Dead Like Me: Life After Death
Russell Burlingame Reporting
While there has always been a kind of collegial relationship between science fiction/fantasy and comic books in American society, it was slightly odd to see people walking around the New York Comic Con, wearing little foam toilet seats around their necks to promote the direct-to-video Dead Like Me movie.
Based on the 2003 television show by Pushing Daisies and Heroes executive producer Bryan Fuller, Dead Like Me: Life After Death is the continuation of the story of Georgia "George" Lass, played by Ellen Muth, who was killed by a flaming toilet seat that fell to earth from a space station and who, rather than going to Heaven or Hell or wherever it is that the souls of dead folks go...well, she got tapped to be the one who makes people dead. George is a grim reaper-walking the earth in a physical form that resembles the appearance she perceives herself to have only slightly. The result is a kind of Quantum Leap-esque dance between herself and most of the characters she interacts with; they don't know what she's up to most of the time, and she has a very specific mission that she has to accomplish; she must come into physical contact with the soon-to-be deceased, or their soul won't be properly removed from the body, and as a result, they can instead be trapped on earth to suffer terribly.
During the television series, the small team of grim reapers that George was a part of was led by Rube-a curt man with a heart of gold, played by Mandy Patinkin. Patinkin was apparently unable, unwilling or unwelcome to reprise his role in the feature-length version, as Rube is referred to plenty...including making a brief appearance in the form of a comic book page that's used periodically as a framing device in the film. Still, he's never seen onscreen, not even in flashback, which leads me to believe that money may be at issue; the comic art was general enough that they probably got away without having to pay Patinkin likeness rights.
One of the other reapers-Laura Harris, of The Faculty and Women's Murder Club fame-was so busy with Women's Murder Club at the time that the Dead Like Me film was being shot, that she too vanished from the picture...but where Rube was just referred to as having "got his lights," the program's euphemism for going to Heaven, Harris was simply replaced. Whereas Laura Harris was young, svelte and glamorous, though, her replacement in the feature film is not. The result is that her many, many comments about her own beauty seem a little out-of-place.
The film had promised to wrap up some dangling plot threads from the TV show, and it really did not. There were a few stories that saw themselves wrapped here-as was already mentioned, Rube got his lights...there is a new boss in place at the start of this film, which the main thing driving the plot. The romantic tension between a pair of the reapers, which had always been obvious and never really dealt with during the show, is still there, and uncommented-upon. And Der Waffle Haus, the breakfast place where the gang had always met up to eat and get their assignments during the TV show, burned to the ground at the beginning of the film. It wouldn't have been unreasonable for most viewers to assume that Rube's disappearance had something to do with the fire-maybe that the "new boss" was in fact a villain-and while he does turn out to be something of a jackass, there's never any intimation that he had actually burned the waffle house. So apparently the timing of the new, sinister head reaper's first appearance and the destruction of their favorite hangout was all coincidence.
The film feels as though it was about half finished when, suddenly, they ran out of money and quick fixes had to be written to avoid paying more actors or spending more time shooting. There's no real central plot, and each of the stories that come up as "B"stories are easily disposed of. The thing that comes closest to passing for a real story-that George has to collect the soul of her little sister's high school sweetheart-finally gives fans something they've always known was going to happen in George "outing" herself to her sister, but even that is back to normal by the end of the episode, when George simply tells her sister that they can't hang out or talk anymore and the sister begs their mother to move out of this town where terrible memories keep them from moving on.
At the end of the day, there's little reason to watch this film. Something essential was lost in the TV-to-feature translation, and after a mini-marathon of the show on Sci-Fi channel in the days before the movie's release, it's safe to say that picking up and (re-)watching the original show will be a much better use of your time and money than shelling out good money to pick up the new-and-not-improved version just because it's a "new" episode.
Russell Burlingame is a journalist and columnist living and working in New York City. In high school, Russell interviewed Elliot S. Maggin for a review of the Kingdom Come novelization, and since then has worked consistently in and around the comics industry. He interned for Wizard magazine, and has freelanced for Wizard and Newsarama, in addition to a number of non-comics publications, Russell is currently working on a graphic novel based on Cap'n Internet, the comic strip that ran in his college newspaper; and a graphic biography of folk singer Phil Ochs with artist Marion Vitus.
Currently, in addition to his freelance work and his comics projects, Russell writes a number of columns for ComicRelated, including Conscientious Sequentials, The Gold Exchange, What's Perhappenin', Closing Statements, Reflecting 'Pool and To See or Not To See. Russell also takes point on the Hot Shot of the Week feature.
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