Dead Like Me was a Showtime series that ran two seasons in 2003-2004, created by Bryan Fuller (Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies). Like his other work, it combined a high-concept fantasy premise with interesting, unusual personalities. I had high hopes for seeing these characters again, but I should have realized you can’t get back what you miss after it dies. You have to move forward, and this made-for-DVD movie doesn’t.
The main idea revolves around watching everyone get seduced by money and success, fodder for an after-school special about how power corrupts. Watching the characters learn that they need to focus on their job instead of being distracted by temptation teaches a lesson show viewers (and the characters) already learned five years ago. This movie doesn’t have the black humor of the episodes, nor does it answer the questions left from those previous encounters. (To be fair, many of them revolved around Rube’s character, so that’s kind of a problem.)
Rube (Mandy Patinkin, not participating in the film) only appears in the comic book pages that reintroduce the premise. There, he’s drawn as a non-descript schlub who hands out post-its with assignments. But the artist, Trevor Goring, doesn’t seem particularly good at likenesses, based on how he draws George.
Grim Reaper George Lass (Ellen Muth) reads the captions to us. (I liked the comic book-style intro, explaining how God let Death into the world, although I could read it fine on my own.) Before, she was the teen who anchored the show. Now, she’s been doing this for five years and seems even more jaded than before, if that’s possible. She’s also a little rougher-looking.
We have the twisted idiot Brit Mason back (I was surprised to see Callum Blue recently in the second season of Secret Diary of a Call Girl), and Jasmine Guy as cool cop Roxy, but the blonde actress has been replaced by someone even more indistinguishable than before (Sarah Wynter). Der Waffle Haus has burned down, allowing for a change of setting to a fancy wine bar, where they work with a creepy new high-living leader (Henry Ian Cusick, who also plays Desmond on Lost).
My favorite, surprisingly, to return was Mom (Cynthia Stevenson), who’s running a grief group for parents. Reggie, the younger sister (Britt McKillip), was a revelation. She’s now 16, and quite a teen. And Dolores! Dolores (Christine Willes), the day job boss, is back, trying to show her dying cat a good time before he passes. While George plays catch-the-viewer-up, Roxy, Mason, and Blondie go on a joint reap, which is funny.
Overall, while this had its moments, it felt like a waste of time. New viewers will have little to connect with; old fans may be dissatisfied with the feeling of repetition. My favorite parts of the episode came near the end: first, being reminded of the little girl reaper who has a special mission, and second, seeing the odd rain that happens to George.
The reason I enjoyed the show was because I took a dark pleasure in seeing how close to death everyone was on a daily basis. These characters were interesting in a series; in a movie, they’re slight, and mostly, I was reminded of the departed show I missed. You can’t go home again, or die twice.
If you’d like to try the series, which is recommended with the caveat that it ends too soon, I recommend the Complete Collection. Its nine discs include both TV seasons and this movie.
The featurette, “Back From the Dead: Resurrecting Dead Like Me“, is about how happy the cast and crew were to return and how great it was to work with each other again. A commentary features Muth and director Stephen Herek. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the studio.)