The Austin Chronicle

Dead Girl Talking

TV Eye

By Belinda Acosta, June 27, 2003, Screens

After Six Feet Under (HBO) legitimized death as a subject matter, it was only a matter of time before there were imitators. Even the Cartoon Network took a stab at the subject with The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy. The toon, now expanded to a half-hour, features children who befriend the Grim Reaper and follows their adventures in the Earthly and spirit world. Now, Showtime approaches the subject with Dead Like Me, a new series that moves the focus from those left behind to those dearly departed.

The dramedy stars Ellen Muth (Dolores Claiborne) as Georgia "George" Lass, an 18-year-old teen so intensely sullen and cynical, she makes Everwood's sulking Ephram Brown look positively slaphappy. George has such a deep apathy toward life, it's amazing her somatic system hasn't automatically shut down for lack of stimulation. As fate would have it, stimulation comes to George in the form of space debris that turns her into urban road kill. For unknown reasons, she begins her afterlife as the newest member of a team of grim reapers tutored by the fatherly Rube (Mandy Patinkin) and his crew: Mason (Callum Blue), Roxy (Jasmine Guy), and Betty (Rebecca Gayheart).

As a reaper, George is now responsible for "soul-taking" from those about to die by accident, murder, or suicide. She will have to reach an unknown quota, for an undetermined amount of time, before her own soul can move on. Move on to where? That's one of the series' big questions: What is a soul, and where does it go once the body dies? Does fate exist, and if so, is it inalterable? Dead Like Me deals with these and other coffeehouse musings with a wry touch, mostly through George's much used -- make that, overused -- voice-overs.

Also bothersome are several loose ends. One involves a humorous prologue regarding how death came to Earth. The story, as told by George (in voice-over), resembles the Pandora's box story, but features a frog that breaks the vessel holding death. Apparently intended to be a recurring motif, it instead dangles like a white thread on black cloth. Before George dies, she meets a handsome young man in the office where she temps. He appears to be attracted to her deadpan humor, but nothing comes of it. Yet, he shows up at her wake with a bouquet of balloons, much to her mother's dismay. And when George conducts her first soul-taking, there's a baffling moment when witnesses to the event carry on as if she were invisible, after it's been established that she can be seen and heard. While these head-scratching moments make viewers take pause, the absurd humor and situations of Dead Like Me almost always pull you back in.

In supporting roles, Guy (A Different World) is wonderfully ferocious as Roxy. Cynthia Stevenson (Hope & Gloria), who ordinarily plays perky women, overturns that image playing George's joyless mother, Joy. Prone to acerbic scene chewing in Chicago Hope, Patinkin is thankfully reined in and almost cuddly in scenes with Muth.

As George, Muth gives a sophisticated turn to what could be a one-note performance. As she comes to accept her circumstances, she realizes that her death was a wake-up call, and as the series progresses, it's clear George will learn what it means to live life -- even if it's an afterlife.

Dead Like Me premieres Friday at 9pm on Showtime.

Coming in July

Austin comic Sean Kent has made it to the final cast of 10 in Last Comic Standing: The Search for the Funniest Person in America. Kent now moves into a mansion with his fellow contestants and will face off in weekly stand-up battles. Viewers decide who wins the big prize -- a talent contract with NBC. Last Comic Standing airs Tuesdays at 8pm on NBC.

Banzai, "a wild spoof of Japanese game shows," premieres July 13 at 7:30pm on Fox.

On Bravo: Gay fashionistas take a straight man and tutor him in all things "metrosexual" (as Warren St. John explained in Sunday's The New York Times) on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. On Boy Meets Boy, a handsome gay man looks for a love connection among eight potential mates in a luxurious love shack. Did I mention the part about the straight men secretly planted among the boy toys? Hell-oh-oh! Queer Eye premieres July 15 at 9pm. It's TBA on the Boy Meets Boy premiere.

The Emmy Award nominees will be announced July 17.

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