Life after death — and the notion of the "grim reaper" as a taker of human souls — could well be one of the oldest clichés in literature.
But through clever acting and interesting writing, it's a premise that works for the new Showtime original series Dead Like Me.
Georgia "George" Lass (Ellen Muth) is an 18-year-old college dropout living with her folks in Seattle with no goals or direction. Until one day, while out on break from a temp job, she's killed by the toilet seat of a plummeting former Soviet space station. She winds up neither in heaven nor in hell, but as the member of a team of grim reapers, tapped because the reaper who'd tapped her had just filled his quota.
Directionless in life, George now has a role in death, but one she's not comfortable with. She also becomes a stranger to her own family, who, like other living humans, can't recognize her reaper persona — including domineering, neurotic mother Joy, portrayed brilliantly by Cynthia Stevenson, giving perhaps the show's most consistently strong performance.
She joins a dysfunctional family of reapers whom, like Georgia in life, seem to be going through the motions. They're led by Rube (Mandy Patkinkin), the kind-but-firm leader and the only member of the group who seems to have a sense of mission (to make the difficulty of death less painful for the newly departed's souls).
His associates — burnout Mason (Callum Blue), "day job" metermaid Roxy (Jasmine Guy) and preening Betty (Rebecca Gayheart) are for the most part the afterlife version of office drones, never questioning what they're doing or why they're doing it. George's need to do so — and to make contact with her mother and quirky sister Reggie, a big taboo — only lead to her isolation.
The show's pilot episode was by far the strongest episode of those provided to reviewers.
Episodes two and three drag a bit, and are at their best when George is attempting to make contact with the family. With luck, the reaper taboo against family contact won't cheat viewers of this dynamic past episode three.
Dead Like Me
bowed June 27 at 10 p.m. ET; the first three episodes re-air in a mini-marathon on July 12.