Hello, Fan Fest readers! After taking a little winter hiatus, I started thinking about which show I would come back to recommend as your next binge-worthy program. I thought about the shows I missed the most, the ones I wish would somehow be resurrected during this period of reboots and revivals. But you see, the shows that kept coming to mind were centered around life and death, with the accent on the death part. A rebirth of any of these programs seems unlikely, as another thing they have in common was that they were all only given two seasons to shine before given their final death certificate of cancellation.
That doesn’t mean, in any way, that they weren’t good enough to continue. Maybe their subject matter wasn’t exactly what the television landscape was calling for at that moment in time. Perhaps life and death, presented in a very non-traditional sort of way were more than the average viewer could take. Whatever the reasons behind their individual cancellations, these shows deserve to be brought back to life, even if it is through YOU, the ever-present binge-watcher.
So, let’s get down to it and talk about these THREE binge-worthy shows that were axed after a sophomore slump, and reasons why you should dive into each of them.
‘Dead Like Me’ (Showtime) 2003-2004
‘Dead Like Me‘ follows Georgia (George) Lass, on her first, and last day, of her new temp job at Happy Time Employment Agency. She’s put down in filing Hell, until she gets her lunch break and goes out on the street. George isn’t exactly a go-getter. She’s lazy and doesn’t care about much, except maybe driving her mother crazy. At 19, she’s a half-assed big sister and a whole-assed pain to her parents who only want to see her do well in life. But, that is all cut short while she’s on that fateful lunch break from Happy Time, when she’s killed by a toilet seat that fell to Earth from a deorbiting Russian space station.
Right before her death, her soul was taken by a Grim Reaper through a simple touch on her shoulder. George was his last soul to reap before heading into retirement. Now in death, she must take his place reaping souls right before their death.
‘Dead Like Me’ brings the afterlife to life again with this rag-tag bunch of reapers, and their supervisor Rube (Mandy Patinkin), they go about saving souls of people about to die and helping them reach their individual Heavens. Every morning they meet at a local German diner, and Rube gives out the day’s assignments. The kicker of it all? These reapers don’t get to skip out on all the crappy things that are necessary in life… like working, eating, and having a place to life. Their faces appear different to the living so they can’t be recognized by their loved ones. However, they still have to reap souls while maintaining a job and staying away from the lives they’ve previously lived.
The death scenes are ridiculous. The reapers are quirky, sometimes horny and all the time a thorn in Rube’s side. But this little dramedy-that-could’ve-been can be deep and moving. When George can’t seem to rectify her death and losing the family she didn’t pay much attention too, there are moments when you can feel her regret and despair. She may have a little fun leaving words on the fridge her mother hates, like “moist”, but mostly you just feel sorry for her as she watches her family fall apart from a distance. Oh, and once George becomes a reaper, guess where she ends up with a job… you got it, Happy Time! See, even in death papers still need to get filed!
Currently available on DVD, and in the Showtime app archives.
SIDE NOTE: There was a follow-up, direct to DVD movie made in 2009 that catches up on the reapers with their new boss, Kane. Not necessary to enjoy the show, but worth watching if you end up binging the series.
‘Carnivale’ (HBO) 2003-2005
Take one old-timey (and creepy) preacher, add in a young, mysterious man, throw in a travelling Freak Show and set it in the Dust-Bowl era mid-west. What do you have? The perfect combination for a really freaky, supernaturally mesmerising hour of television. ‘Carnivale‘ follows two different stories that are somehow meant to come together as the series progresses. First, the young and lost Ben Hawkins (Nick Stahl) joins the travelling Freak Show after they happen upon him burying his mother who has just passed away. The second follows a preacher named Brother Justin Crowe (Clancy Brown) and his sister as they start a new Methodist Ministry and home for children.
Both Ben Hawkins and Brother Justin have a power within them. Both share the same type of prophetic dreams, and where one can give life by taking it from somewhere else, the other can bend the will of other men to his own. As the series progresses, the abilities of these men are explored and while one clearly seems to be on the side of light and good, the other is shrouded in darkness and evil.
I could go into more details of the story, but ‘Carnivale’ is definitely one best experienced by watching it yourself. The cinematic beauty of this show is found in the barren nature and desolate landscape of the Depression-era midwest and west coast. The cast of supporting characters is just as charming and scary as those of the main men, Ben and Brother Justin. I will tell you though that when the series ended on the season two finale, there was much more story to tell. I think that if HBO had granted this fantastic series a third season, it would have easily joined the ranks of those still-talked-about must-see television series.
If you want a unique, dark and twisted tale of life and death, please, do watch this series. HBO made a big mistake in taking this one out of the lineup.
Currently available to watch with an HBOgo subscription.
‘Pushing Daisies’ (ABC) 2007-2009
Bright, colorful and quirky. These are the phrases that instantly come to mind when I think of ‘Pushing Daisies‘. This brainchild was the product of Bryan Fuller, and aired on ABC for two very short seasons back in 2007 through 2009. It follows the story of Ned (Lee Pace) as he makes delicious pies and helps his private detective friend Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) solve unsolved murders. How do you ask? Well, Ned has this uncanny ability to bring someone back from the dead by a simple touch. The downside? If he touches them a second time, they die… for good. Oh, and he only has one minute to touch them, have Emerson ask his questions surrounding their death, and has to touch them again, or something else alive in the vicinity will die to keep the balance of life and death in harmony.
This routine works well for Ned and Emerson, and helps to keep Ned’s bakery, ‘The Pie Hole’ up and running as they collect and split the money for the information leading to solving the murders of these deceased individuals. Well, it works until Ned has to help solve the mystery of who killed his childhood sweetheart, Chuck. While on a cruise, Chuck was murdered, and her aunts hire Emerson to look into her death. Ned revives her but is unable to send her back to a certain death once the minute is up. Unfortunately for the funeral director who was in too close proximity when Chuck continued to live.
Ned tells Chuck his secret, and she goes to live with him. Even though they cannot touch again, other than through a sheet of plastic wrap, Chuck and Ned fall in love again. As the series continues on we are introduced to a unique cast of characters that includes Ned’s waitress Olive (played by the delightful Kristen Chenoweth) and Chuck’s aunts (played by Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Greene).
Murders are not the only mysteries that need to be solved though. Emerson is searching for his daughter and publishing his own line of detective pop-up books, Olive is constantly trying to figure out why she can’t get Ned to fall in love with her, and Ned himself is always wondering and searching for the father that abandoned him. Another show that can give and take life, but had its life cut way too short.
Do give ‘Pushing Daisies’ a try if you want something that is light-hearted and fun, yet moving and meaningful.
Currently, ‘Pushing Daisies’ is available to purchase through Amazon and available on The CW Seed app for streaming.
There you have it folks! What shows about life and death do you recommend as a good binge watch? Will you be giving these two season shows two minutes of your time? Let me know in the comments if you give them a try, and what others you would recommend that got the ax way too soon?
Writer of stories, watcher of TV. I am an avid horror and sci-fi junkie who’s been riding with the Winchesters since their dad went on a hunting trip in 2005. Current obsessions are The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, The X-Files and The Dark Tower movie. Find me on twitter – @jryan_author – for your daily dose of sarcasm and poems about my unnatural love of coffee.