Friday, July 13, 2007

Life was cocking the fuck-with-me gun.

Pop culture blurb this time, nothing profound, just a few jumbled thoughts.

Television - most of the time it's terrible, rare is it when a show comes along that isn't. Myself? I'm a huge Dead Like Me fan. Hell, you could pretty much consider me amongst the "trekkies" of that show's fans. There was just something wonderful and magical about that show about a team of grim reapers (The cast led by the delightful Ellen Muth and badass Mandy Patinkin.) leading the days of their undeath. If you haven't seen it, check it out, its mixture of poignancy and hilarious comedy is infectious and memorable, in all the grim subject matter covered from episode to episode. (But I recommend going for the DVDs over the Sci-Fi Channel broadcast - though it maintains the magic and quality, it's not the same without the copious amounts of foul language that punctuates the series' dialogue.)

The show was a pretty huge success for Showtime, and genuinely worthwhile viewing. So what happens? After the second season ended, Showtime's new head of programming back in '04, Bob Greenblatt (Often simply referred to by fans as "that asshole.") canceled it. There really wasn't any justification for it, but it happened. Needless to say, fans were pissed. Hell, I was pissed too, I'd just discovered the series back in the summer of '05, and was completely enchanted. Never before had a show resonated with me on such a frequency. (Though there've been a few others I've really liked - Firefly, Wonderfalls (Also by the Dead Like Me creator.), Freaks and Geeks, and Undeclared.) Morbid humor, effective drama, great music, and a strong cast came together in the sweet, sweet television-pie that was Dead Like Me, one of the freshest shows to air in a long time.

The fans rallied together, centrally around Dead Like Me Online, and campaigned for many months, even finding an ally in Jack Myers in seeking to have their anger heard. There was no justice in the cancellation. Granted, it's pretty much a fact of life that good TV shows get canceled, but that's usually due to a lack of viewers. But in this case, there was no tolerable reasoning behind it.

Of course, internet petitions are notoriously ineffective, and even with Myers' aid, the fans' pleas fell on deaf ears. After all, regardless of how successful the show was, an obscure premium cable series' strong cult following is relatively meaningless to programming execs. From what I've seen personally, at least, the only worthwhile Showtime series post-Dead-Like-mortum has been Weeds.

MGM, the studio behind Dead Like Me shopped the show around, but nobody picked it up. All hope seemed lost. (Yes, the ultimate cliched lead-in.)

Then earlier this year, they announced that a direct-to-DVD Dead Like Me movie was entering pre-production, with Ellen Muth herself confirming to fans at her site that she would be returning once again to play the lead, Georgia Lass, the cynical young reaper we'd all come to know and love.

Details remained scarce, but then, the effective curse of the follow-up DVD movie set in - casting changes. It was confirmed that Mandy Patinkin would not be returning to play Rube, the reaper unit's linchpin, and easily one of the most badass characters in a television series in years. A definite blow to the movie and fans. Then it's confirmed that Laura Harris won't be returning to play Daisy Adair, the promiscuous '30s film starlet, the tales of whose escapades we all enjoyed between her reaps. The big slap in the face there? The character's still returning, simply recast. It's one thing to do this with a tertiary character, as Fox had with Eric's sister Laurie on That '70s Show in one of its later seasons. But it's practically a cardinal sin - especially in dealing with such a strong cult fanbase - to recast one of its main characters.

On top of all that, they've announced a replacement head reaper to fill Mandy Patinkin's colossal shoes. There's yet to be a casting announcement, and I'm trying to hold my judgment until the movie's released and I see for myself how it turns out. But however you look at it, there will be a massive gap there which no one can fill, as Rube was a truly irreplaceable character. Likewise, two of the plotlines revealed as of far raise questions. On one hand, there's one we'd have expected, playing out some sort of reconnection between George and her still-living younger sister Reggie. I'm expecting that to be one of the film's strong points, personally. But then on the other hand, a major plotline has been confirmed focusing on Daisy, her search for love, and some sort of emotional downfall. This would all be great, if not for the recasting of her character and the fact that it involves the new head reaper. Kind of a kick in the gut to all of us rooting for her and Mason. (Played by Callum Blue, who had some of the best lines in the series.)

Of course, as for the remaining two reapers, Mason and Roxy (Jasmine Guy's character, who had woefully little screentime and development in season 2.), we've heard nothing, though MGM's promised the return of most of the cast. Losing any of the reapers is a major blow, but leaving us with three of the five we'd grown so attached to is pretty harsh. One would think they could've found a way - even in simply delaying production - to get Patinkin and Harris back. But with any luck, perhaps the other three's performances and parts of the story will make up for that, and Harris' replacement will be able to pull off at least a decent Daisy. Likewise, it seems we'll be able to expect the return of George's family (Parents, Cynthia Stevenson and Greg Kean, sister, Britt McKillip.), in Reggie's side of the plot. But I think we'll all be disappointed if we don't get so much as one appearance by the Happy Time gang, Delores Herbig (Christine Willes) and Crystal (Crystal Dahl).

As huge a Dead Like Me fan as I am, it's hard not to have mixed feelings about all this.

Pop culture junkie rant over. Be glad I'm not one of those Hollywood blogger types who goes on and on about "Brangelina" or any of that irrelevant garbage. These are simply conflicted musings as a big fan of a rare, truly wonderful work in the world of television that isn't exactly getting the send-off we were all hoping for. Hell, even Serenity, in all of its shocking twists, managed to retain its entire original cast. One can't help but wonder, regardless of how good the Dead Like Me movie ends up being or not, if they weren't perhaps better off leaving the series in the grave, when they couldn't find anyplace for it to continue. At least for fans of hers like myself, Ellen Muth's side of the plot as George should still be satisfying.

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