D is for “Dead Like Me”
R.I.P. by Kerry E.B. Black
From 2003-2004, Showtime ran an interesting television series originated by Bryan Fuller called “Dead Like Me.” This lighthearted look at the afterlife followed Georgia “George” Lass and her associates.
At eighteen, George (Ellen Muth) possessed little interest in anything. She dropped out of school, ignored her little sister, Reggie (Britt McKillip), and seemed to care little about any aspect of her life. Her mother Joy (Cynthia Stevenson) insisted George take a job, so the un-ambitious young woman began as a clerk at Happy Time Temp Service under the management of Delores Herbig (Christine Willes). On her lunch break, a toilet seat from the orbiting space station hit and killed her.
Instead of passing on, though, George found herself under the tutelage of Rube (Mandy Patinkin), the head of a group of not-s0-Grim Reapers. Instead of wearing classic black cloaks and carrying scythes, Reapers appeared as everyday people, different than their original forms. However, on Halloween, all Reapers appear as they did in life. Also, psychics and mediums can see through their disguise. They worked “day jobs” and collected their reaping “assignments” at a daily meeting at the Der Waffle Haus. The assignments contained a name, a location, and an ETD (estimated time of death).
The Reaper’s touch loosened a soul so that upon their demise, they could move on to the afterlife. Everyone’s afterlife looked different. For example, for a child, it appeared as an amusement park. The Reapers encouraged the recently departed toward their personal light. Once an undisclosed “quota” of souls had been reaped, the Reaper moved on to their own ending.
George had a hard time adjusting to her new situation. She learned by refusing to reap a soul, either the soul would wither and rot inside a person who outlived his predetermined death, or the soul became trapped in a dead body, experiencing their own autopsies, funerals, and burials.
Reapers did not kill. Gravelings, frightening, ill-mannered monkey-men contrived often outlandish, Rube Goldberg Machine-like ends for people. As a youth, George saw Gravelings in the bottom of a pool and in the person of a serial killer.
George worked alongside other Reapers, appearing as “Milly” to the living. Betty Rhomer (Rebecca Gayheart) trained her until she “hitched a ride” to the afterlife with a reaped soul by the fifth episode. Perky ex-actress Daisy Adair (Laura Harris) replaced her. Mason (Callum Blue) fell in love with Daisy and acted as big brother to George. Roxy (Jasmine Guy) hid her softer side behind overly aggressive behavior. Rube demonstrated fondness for George with patience and the nickname “Peanut.” When Reapers met George, they called her “Toilet Seat Girl” in a respectful acknowledgement of her unusual demise.
George’s family dealt poorly with her death. Her parents grew distant from one another. Her English professor father, Clancy (Greg Kean) began an affair with a student. Joy and Clancy divorced. Her younger sister, Reggie, insisted she could sense George. She began stealing toilet seats to hang in a tree as a memorial for her deceased sister. Joy grew more tightly wound and controlling as her life fell apart.
George served as the narrator and main protagonist. She grew from a disaffected teen into an independent-minded, compassionate young woman during the story arc. Bryan Fuller left due to artistic differences during the first season. John Masius and Stephen Godchaux took over directorship. The show’s dialogue was witty, though profanity-heavy. The language and many adult situations kept this as a comical, adults-only look into an interesting afterlife mythology that began when God asked Toad to guard the clay jar in which Death was kept. Frog broke the jar, setting Death free.
I was saddened when Showtime cancelled the award-nominated series but remember it with fondness.
*Image from my DVD box set.