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Fri, Mar 24, 2017 03:25 AM
Wednesday, March 8, 2017 issue
2003-07-02 tracking life & times section
Showtimes answers 'Six Feet Under' with 'Dead Like Me'
Cletus Turner
HBO and Showtime are once again trying to outdo one another in original programming. HBO began the war with The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and Sex in the City. Showtime responded with Queer As Folk, Street Time and Resurrection Boulevard. Each show is quirky in its own way. The Sopranos and Sex in the City both are revered by the critics. Folk has doubled Showtime's ratings in its time period.

Now, Showtime has brought to the little screen a show that is meant to be a new spin on the "being dead" issue. Dead Like Me is an answer to Six Feet Under and is truly a nice piece of work. The story begins with Georgia "George" Lass, played by Ellen Muth. George is your average college dropout. She is cynical and really drives her parents to distraction. After taking as much as she can, her mother, Joy, played by Cynthia Stevenson forces George to get a job. George goes to the Happy Time Temp Agency where she is sent out to work as a file clerk. On her lunch break, George is killed when a toilet seat from the MIR space station hits her in the head.

Once she is dead, George meets the enigmatic Rube, played by Mandy Pantinkin. Rube is the leader of a band of Grim Reapers. All the reapers have one thing in common, they died with unresolved issues in their lives. Now, they will have to learn the lessons they should have learned while they were living.

George is placed with Mason, played by Callum Blue. Mason is a mischievous bad boy who George is attracted to from the first. However, Mason likes to let George flounder way too often. When George and Mason go on their first mission, George gets to watch some interesting fireworks. Mason asks George how she thinks the person will die. George mentions a banana peel on the floor. A bank robber comes in and threatens everyone, walking right past the banana peel. The action gets a little crazy as we find out that the loan officer is having an affair with one of the tellers, the wife has found out and she shows up. The wife accidentally shoots the gun she has with her, narrowly missing her "busy" husband upstairs and hits a tank of gas effectively destroying the second floor. The bank robber escapes, the wife is apprehended and a twenty-something kid slips on the banana peel and is killed when a revolving door closes on his head, thanks to a firefighter. Mason is miffed that George was right. The two then send the kid to his just reward. Not, of course, before George finds out where his apartment is so that she can live there. It seems the grim reapers have to live like everyone else. They have to deal with laundry, eating and getting a job because they don't get paid for being a grim reaper. Besides Mason and Rube, George meets Betty, played by Rebecca Gayheart and Roxy, played by Jasmine Guy. Betty is glitz and glamour. She is almost like a movie star, and George sees stars when around her. Mason and Betty both tell George that she cannot live with them because "a little while" turns into long term. That is why she had to take the apartment of the banana peel death.

The acting is superb on this show. It has moralistic attitudes without being heavy-handed. The question becomes whether the stories and top notch cinematography will continue. The camera angles lets the audience know something is just a little off kilter. We know that something strange has taken place from the moment George is killed and we try to figure out what is going on from there. The story telling is quick. We don't have to wait for the whole first hour to find out what is going on, we find out fairly early. Muth is perfect as the little girl lost. She wears a confused and flustered look constantly. I believed every second of her performance and that is unusual for one so young. Patinkin, Blue, Gayheart, Guy and Stevenson all play their sometimes disturbing parts rather well. It is hard to see where the show is going and that is a good thing. When you know what the writers are planning from the beginning you don't want to watch the show.

Overall, Dead Like Me is a truly original piece of work. It blends good acting with excellent story-telling. The freshness of the show is great, but the question will remain whether the writers and actors can keep the show fresh and exciting.

4 suns

Notes from the couch:

For those who really love science fiction, the death of Buffy The Vampire Slayer was hard to take. Never fear, the networks are bringing in new and unusual stories for you. For instance, on CBS Joan of Arcadia stars Joe Montegna and is about a police detective's daughter who hears God speak to her. This is unusual because the voice is constantly changing. How's that for strange?

I say, again, that I like the fact that the original programming is on HBO and Showtime. They do not have their programming following the same sweeps times that the regular networks do. However, why is it that they don't let us know when the premieres are? I missed several premieres because I couldn't find out when they were to air. Not a good thing, when you want people to watch!

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