A matter of life and death: Why ‘Dead Like Me’ needs a revival
It’s been fourteen years since Dead Like Me was cancelled by Showtime after two spectacular seasons. The show’s creator Bryan Fuller left the show after just five episodes due to what he described as being a “traumatic experience dealing with the MGM TV Studio people,” adding it was “the worst type of gross old boy studio experience you could imagine.”
Speaking with Media Village in 2005 (a year after the show was cancelled), Fuller explained that the show’s network wasn’t to blame for the show ending before its time. “Showtime was feeling the frustration as well. They weren’t satisfied with the storytelling on the show, and we were all frustrated with MGM. When Showtime cancelled the series, it was actually a bit of a relief.”
However, that’s not to say the cancellation was an easy one to accept, particularly not for fans who continue to think fondly of it and wish that it would have been given the longevity it deserved. Many fans even believe it deserves the opportunity at being revived on the small screen in some way today. Since Dead Like Me first premiered and ended, there have been some changes made to the television landscape that could help nurture such an idea.
Most notably, there are plenty of SVOD services that would be unafraid to take a risk on such a niche, dark program and allow it to be developed without heavy studio interference, giving it the space it would need to grow.
We aren’t exactly the biggest fans of reboots or revivals here at Film Daily, but we could probably make an exception for Dead Like Me. The show is easily one of the most undervalued and unique TV gems of its time and we desperately wish there were more episodes of it to be enjoyed.
And no, we don’t count that straight-to-DVD flaming garbage fire of a film Dead Like Me: Life After Death because holy crap – let’s all pretend it never happened and move swiftly on. For those of you who have somehow made it this far in the article without knowing the first thing of what made Dead Like Me so great, let’s start with the basic premise.
The show is about a salty 18-year-old named George (Ellen Muth) who dies suddenly after being hit on the head by a space toilet. Or, more accurately, a toilet seat that falls from the Mir space station – not that this explanation makes the scenario any more normal.
In death, George is tasked with a new job of being the Grim Reaper in which she works alongside other reapers (such as a brash cop, a whimsical actress, and a mischievous Brit) to collect people’s souls in the brief moments before they kick the bucket. She also still has to hold down a temp job because even the afterlife is full of bullshit bureaucracy, apparently.
We follow George’s post-life life alongside that of her grieving, dysfunctional family as they struggle to make sense of their new normal. The show subsequently dances between scenes of pitch black comedy, poignant explorations of life and mortality, and quirky supernatural drama with perfect and often breezy finesse.
There’s a whole lot to love about George as a character. For one thing, she’s crafted with great complexity and depth – but for another, her life is oddly relatable for a dead girl with a weird-ass career path. In the afterlife, she’s paired up with a fella called Rube (played by the always endearing Mandy Patinkin) who serves as her mentor and father figure and who assigns her all of her reaping duties. And it’s in her daily interactions with Rube that we witness her frustrations and existential plight.
Despite centering on the story of a dead girl, the show does a phenomenal job at highlighting the pains of growing up and the confusion of life. Turns out that even in the afterlife you still deal with the same crushing over-analysis of missteps that you take as a living and breathing teenage girl.
As Margaret Lyons perfectly put it for Vulture, the show provides a painful retrospective of adolescent behaviours. “Why was I so mean my parents? . . . Why did I say no to so many things it would have been easy to say yes to? You don’t have to be dead to wonder those things as you age out of adolescence.”
Ultimately, Lyons suggested, the show is one of those rarities that doesn’t solely revolve around a young woman realizing her romantic potential. “Dead Like Me isn’t about George finding herself through the gentleness and thrill of romance – it’s about her finding herself through the cruelty and randomness of grief.”
Most major fans of the show were likely teenagers or only just clamoring desperately out of the confusing abyss of adolescence into their twenties when they first fell in love with Dead Like Me. In that way, it was probably the most perfect show to encounter at such a pivotal time – particularly if you were of a macabre disposition or dealing with issues of deep grief in your own life.
Fifteen years after it premiered and we’re all a little bit wiser and more experienced. If we’re lucky, we may even know the answers to some of those questions Dead Like Me raised about life, death, and existence during its extraordinary (if troubled) two seasons.
But more than likely, we’re all still scratching our heads over these same existential mysteries even if we know better now than to dwell too much on the unexplainable or the truly agonizing.
What Dead Like Me always proposed is that sometimes shit just happens – including deadly toilet seats failing from the sky. But we all just have to figure out our own ways to shrug our shoulders, move on with our lives, and do the best that we can while we’re still living. Now that we’re all fully fledged grown ups able to get all misty-eyed and nostalgic for the show, we also crave closure for it. The older we get, the more we wish we had more time with George and the universe Dead Like Me presented.
All we’re suggesting is that it isn’t too late to bring Dead Like Me back from the dead. At least for one last swing of the old scythe.