Sunday, September 23, 2012

Enough, But It Still Didn't Deserve To Die This Way: Dead Like Me Season Two!

The Good: Good acting, Engaging characters, Funny, Interesting stories
The Bad: Repetitive storyline, Cut short
The Basics: George and the Grim Reapers continue their adventures while they all experience more richness to life than most of the living.

For all who have have not read my review of season one of Dead Like Me, (that’s here!) let me start with the crash course; Georgia (George) Lass was 18 years old when she died on her lunch break. Instead of resting peacefully, however, she was initiated into the profession of Grim Reaper. Unlike the stereotype, Reapers are not cloaked, hooded beings, they're just like they were when they were alive. They don't cause death, they just release the souls of the living and guide them toward their final resting place.

The second season of Dead Like Me opens with George continuing her undead work of being a Reaper while letting go of the attachments of her former life, namely her family. George learns to find her own path as her parent's divorce and her mother starts dating. Her boss - in the Reaper world - Rube, begins to deal with unfinished business of his own, an act that should be fraught with consequences . . .

. . . except the series ended.

The second season of Dead Like Me is a trip away from what many might expect of the show. The first season was very much George's story. The second season departs frequently from George and focuses instead on those around her: Rube, Joy, Mason, Roxy, and Reggie. And the truth of the matter is, the second season is pretty much enough. Unfortunately, Dead Like Me's ratings plummeted in the second season and Showtime did not pick it up for a third season. Hence, the odd title to this review; there's just enough Dead Like Me between the first and second season, but it still didn't deserve to go down hard, like it did. It seems reasonable - given where the series ends - that a film could be made to tie up the loose ends, especially in the Rube storyline.

The show suffers from its original concept; people die in crazy ways every week and it's the undead - the reapers - who seem to live the most and experience the widest array of the human condition.

As someone with a social conscience, I actually have to say that one of the most disturbing aspects of the second season of Dead Like Me is the smoking scene at the end of one of the episodes. While on a job, the whole group works together to remove the souls of a batch of people who experience a tragedy. Their cover, for no well-defined reason, is that they are a group of smokers standing outside the building. The camera dwells long enough on it, and they speak enough about it, that it becomes bothersome. Like we, the viewers, are supposed to not see the transparency of the cigarette ad. It's disappointing and beneath this series.

What Dead Like Me has that is outstanding is its characters. Here is how the second season finds them:

George - Largely quits being a slacker, learns some responsibility and begins to reach out to those in her new life, like Rube and Dolores. She lets go of her past more and more and comes into her own,

Rube - Begins to take some time away from his mentoring and his mysterious mission seems to fly in the face of all he has told George about the rules of being a Reaper. His parental instinct begins to evolve,

Roxy - Bored with simply being a Reaper, hanging out with other Reapers, and working as a metermaid, Roxy empowers herself to become a police officer and she finds purpose and a strange joy,

Mason - Sadly, his sobriety does not last. Instead, Mason begins to isolate all those around him in ways that force him into situations that push him away from most of the group, but closer to Daisy,

Daisy - The egocentric Reaper becomes vastly more empathetic as she attempts to revive her acting career, falls prey to a maniacal director, and experiences horrors that she did not know while alive,

Reggie - Her obsession with death grows and she begins to experiment and grow as a child into a young adult, frequently pushing her mother away,

Joy - Reggie and George's mom seems to get the short end of every stick in her familial relationships this season, which causes her to look elsewhere. She becomes exceptionally empathetic and her budding romance with a landlord is one of the changes in the show that is very enjoyable to watch,

Clancy - While George's death caused cracks in his relationship with Joy, the affairs he's had now expand them to fissures. He finds himself on the outside,

and Dolores Herbig - "Millie's" boss at Happy Time, Dolores works hard to bring Millie (George's alter-ego) out and her appearances are much of the comedy of Dead Like Me.

The cast remains a strong ensemble and they work well together. Jasmine Guy is fabulous in each and every one of her scenes. She plays Roxy with strength, dignity and an intriguing quality of aloofness that draws the viewer to her. Mandy Patinkin is great as Rube. He has a gentle strength and wisdom to him that binds the show together. Patinkin is a good enough actor to let others work a scene while maintaining his distance; his presence is never intrusive or overbearing. That's great acting.

Ellen Muth continues to dazzle as George. She has a simplicity and beauty to her that is very genuine in her portrayal of George. She has a good sense of comic timing and her voice-overs for the show have the ability to explore a full range from quirky to insightful.

It is, however, Cynthia Stevens whose acting steals the show for the second season of Dead Like Me. Stevens evolves the unlikable character of Joy well beyond the writing. She has an expert control of her face and voice, softening almost imperceptibly as her character is challenged or damaged. And when she does smile, Stevens provides an inner glow that truly transforms her character. She's the consummate professional.

Who will like Dead Like Me? Those who enjoyed season one, certainly, though they must be prepared for a completely different direction. People who enjoy Six Feet Under (reviewed here!) and want something to watch that is similarly themed, but far less depressing are likely to get a kick out of the contrast of Dead Like Me. Dead Like Me is not, however, for those with a short tolerance for repetition or those who are made uncomfortable by death in general.

It's too bad Dead Like Me did not have a chance to explore the consequences of the events of the second season, but we are left with a four-disc set that is just enough to make us appreciate the series.

For other works Bryan Fuller is associated with, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Pushing Daisies - Season 1
“Empok Nor” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
“The Darkness And The Light” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine


For other television reviews, be sure to visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2012, 2007, 2005 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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