Dying to Watch: Binge-worthy Series

Over the years many TV shows have dealt with death. From a family of funeral directors to a man in deep anger in his grief, these series have actually created a conversation about death and dying, sometimes comedic, sometimes touching and sometimes painfully realistic. When You Die team member, Kelley Edwards, picks and shares her favourite binge-worthy series. (Caution, there may be some spoilers ahead.)

AFTER LIFE

Many people, including the now famed Elisabeth Kübler Ross, have written about the stages of grief. Over 40 years ago she and co-author David Kessler wrote the seminal book, On Grief and Grieving. In it they articulated what they named “the five stages of loss.” Although the stages have become widely controversial, most people in the field agree that anger is one of them.

In the series, After Life, Tony Johnson (played by Ricky Gervais) has lost his wife to cancer and is angry, depressed and suicidal. He lashes out against the world by doing and saying whatever he feels, sometimes with comic effect, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Created, produced, directed by and starring Mr. Gervais, this Netflix series first aired in 2019. Described as a “black comedy-drama,” After Life can be funny and can be heartbreaking, just like life and death. Gervais is the master of the dead-pan face and of delivering lines that can be shocking, hilarious or gut-wrenching. The show portrays the grief spiral to which many can relate: the frustration, pain and unfairness of life and loss. I caution potential viewers that the language can be harsh at times, with more than a fair share of swearing and expletives. But if that’s not an issue for you, this show is really well-crafted.

DEAD TO ME

Jen is a high-powered real estate agent. Her husband was killed by a hit and run driver. In trying to come to terms with his death, Jen joins a grief group where she meets Judy, who is there for other reasons. (Spoiler alert: I will say no more.) The two women bond through their mutual grief, Jen dealing with dark feelings and Judy trying to maintain a positive outlook. Their friendship is quirky, touching and funny, and a secret is gradually revealed which provides a surprising twist. Sometimes this show made me laugh out loud, and sometimes it made me cry. It is easy to relate to these journeys after loss, even the absurd moments. It does have some salty language, so not for anyone who might be offended by that. The first season of Dead To Me aired in 2019 and a second season is in the works for airing in the summer of 2020.

SIX FEET UNDER

Six Feet Under is an HBO series that aired 2001-2005. It follows the story of the Fisher family, who run a funeral home, aptly named Fisher and Sons. This is probably one of the best-written of television shows, lauded by Time Magazine as one of the top 100 shows of all time. The characters are complex and authentic. Nate, the oldest son, has returned home to LA after the death of his father and has to come to terms with what was a difficult relationship. His younger brother David had been running the business with their dad and has some personal issues of his own, including jealousy over the fact that their father’s death sees Fisher and Sons turned over to him and his brother. While the story of the family evolves over time, in each episode there are the multiple story lines of their clients dealing with their own losses. The series is complex and multi-layered. When it was over, I felt a sadness, as if I were saying goodbye to close friends.

PUSHING DAISIES

Pushing Daisies is one of my favourite television shows. It is an American fantasy, mystery, comedy-drama story that aired from October 3, 2007, to June 13, 2009. Due to a writer’s strike, the series did not continue, which is unfortunate, because it was so captivating. The series, referred to as a “forensic fairytale,” tells the story of Ned, a pie-maker with the ability to bring dead things back to life with his touch, an ability that comes with stipulations and consequences. Ned uses his abilities to solve murder cases. The set and costume design are enchanting, the colours giving it a fairytale feeling. The characters are eccentric and endearing. It’s not a heavy think piece, but certainly is entertaining. And, surprisingly, although it is all about death, the story is light-hearted, capturing the imagination and the heart.

DEAD LIKE ME

Georgia “George” Lass, the show’s narrator and protagonist, dies early in the pilot episode and becomes a grim reaper. In life she was an emotionally distant teen who now watches her family as they come to terms with losing her. As a reaper, her job is to extract the souls of people, preferably just before they die, and escort them to the afterlife. The show has humour and also touching moments, as the characters live with regret about their lives and what could have been. This show was also short lived (2003-2004) but worth the watch if you can find it.

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