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TV on DVD: This Dead be not proud

In television on 02/17/2009 at 9:05 am

I was so looking forward to the DVD movie Dead Like Me: Life After Death that my expectations were cranked way too high. I loved the series on which this movie is based, a two-season affair that aired in Canada on Showcase and which was very clever, touching and blackly funny. The series begins with an introduction to George (Ellen Muth), a grumpy young woman still living at home and with no inclination to take the next step in her life. And then … well, I will let you discover how she comes to join the Seattle-area reapers. You see, when some of us die, we move on. Others, they become reapers, living a kind of purgatory in which the penance is collecting the souls of the soon-to-depart. Failure to collect the soul is not at all good for either the intended dead or the reaper. The boss, or a sub boss because the big boss does not get a credit here, is played by Mandy Patinkin and is called Rube. He is a tough boss, but soft on the inside. Into this mix, toss fellow reapers who are in various states of peace with their temporary assignments. Daisy (Laura Harris) can be a viper, but batts her eyelashes and the effect is very cute. Slacker Mason (Callum Blue) escapes whatever responsibility he can, but in the end… well in the end they’re all decent. Roxy Harvey (Jasmine Guy) is all law and order, down to her police uniform. You see despite having daily soul-claiming assignments, these reapers also have to make a living, so to speak. George passes her days in a cubical farm, under the flamboyantly crazy direction of cat-lover Delores (Christine Willes).

The third leg of this very sturdy footstool of a series George’s relationship with her family; reapers appear as they did in life to everyone except those who knew them, so George encounters her family more often than Rube would like, but they see a stranger. What George sees is a family sagging with grief at her absence: her mother, played by Cynthia Stevenson, is still fuming at herself and George for the argument they had before … well, you’ll see. It could all be stupid and ham-fisted. Instead, it is a darkly modern It’s a Wonderful Life, with no waking up at the end. It’s a blend of absurdist workplace comedy, family drama and existential comedy.

And then there’s the movie. The first sign of trouble was with the promos at the beginning of the preview DVD, featuring two teen-targetted movies whose names I instantly forgot. Teens? While Dead Like Me was about an older teenage girl it was not the kind of thing I’d think would attract kids. After wading into the movie, I am very disappointed to see that the movie essentially treats the excellent series as a sketch for a lame-ass movie seemingly aimed not at teens but at stupid teens, or teens who are playing a video game while watching. Henry Ian Cusick (oh Desmond, go back to Lost and get on that boat and just sail away) is the new reaper boss and he is all efficiency. George breaks some major rules. I… well I got about three-quarters through and then bailed out. Crushed. I had hoped there would be life after the death of Dead Like Me, cut down so young after only two seasons. But no.

Do me a favour? Rent the series, which is also out this week on DVD in a whole-series set. It’s a great piece of work. Even my then 64-year-old mother was hooked on it when she visited a couple of years ago. But do not rent this standalone movie, released on its own.

On a happier note, here are some other TV releases new on DVD this week:
Murder She Wrote: The Complete Ninth Season
High School Musical 3: Senior Year
Wycliffe: Series 1
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The Eighth Year
Sabrina the Teenage Witch: The Fifth Season
The Beverly Hillbillies: The Official Third Season
The F Word: Series 1
The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest: The Complete First Season (1996)
Inspector Gadget’s Last Case
Classic Fairy Tales Vol. 1 and 2
— Denise Duguay


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