I caught the two-hour premeire episode of Showtime's latest original series, Dead Like Me, which could be subtitled My So-Called Afterlife. It's about an whiny, self-absorbed 18-year old female college dropout named George who, while on her lunch break from her dead-end filing job, gets hit by a flaming toilet seat from the Mir space station after an encounter with an odd pedestrian. It doesn't hurt, because her soul was removed just before impact by the pedestrian, who was actually a "grim reaper", one of the undead whose job it is to greet souls after dying and direct them to their final destination. It so happens that the man who tagged George was a reaper, and now she gets to take his place. Reapers, you see, carry out their duties until they reach a certain unspecified quota and are allowed to move on. Now our George is one, and isn't very happy about it. Reapers are, convienently, corporeal and are able to interact in the world of the living, but they don't look like they did when they were alive. For the first hour, she's tutored in reaping by three other reapers played by Mandy Patinkin, Rebecca Gayheart and Callum Blue as they go about liberating souls whose number has come up. There's a particularly clever scene in a bank, in which they have to figure out who's the unlucky person before his time comes. The second half is given over to George's angst about not being able to return to her family, who she didn't get along with very well when she was alive, and her first assignment, which she doesn't want to complete. I must admit I got a little teary-eyed at the end of the second hour.
I thought this is a very witty and quite imaginative series, even though it does borrow from a number of sources. A lot depends on what you think about theories of predestination– whether you think that we have a set course that's predetermined for us or whether everything happens by chance, skill and luck. I tend to fall in the latter camp, but I was able to overlook it. Ellen Muth as George is a bit gnomish and hard to like at first, but she gets better as things go on. The supporting cast is very good, even though their characters are written as a bit self-consciously hip. Next week's episode looks like it's going to be devoted to George and her former family, and might be a bit tiresome and soap-opera-ish...but I'm gonna give it a chance anyway. You could do worse, as well.