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“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!

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~ by Jared on September 29, 2004.

7 Responses to ““Life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all.””

  1. Christian “entertainment”…hmmm. That is a loaded term. I’d venture to say that “Touched by and Angel” was more dangerous than than any non-“christian” show on TV. In an age of pluralism and New-Age beliefs and values how does a show where God is mentioned without Christ and works is emphasized not do real damage? I hate that show on every level- trite, godless, Saccharine sweet,
    At least in “Dead Like Me” earthly acts have earthly consequences and benefits. I also really like the interaction between the main character and her mother (post-mortem)…some good insight on greif and regret. Even “Joan of Arcadia” is a step up from “Touched” in that the show has God being mysterious and emphasizes His ways are not our ways.It’s never Joan’s job to fix things, just to do as she’s told….but again, No Christ.

    But one should not be too cynical about Christian lit after recently reading TS Eliot (though I grant you good Christian writing is rare)

    Journey of the Magi- TS Eliot

    ‘A cold coming we had of it,
    Just the worst time of the year
    For a journey, and such a long journey:
    The ways deep and the weather sharp,
    The very dead of winter.’
    And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
    Lying down in the melting snow.
    There were times we regretted
    The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
    And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
    Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
    And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
    And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
    And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
    And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
    A hard time we had of it.
    At the end we preferred to travel all night,
    Sleeping in snatches,
    With the voices singing in our ears, saying
    That this was all folly.

    Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
    Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
    With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
    And three trees on the low sky,
    And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
    Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
    Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
    And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
    But there was no information, and so we continued
    And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
    Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

    All this was a long time ago, I remember,
    And I would do it again, but set down
    This set down
    This: were we led all that way for
    Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
    We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
    But had thought they were different; this Birth was
    Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
    We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
    But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
    With an alien people clutching their gods.
    I should be glad of another death.

  2. I like the poem.

    And you’re right . . . maybe I shouldn’t file “Touched by an Angel” directly under the “Christian” label (the production value is much too high, anyway). It’s just that a large percentage of my family loves it and would probably put it there . . . that’s who I was thinking of when I did.

    When I talked about entertainment, though, I wasn’t even <i>touching</i> the Christian lit issue. This was strictly a TV and movies thing. I’ve discussed lit before, and there’s definitely some awesome stuff out there from people like Eliot. Almost all of it is <i>decades old</i> . . . but I’m not bitter. Not at all.

    See, I noticed last night that my dad is reading <i>Babylon Rising</i> (the first book in Tim LaHaye’s latest “new and improved” series of apocalyptic thrillers) . . .

    *sigh*

  3. TV and movies are indeed a wasteland…..By the way, be careful how you throw around phrases like “decades old”…the beatles and I may take offense.

  4. But Fry,

    From what Jared was telling me, centuries-old is probably where we should be classifying you.

  5. I am a classic…not an antique!

  6. Harry Potter is absolutely about magic….

  7. No, it’s not. Perhaps you misunderstand. Magic is the central plot device of the “Harry Potter” stories, but they are *about* the moral and spiritual development of the main character and the battle between good and evil.

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