Friday, May 24, 2013

Dead Like Me, Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot

In an interesting way to introduce the protagonist, George (Georgia) Lass narrates a myth about how death got into the world – with lots of fun snarkiness.  Then shows us her and her cynical, too-cool-to-care, but definitely sarcastic view of the world, being good, caring et al. Bad people are punished by society’s law (we see an armed robber get gunned down by the police) and good people are killed by murphy’s law (we see a woman trying to coax a cat from a tree, falling and dying).

Georgia is sat in a waiting room when Delores, her Happy Time Career Councillor (who is very happy indeed), comes to collect her. Georgia has a… thin CV with little experience or education (she has Food Management experience –apparently a fast-food worker). Delores comments on how less-than-sunny Georgia is especially since being so happy got Delores so far and Georgia returns with her cutting observation of how not very far that is.

At home we get a sarcastic run down of her family, her mother playing the “I told you so” game about Georgia quitting college and Georgia being snarky and passive aggressive and wilfully using the word “moist” which her mother thinks is pornographic.

Sarcastic commentary begins the next day when her mother chivvies her out of bed to go to the new temp job (with Georgia being lazy and fighting all the way). Her mother lays out clothes – Georgia says they’re funeral clothes and her mother says “there’s going to be a funeral if you don’t move it.” As the snarky narration informs us – those are the last words her mother ever says to her. Boy is she going to be sorry.

Turns out the temp job is the one Delores gives to people she hates and it involves spending all day in the bowels of a warehouse barcode scanning piles and piles of files. She quickly begins to slack to spite Delores but, even as she tries her best to do very little, everyone else was doing a lot less. And she drops a file down an elevator shaft – which takes talent. She faces the fate of spending the rest of her life in a dead end job. Literally. Though the rest of her life is only 30 minutes

Georgia goes on her lunch break. On this day, the Mir space station is plunging into the Pacific ocean as is expected – but some debris, including the seat of a Zero G toilet come off early and land on the west coast of the US. She has a slightly creepy encounter with a man who asks her the time, her name and refers to her middle name – and then he touches her back, leaving ghostly white finger prints. She walks away and guess what hits her?

Not something you want written on her epitaph. Nor “oh shit” as your last words. Explosion, panic, running screaming – and Georgia stood some distance from where she was (directly at the impact site) looking on. She approaches and sees one of her shoes, mangled – and then a man runs right through her.

She’s hailed by a couple of undead people - Rube and Betty while she quickly goes through the 5 stages of death. Starting with denial and her not feeling anything – rube explains they take the soul out before death when it’s violent death as a courtesy. Anger while Rube explains he and Betty are Grim Reapers. Then bargaining, offering for them to take someone else – an old person. And finally, when they say no, depression.

Rube has just the right thing to cheer her up – her autopsy. Which surprisingly does, to a degree, even if her body is in little teeny tiny pieces. She tries to move it on but Rube says she can’t until she’s laid to rest, so she can say goodbye to this one. And he tells her not to be an ass, which, well, someone had to.

They go to her funeral – Rube explaining things (including how they can see him as someone who is undead but not her because she’s dead) and Betty enjoying herself. We do have a moment of genuine George sadness when she considers her little sister, Reggie and when spending time with her she misses her chance to see her mother break down. Rube refuses to tell her it’s all ok and mocks her ghostly ineptitude at telling her herself. But she has an idea with the little she can move. As her mother tidies up, she moves the letters on the fridge to form the word “moist.” Seeing the letter move, it gets through to her mother.

At the Waffle House with Rube George learns she isn’t heaven bound – and she’s not interesting enough for hell. She’s going to be a Grimm Reaper. Betty and Rube explain things – they have custody of souls from the moment they die until they go on to wherever it is they go on to – they don’t know. When the bored waitress comes over she sees Georgia and asks what she wants.

Turns out each Reaper has a quota of souls to pass on before they get promoted – and George was her Reaper’s last soul. George’s excellent snark does point out they talk a lot about Destiny and Fate but not about Choice.

So begins her grand new life as a Grim Reaper (and a quick run down of the major causes) but everyone has their specialty. In her case “external influence” i.e. Murders, suicides and accidents. And etc. Cut to Roxy, another Grimm Reaper, reaping someone who died from a piano dropping on her head. Though Rube disapproves because Roxy didn’t take the soul early and waited until after the piano dropped to reap her. And we see a skittery little gremlin creature run up the building.

It’s a graveling, one of the creatures that cause the accidents and set things in motion; Rube calls them part of the balance, the greater order which has to be maintained. They find another Reaper, Mason who is accompanied by two souls he reaped who killed each other in a crack den (he has little time for them). Rube takes his souls – if Mason will take Georgia to her new home and show her around.

The flat he takes her too is one that has become vacant but not known as such after someone who was laundering money died. Whether it’s just Mason or in general, Reapers squat. There are also several bodies in the place – which she freaks out over. Mason is not even slightly moved by the corpses. Mason laughs off her complaints, they’ve all been killed by professional execution and torture, the criminals that did it will certainly clean up the bodies pretty soon. In the meantime he goes through their pockets. She expresses reservations about stealing from the dead and he asks if she wants to get a day job

Yes, the Reapers are not paid and most of them get by on what they can from the dead (including nifty apartments). Which is when Betty comes in, she’s already claimed the flat since her last place has finally gone through probate (she also helps herself to one of the corpse’s shoes). George asks if she can couch surf but they both point out they don’t know her – she could be anyone. This said while surrounded by corpses they’re stealing.

