September 29, 2004

"Life isn't fair. It's just fairer than death, that's all."

--William Goldman, The Princess Bride

I'm feeling particularly contemplative this evening, despite the distressing absence of my good health, the bothersome lateness of the hour, and the very unwelcome presence of three or four boatloads of homework.

I haven't posted lately for a number of reasons (unfortunately none of those reasons has anything to do with a lack of material). During the past week or so I have spent a sizable chunk of time when I could have been blogging watching the complete first season of Dead Like Me. That'd be about 11 hours . . . but I watched a few episodes twice. You can blame Randy for this one.

In trying to think of something to compare the show to, I kept coming back to the same thing over and over: It's basically what Touched by an Angel would be if it were smart, cynical, and macabre instead of cute, banal, and *shudders* "inspiring."

The basic premise goes something like this: Georgia Lass (George) is a morose eighteen-year old college drop-out whose only direction in life is supplied by her irascible, embittered mother's repeated and insistent attempts to push her out of the nest. Standing outside during lunch break on her first day in a mind-numbing, dead-end job . . . she is hit by a flaming toilet seat that plummets from space as Mir comes apart in orbit. (If you think that's bizarre, know that the writers of the show regularly outdo themselves when it comes to unusual or unexpected ways for people to die.) And that's where the fun begins.

George must join the ranks of the Grim Reapers, replacing the guy who took her soul just before she died. It's a thankless, and more importantly, wageless, job that she will perform for an undisclosed length of time (decades, at least), dwelling among and mingling with the living, before passing the mantle to someone else and moving on.

Her four co-workers in the district, randomly selected like her, are a grab-bag of interesting types . . . but I'll just stop describing the show in detail now, lest I sit here all night. I could easily come up with a blogpost out of every single episode . . . But you should be watching it yourself anyway.

From the show's upbeat, unconventional intro (jazzy music, people wearing "reaper-esque" black robes and hoods and carrying wicked-looking scythes around while walking dogs in the park, standing by the water cooler at work, playing basketball, and doing their laundry in a laundromat) it's not hard to tell that you aren't dealing with the average sitcom or TV drama. What we have instead is a brilliant tragicomedy, well written and well acted, that is satisfying both visually and intellectually.

But "Dead Like Me" isn't about soul-reaping anymore than Harry Potter is about magic. The show uses its engaging plot device, not just to entertain, but to explore deeper questions about life and death. Surprisingly, the show is much more about the former than about the latter. Each episode deals sensitively with questions about how people deal with grief, the importance of relationships and community, living life to the fullest, and avoiding regrets (just to name a few).

The series stays well-balanced as it walks a very fine line between the hilarious and the poignant. Somehow it manages never to descend to the level of the silly or the trite. You're almost constantly either laughing loudly or swallowing a sudden lump in your throat. I don't recommend attempting to eat anything while watching the show.

I must point out that the series does not by any means operate within the framework of a Christian worldview. Characters do not have any problem with "swearing" or sexual promiscuity, and morality is often ambiguous at best. I'm not quite sure what I would call its philosophy (it smacks of a number of things). I wouldn't call the series unbiblical or antibiblical, but it is nonbiblical and/or extrabiblical. (Just think about it for a sec . . . I actually didn't contradict myself there.) I am very glad that this is the case, for a few reasons.

First, it definitely takes the focus completely away from the afterlife, to the degree that it is practically ignored . . . which also allows the series to avoid neat, easy, shallow answers to deep, practical, tangible questions.

Second, I like to be challenged, both intellectually and spiritually. Strictly Christian entertainment can often help you grow in various ways, or reinforce an old principle, but rarely does it cause me to reevaluate and strengthen any core beliefs, or just sit back in my chair and go, "Huh."

Anyway, aside from a great entertainment experience, and loads of food for thought, I came away from the first season with an increased zest for life, a greater sense of the value of family and friends, an impression of the importance of both our purpose and our legacy, and a realization that everything you do, especially in relation to others, is important. It all comes down to a series of questions: If you were to die today, what would you have accomplished? How would people remember you? What would you leave undone or unsaid? How would it affect the people you care about? . . . etc., etc., etc.

I must have Season Two! I must have Season Two forthwith!

Posted by Jared at September 29, 2004 10:33 PM | TrackBack