown as a brightly lit scene towards which the newly-deceased is drawn. The portal is unique to each soul: for a child, it may be a wonderful carnival, but for a yoga master, it may be a Deva beckoning from within a Divine Lotus. Souls cannot be forced to enter the portals, so part of the Reapers' job is to convince such souls to do so.

Groups of Reapers are organized into "divisions" according to various causes of death. In addition to Rube's "external influence" team, the three other divisions mentioned in the series are Circulatory Systems Division, the very uneventful and bored Reapers of the Plague Division (who spend much of their time playing bocce ball) and the Natural Causes (Old Age) Division mentioned in the 27th and 28th episodes (according to the running order). However, George (and Reggie) do meet a child Reaper who reaps the souls of animals; he died when he was run over by a car which was driven by a female drunk driver. The teams are apparently organized into jurisdictions of geographical areas, with several teams associated with different causes of death operating within one area. It is not known how much geographical area a single division covers, but the Reapers in the series seem to only cover the area around Seattle and King Countymarker, Washington.

Gravelings

Gravelings
In the show, Reapers do not actually kill the living. Instead, deaths are arranged by 'Gravelings'.

Gravelings are mischievous gremlin-like creatures that cause the accidents and mishaps that kill people. The living generally cannot see them, though in the episode "Reaper Madness", a schizophrenic was able to, although Rube refused to believe that was possible. Reapers can see and interact with them to some extent: Daisy once shushed a Graveling; Rube yelled "Get outta here!" once when seeing Gravelings playing on a cemetery statue; and George once chased several angry Gravelings around her apartment. Although Gravelings seem to be self-aware and recognize the Reapers, they do not communicate verbally with them, and talk to each other in a hushed and unintelligible babble; other times they growl or hiss.

According to the episode, "Vacation", Gravelings are given one day off every few years. Despite the holiday, most Reapers are disturbed by their lack of manners and behavior.

In the episode, "Reapercussions" (Season 1 Episode 4), it is noted that if a Reaper does not take an assigned soul, a "hunting season" will be declared by the Gravelings, who will pester the Reaper until that soul is taken and order is restored. Some of the Reapers, including George, Roxy, Mason, and Daisy, are plagued by the wrath of Gravelings throughout the series.

A Graveling rose from the body of Ray in "Forget Me Not" (Season 2, Episode 12) following his murder at the hands of a Reaper. This Graveling retained Ray's mind or some other connection to his life, as it stayed close to Daisy and George's house (where Ray was killed) and expressed anger toward Daisy and Mason for Ray's death. It was also responsible for an unscheduled death at one of Daisy's reaps. The Graveling was later reaped by George, upon which it turned to dust; in the episode entitled "Always" (Season 2 Episode 14).

There is evidence that George was able to see Gravelings when she was a child; in the episode entitled "The Shallow End" (Season 2, Episode 4) George sees Gravelings as she sinks into a swimming pool, with the Gravelings appearing to hesitate from claiming her life (although it is not clear whether she actually saw the Gravelings), and again in "Haunted" (Season 2, Episode 15) George recalls a Halloween afternoon during her youth when as a young girl she saw a Graveling scurrying around in the background behind a man who, after she became a Reaper, she realizes is a serial killer.

Creation myth

The reapers are told that in the beginning, God created Death and not knowing what to do with it, kept it in an urn and gave it to a frog and a toad for safekeeping. They didn't keep it safe and Death was released; more specifically, according to the opening narration, Toad was asked by God to watch the urn, but Toad was pestered into giving it to Frog, who proceeded to juggle the jar from hand to hand and break it. As a symbolic reference to this story, George is occasionally shown with an Argentine Horned Frog (also known as a Pacman frog) which was shown during the narration of the story.

Behind the scenes

Awards

Year Group Award Result For
2004 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Best Actress in a Television Series Ellen Muth
Best Syndicated/Cable Television Series
Emmy Awards Outstanding Music Composition for a Series (Dramatic Underscore) Episode: Pilot
Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Series Episode: Pilot
International Horror Guild Best Television
Satellite Awards Best Performance by an Actress in a Series, Drama Ellen Muth
2005 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Best Syndicated/Cable Television Series
Image Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Jasmine Guy


Ratings

The show's complete ratings were not released, though executives had claimed to at least one reporter that Dead Like Me had ratings three times Showtime's primetime average. This contradicts the network's statement that the ratings were not high enough for a third season. When questioned by critics about the ratings in January 2005, Showtime Chairman and CEO Matthew Blank responded "I really don't think we know...."

Fuller's departure

Bryan Fuller left early in the first season due to conflicts with MGM Television, including disagreement over major script and storyline cuts considered important to the main theme. He stated that the "lack of professionalism... made it really difficult... it was like being at war... they were constantly trying to strong arm me. It was the worst experience of my life." According to Fuller, Showtime canceled the show due to "a loss of quality and a sense the problems would continue."

References



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