The Anti-Work Existentialism Of Dead Like Me Was An Omen

It’s an over-simplification to say that the pandemic is the only cause of the recent phenomenon as the Great Resignation: workers quitting their jobs en masse, leaving a critical labor shortage behind them. As much as the past few years have sucked, the decade that preceded them wasn’t that great either. In the wake of the financial crash of 2007-2008, there was a pervasive sense that you were lucky to have a job, any job, and you’d better not complain about the pay or conditions because everyone is replaceable.

But as George Lass can attest, nothing shakes you out of an apathy coma quite like a brush (or a head-on collision) with mortality. The massive status quo shake-up of the pandemic has undoubtedly contributed to a generation of workers pondering what exactly they’re getting out of their job, and daring to ask if things could be better. That’s the conflict at the heart of “Dead Like Me” (which was created by frequent TV, Interrupted guest star Bryan Fuller). The series ran on Showtime for just two seasons in 2003-2004, yet it feels more relevant now than ever. 

George’s youthful defiance and her burning need to always be asking “why?” are an irritant to her apathetic coworkers and her irascible, set-in-his-ways boss, but with death behind her she now has very little to fear from trying to find the meaning of life. George pushes and prods at the system she’s found herself in — trying to use her newfound “power” to spare the life of a little girl, or to change the fate of a CEO, or even to ignore her grim reaper duties entirely. And every attempt ends with an exasperated Rube showing her the damage she’s done, and telling her she needs to stop thinking so much and just do what he tells her to do.

“Dead Like Me” strikes a delicate balance of never making it quite clear who is right and who is wrong. Is George petulant and immature for wanting to rock the boat, or is her desire to do so proof that she’s still (sort of) alive? Is Rube a rube for obediently following the rules, or does he have some secret wisdom that George isn’t privy to? 

Through George’s coworkers (in one episode she comes to the depressing realization that she has no friends, only coworkers) “Dead Like Me” explores other ways of dealing with the relentless grind of the 9-to-5. Designated “f***-up” Mason (Callum Blue) chooses nihilism, hedonism, and anarchy — doing the absolute bare minimum required to keep his job, freely looting the corpses of his clients, and spending his ill-gotten gains on drugs and booze. Tough, stony-faced Roxy (Jasmine Guy) takes her cues from Rube, focuses on working her two jobs (she’s also a meter maid because, again, reaping doesn’t pay the bills) to the best of her ability, and plays by the rules … mostly. The daring Betty (Rebecca Gayheart) makes a leap of faith that leaves George looking after her longingly. And Betty’s replacement, Daisy (Laura Harris), is a former actress who still wears a theater mask at all times in her new life as a reaper.

Leave a Comment