Created by Bryan Fuller
Theme music composer Stewart Copeland
Final episode date 31 October 2004
Narrated by Ellen Muth
Country of origin United States
Theme song Dead Like Me Theme Song
|Starring Ellen MuthLaura HarrisCallum BlueJasmine GuyCynthia StevensonMandy Patinkin|
Cast Ellen Muth, Callum Blue, Mandy Patinkin, Jasmine Guy, Laura Harris
Dead Like Me is an American comedy-drama television series starring Ellen Muth and Mandy Patinkin as grim reapers who reside and work in Seattle, Washington. Filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, the show was created by Bryan Fuller for the Showtime cable network, where it ran for two seasons (2003–04). Fuller left the show five episodes into Season 1 because of creative differences; creative direction was taken over by executive producers John Masius and Stephen Godchaux. A direct-to-DVD movie titled Dead Like Me: Life After Death was released on February 17, 2009, with an option to restart the series.
- Main plot
- Bryan Fullers departure
- Georges family
- Happy Time Temporary Services
- Miscellaneous characters
- Grim reapers
- Direct to DVD film
Eighteen-year-old Georgia "George" Lass (Ellen Muth) is the show's protagonist and narrator. George dies early in the pilot episode and becomes one of the "undead", a "grim reaper". George soon learns that a reaper's job is to remove the souls of people, preferably just before they die, and escort them until they move on into their afterlife. George's death leaves behind her mother (Cynthia Stevenson) and the rest of her family at a point when her relationships with them were on shaky ground.
The show explores the experiences of a small team of such reapers, as well as the changes in George and her family as they deal with George's death.
The first scene of the pilot episode introduces an origin-of-death myth where at the dawn of time, god (busy with creation) gave Toad a clay jar containing death which Toad promised to guard. Frog begged Toad to hold the jar, something to which Toad finally agreed. An excited Frog juggled the jar and finally dropped it, shattering it to the ground. When it broke open, death got out.
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. During her lunch break on her first day, she is hit and killed by a toilet seat falling from the deorbiting Mir space station. She is soon informed that, rather than moving on to the "great beyond", she will become a grim reaper in the External Influence Division, collecting souls of people who die in accidents (many of which have a Rube Goldberg-style complexity), and homicides. Each reaper has a secret quota of souls; and, once the quota is met, the reaper moves on to another realm and the last soul reaped then takes his or her job collecting souls.
In Season 1, George has trouble adjusting to her circumstances—collecting souls while holding down a day job. By Season 2, she has mostly adjusted to her new role, with few 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. Her father, Clancy (Greg Kean), is having an affair. Her sister, Reggie (Britt McKillip), acts out – stealing toilet seats from neighbors and school and hanging them on a tree – until her mother sends her to therapy. Reggie clings to the belief that George visits her, but she is starting to lie to cover this up. At the start of Season 2, the family begins to break apart as Joy and Clancy divorce.
All of the main characters have issues with their life after death, but they cope with it in different ways: Mason (Callum Blue) resorts to alcohol and drugs; Daisy (Laura Harris) puts on a veneer of perkiness; and Roxy (Jasmine Guy) is physically and verbally aggressive. Rube (Mandy Patinkin) and George are more straightforward about their sadness.
Bryan Fuller's departure
Bryan Fuller left early Season 1 because of 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." Actress Rebecca Gayheart also departed the show after the series' fifth episode.
Happy Time Temporary Services
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. One becomes a reaper by being the last soul collected when one's own reaper meets his or her secret quota.
In the series, 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 the list of names becoming corporeal only 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 receive only 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 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 other people dying because of actions taken by the person who should have died.
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, while Mason has sustained what should have been fatal damage on multiple occasions, such as being shot and hit by a car), 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 when they were alive to those who knew them, except on Halloween when the living see them as they were in life, and fellow reapers always see their original appearances.Although George is seen by her family and Delores as "Millie," Rube's image was recognizable by a records clerk in a wanted poster seen while Rube and the clerk were doing some research into his past life. Laura Boddington portrays lead character George's 'undead' appearance in the TV series, with Jennifer Rae Westley playing her in the later film. Supporting evidence that others can see their "original" faces is upheld by Kiffany, who does not notice any alterations to their appearances on Halloween, and by numerous one off characters who comment on George's physical appearance (brown eyes, etc.) that would not match her 'undead' appearance.
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 them to do so.
Groups of reapers are organized into "divisions" according to various causes of death. Generally, reapers are assigned to a division based upon their own cause of death; Mason tells George in a deleted scene that most of the members of the Plague Division died because of the Plague. 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). (In the pilot episode, the viewer is led to believe that the Plague Division members have been reapers for centuries and will be unable to meet their quota, as plague deaths have become so rare.) While the members of Rube's team of reapers are instructed to never reap animals, George (and Reggie) do meet a child reaper who reaps the souls of animals — suggesting that there may be a fourth division that exists for this purpose. The teams are 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 cover only a limited area in Seattle and King County, Washington, with reaper Daisy Adair transferring from SoHo area of New York City
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 (in the form of Rube Goldberg machine scenarios) 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 desecrating 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. During this time they display the odd habit of stacking objects into precarious, humanoid towers.
In the episode "Reapercussions" (Season 1 Episode 4), it is noted that if a reaper interferes with and prevents a scheduled death, 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. Later, in the episode "Always" (Season 2 Episode 14), the graveling was reaped by George, upon which it turned to dust.
There is evidence that George was able to see gravelings when she was a child; in the episode "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.
Viewers are told that in the beginning, god (lower case "g" as explicitly stated in the narration) created death and not knowing what to do with it, kept it in a sealed urn. Toad was asked by god to watch the urn but Frog pestered Toad into giving it to him. Frog proceeded to juggle the jar from foot to foot and accidentally dropped it, thus letting 'death' out, whereby everything from that point on had to die. As a symbolic reference to this story, George is frequently shown caring for an albino Argentine Horned Frog (also known as a Pacman frog) identical to the one shown during the opening narration.
On April 18, 2007, MGM announced that they were developing several direct-to-DVD movies and sequels. First among them was 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 16, 2009 on SuperChannel in Canada. In the movie, the role of Daisy is played by Sarah Wynter. Rube does not appear (he reportedly had moved on), but is mentioned by the characters; the new leader of the reapers is Cameron Kane, played by Henry Ian Cusick.
La-La Land Records released a soundtrack containing the original score to the series composed by Stewart Copeland on May 25, 2010, as a limited release of 3000 units.
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 contrasts with the network's statement that the ratings were not high enough for a third season. The ratings for the series premiere were 1.11 million, a record for a Showtime series premiere that was not beaten until the premiere of Shameless seven years later.