DEAD LIKE ME: LIFE AFTER DEATH

R, 87 min, 2009

Director: Stephen Herek
Writers: Bryan Fuller (characters), John Masius (written by) and Stephen Godchaux (written by), Bryan Fuller (excerpts written by) & Dan E. Fesman (excerpts written by) (as Dan Fesman) & Harry Victor (excerpts written by) & J.J. Philbin (excerpts written by)

Stars: Ellen Muth, Callum Blue, Sarah Wynter

Movie versions of TV series are a perilous crapshoot in which any number of things can go wrong. Direct-to-DVD films are no better (see Babylon 5’s many post-series incarnations). Here then is a surprisingly entertaining TV movie-adaptation that juggles many things with varying degrees of success: it attempts to stick to the style of the original series, appealing to original viewers while also searching for accessibility to a new audience, it attempts to tell a stand-alone story that is going to be satisfying to both old and new viewers alike, and it also seems to be setting up a potential continuation of the franchise on DVD.

Brad Fuller’s Dead Like Me was a brilliant creation – a foul-mouthed, delightfully dark and clever, relatively short-lived (2 seasons) series on Showtime which ran from 2003-2005. Ellen Muth stars as George Lass, a one-time 18-year-old temp who was crushed by a toilet seat which fell from the Russian space station. Once dead, George was offered the chance to be a Grim Reaper, working for grumpy old father-figure Rube (played on TV by Mandy Patinkin) and teaming up with slutty would-be starlet Daisy (played on TV by Laura Harris, here by Sarah Wynter), tough, no-non-sense meter-maid turned cop Roxy (Jasmine Guy) and Skid Row-dwelling British drug addict Mason (Callum Blue of The Tudors).

Apparently, as the film picks up 5 years down the line from the series, some things have (inevitably) changed while others remain the same: George is still working for Happy Time, and cat enthusiast Delores Herbig (Christine Willes, from the show), while George’s sister Reggie (Britt McKillip, another series regular) is a 16 year old geek in high school pining for the star quarterback who secretly sees her behind his popular girlfriend’s back. In the world of the Reapers, however, Rube has gone on to his own little slice of heaven (“his lights,” as they call it), and so his mentoring/supervisory duties are taken over by Cameron Kane (Henry Ian Cusick of TV’s Lost), a cold-blooded, businessman type who has no sense of sentimentality, honor, responsibility or respect – all but George take to him almost immediately. Chaos ensues.

Before long, George is the responsible one, trying to deal with the SNAFUs caused by Cameron and his lack of policies, while the rest of the gang attempt to get by with half-assing it only to discover that the world of the dead has rules that are not flexible and never to be broken.

The film, made for DVD, was made by director-for-hire Stephen Herek (Holy Man, Rock Star), and sticks remarkably well to the style of the series. If I have any slight qualms it is with the bizarre comic book motif between sequences that was never part of the original series and doesn’t precisely fit here, nor have an apparent purpose. Series writers Stephen Godchaux and John Masius have done an admirable job of telling a stand-alone story in the style of the series, one which longtime fans and first-time viewers can probably appreciate; they don’t overdo the exposition, nor do they short-change us on the darkly comic wit and quirks of the original characters (bizarre, monotone secretary Chrystal even makes an appearance!).

In the end, I think this film is for long-time fans and, perhaps, newcomers as a primer for the series (or if you’ve seen the series recently and want to see a satisfying if simple conclusion). Nevertheless, this film is a lot of fun.

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