SFX Issue 104

May 2003


Dead Like Me

New US show reveals that it’s a hard life as a Grim Reaper…

There may be weirder ways to die, but being hit by a toilet seat from the disintegrating MIR space station has to rank in the top 10. However for George Lass (played by Dolores Claiborne ’s Ellen Muth) that’s only when things start to become weird in the new US Showtime series Dead Like Me , created by Voyager scribe Bryan Fuller. After death George discovers that she’s become a Grim Reaper, one of a team, led by Alien Nation star Mandy Patinkin, whose job is to remove people’s souls at the point of death and help them on their onwards journey. They don’t choose who lives and who dies; they’re simply part of the process.

“I read Piers Anthony’s book On A Pale Horse when I was in sixth grade and I thought it was a fascinating story,” Fuller explains when SFX visits the set two weeks into filming. “It’s a timeless story of someone becoming Death and seeing life through Death’s perspective. I thought it would be more fun to tell that story as constricted by the boundaries of reality and physics as possible. The Reapers don’t just snap their fingers and show up where they need to be: they have to take a bus, and they have to deal with all the things that we have to deal with. I wanted to try to reduce the magical element, but still have a fantastic story. To tell a fantasy story as realistically as possible was the challenge. I love fantasy and SF, but the more accessible it is to my world, the more I enjoy it. It becomes a place I can go to, whether it’s in my head or outside my door.”

There’s nothing special about George or any of the other Reapers – they’re ordinary guys doing a rather unusual job. “You often get into messiah mythology in science fiction and fantasy storytelling,” Fuller points out. “The Chosen One, or people having midichlorians in their bloodstream: all that kind of hoo-haa. There’s a membrane that prevents me from connecting to it wholly. I can’t relate to Buffy Summers, because she’s the Chosen One. She can fight and kick ass and do things that I will never be able to do because I’m not her. I can’t relate to Willow because she’s a witch and I’m not a witch. If I can’t relate to characters on a basic level, it’s hard for me to get inside their head and figure out what they would be doing. There has to be some of me in the character because you do write what you know!”

So what sets Dead Like Me apart? “It’s much more of a character show than a plot show,” Fuller says. “It’s motivated by the characters and what they’re thinking. There’s a lot of fun to be had in the subtleties of that type of storytelling. Joss Whedon went the bigger route, and he did an amazing job. I’m not going to go anywhere near that because he did it so well!”

Dave Golder
Freelance Writer

Dave is a TV and film journalist who specializes in the science fiction and fantasy genres. He's written books about film posters and post-apocalypses, alongside writing for SFX Magazine for many years.