Next flat, the lock of which Mason picks. Except the flat is occupied. George thinks it’s time to move on – Betty and Mason disagree – but it seems Betty has her information wrong, this is the real tenant and he’s not dead. He will be dead in a week - they’ll be back next Tuesday.

After a brief conversation about death she also learns that while she still looks the same to other Reapers, she looks different to the living (albeit still similar – but George’s human-seeming is awfully worn). There’s a beginning of attraction between her and Mason – and from there to his appointment with his next soul in a bank. He advises her not to change things – because they don’t know if that will change events or how things are meant to be – just show up and wait on the sidelines. He casts his experienced eyes over the room and tells her the many ways he can see people potentially dying, and George sees a graveling and sees it place a banana peel. Mason doesn’t seem to notice it and doubts her certainty over what will cause the death. She makes him concede it’s possible by threatening to throw the peel in the bin (thereby changing events). And all Mason has is a name, an address and an estimated time of death on a post it – nothing more. Mason says that’s helpful – so you don’t get attached to your target. This target’s name begins with “B”

While watching we get some back story on random people in the bank – and a bank robbery begins. A rather inept one, by a man called Brett. Then in comes Beccy seeking her husband Brad who is having an affair with the “office slut”, Brenda. And she has a gun too, and doesn’t care about the robbery. She holds them at gun point to learn how long Brad has been cheating on her. She fires a shot into the ceiling, it ricochets around Byron, the bank manager, bangs around until it hits a gas cylinder, causing an explosion. Leaving everyone dusty and confused. The fire department arrives and Brett tries to run – stopping and turning and standing on the banana peel as he does. But not falling. He then runs when the coast is clear and the security guard takes down the pregnant Beccy and disarms her

Through all this, Mason and George are on the floor, amused spectators.  No-one died –but it’s not 2:36, the ETD, yet. Then in comes someone, Brendan, to cash a cheque. Mason touches him, leaving his white fingermarks. Brendan is told the bank is closed – he turns to walk out, slips on the peel and falls with his head in the revolving door – which the firemen run through. Ouch. Mason does ask the ghost if he lived alone.

So George gets a place to stay. Living alone she reflects on her change of life – and how her mother used to look after her and she wouldn’t have to do her laundry. On that note she goes home and sees her mother is having a yard sale – yes she’s selling her stuff. Of course her mother doesn’t recognise her. She tries to buy one of her childhood toys but her mother refuses to sell it, saying she won’t part and she’s changed her mind. She tries to ask her mother about, well, herself. Her mother is honest- they didn’t get along, she was stubborn – but she also said it was because George was smart; and she judges herself for not being a great mother. She agrees to sell the toy to George. She reflects that it was the longest conversation she’s had with her mother since she went through puberty.

Mascon wakes her the next day and takes her to their Pancake house morning meeting with the whole gang gathered round with all their eccentricities and Betty asking if her nipples get hard when she sneezes (Roxy adds her insight. George is most confused). Rube hands out the post it notes – including one for George.

To the train station with Rube – her “client” has a seat number and a time. He warns her it’s violent so she’ll want to take the soul early.

She gets on the train and her inner monologue works with how hard it is to consider what’s going to happen, she fantasies about the woman being an awful person, just to make it easier to deal with and no loved ones. And then it resolves into a small girl – with George’s inner voice completely humanising her as a person with likes and wants, a name, age school. She stares at the child and, out the window, a graveling appears.

She walks down the aisle to touch Kirsty, the child, but she can’t do it. Eventually sitting next to her and talking to her. Eventually, George tries to lead her away from the danger zone, but she’s stopped by a railroad employee (the child is travelling alone and they’re keeping an eye on her). Then the carriage becomes uncoupled, everyone falls to the floor. The train derails and crashes down a bank through the woods.

When it comes to rest, the employee checks to see if everyone is ok and counts of all the survivors. Everyone’s ok, including Kirsty. While the survivors gather, George goes into the wood and finds Rube and chews him out for not telling her it was a little girl. He tells her it doesn’t matter and you can’t change fate.

Yeah… she did. He tells her to go reap the soul, death is none transferrable, only she can do it. He warns her the child’s soul has expired – it will now go bad, it will rot inside her. She calls it cruel and Rube agrees. But she can’t save anyone – only make it easier

She returns to the circle of survivors and reaps her soul. Kirsty collapses instantly. The other survivors try to resuscitate and George goes to Kirsty’s ghost. She and Rube lead her away. The sky lights up and a portal of shining light funnels down forming a glowing fairy ground. Kirsty runs off to it and it moves back into the sky. George asks what it is, but Rube tells her it’s not for them to know.

Do you ever find yourself liking someone you really shouldn’t? I mean, by all accounts George is a really unpleasant person. She’s rude, she’s entitled, she’s snarky, she’s lazy and most of the things people do and say to her are fully deserved. But… she’s also funny. Maybe it’s just my deep seated love of irreverent snark, but I could happily spend all day in her head.

And I think she has a lot of space for growth just from what we’ve seen here. She goes from this very childish figure and quickly learns what the world is like without the support net of her family – how much the invisible sister means to her, how much her mother means to her.

I’m also impressed with the balance. The show is fun. It’s snarky. It’s funny. Really really funny. And then it will throw something deep and painful and emotional, excellently acted in all its complexity and impact – like George having to reap a child. It’s hard to keep this kind of show light with its content and to be able to keep it extremely funny yet still have that darkness.

There is also a lot of info dumping going on – introducing all the characters, the concepts and the world – but it is really well done. The humour, the narration and the characters really carry it through and stop it being a series of boring lectures.

All in all – an excellent pilot.