Mediocre endeavours

November 26, 2023

Not Dead Yet but devoid of life is suitable, at best, for mindless binge-watching

Mediocre endeavours


ina Rodriguez makes a comeback to TV in ABC’s new sitcom Not Dead Yet as Nell Serrano, a writer approaching her forties whose London-bound fiancé dumped her after she dropped everything and left the country for him. Now, she has moved back to Southern California, hoping to return to her old job at the local paper, SoCal Independent, but is rather demoted to the obituary column. While she had expected to pick up right where she left off, she soon comes to realise that nothing is the same any longer.

It is Nell’s fate to move in with a mildly snarky roommate, Edward, essayed by Rick Glassman, who insists on her walking his dog every morning as part of their lease agreement. Sam, played by Hannah Simone from New Girl, is her best friend, now a mother of two and the lifestyle editor.

Nell is quite taken aback to discover that her best friend has befriended their former nemesis, Lexi, portrayed by Lauren Ash from Superstore, a standoffish nepotism baby who now runs the company owned by her difficult father.

Dennis, played by Josh Banday, Nell’s other close friend, is now the metro editor and the one who assigns her to the obituaries. Later, she pals up with an older woman named Cricket, played by actress Angela Gibbs, who owns a bar and has recently experienced the loss of her husband due to cancer.

In this series, created by David Windsor and Casey Johnson, Nell is not an ordinary obituary writer. She speaks to and sees the deceased she writes about. The once-thriving journalist is now struggling to balance her newfound ability to see dead people with the changes taking place in the lives of her friends.

Unlike some series that go to great lengths to provide a somewhat believable reason for their main characters’ ability to see ghosts, Not Dead Yet does not explain how Nell came to possess this ability. In the course of watching Nell adapting to her new circumstance, so many questions remain unanswered: has she seen ghosts before but never realised that? Would her power go away if she stopped writing obituaries?

Nell sees that life has moved on for everyone else but she’s starting over from square one. An underlying sense of loneliness pervades her life; she drinks a bit too much and she struggles with a lack of inspiration.

Everything takes a turn when the person she’s commemorating, Monty, played by Martin Mull, appears as a ghost. Following that, spirits begin visiting Nell in a systematic, one-per-episode manner. They assist her in writing, introduce her to new acquaintances and share valuable lessons from their lives. Besides Martin Mull, the show features a few star-studded ghosts as guests including Ed Begley Jr, Mo Collins, Deborah S Craig, Telma Hopkins, Don Lake, Rhea Perlman, Paula Pell, Tony Plana, Brittany Snow and Julia Sweeney.

For a comedy series, Not Dead Yet excessively leans towards sentimentality, bordering on being overly emotional. Nell develops a friendship with Cricket, Monty’s widow, and later experiences a romantic connection with a ghost. These plot points are handled in a somewhat excessively sugary manner.

The tone lacks the expected sharpness for a show centred around a savvy and unhappy journalist, especially considering its target audience is familiar with Rodriguez’s witty performance on Jane the Virgin. The show appears to swing between bouts of cynicism and saccharine sentimentality.

The lack of a consistent tone is disappointing, especially because Rodriguez has the charisma to lead a witty and sharp-edged comedy. Delving more into Nell’s character, beyond her being the charming centre of ghostly attention, could improve this sitcom, which has potential but lacks in execution.

Rodriguez had achieved something exceptional with the debut of the CW comedy Jane the Virgin in 2014. Despite the potential for the tele-novella adaptation — a plot where a young woman becomes pregnant due to a mix-up at her ob-gyn‘s office — to come across as ridiculous or shallow, Rodriguez’s charisma stood out.

A pressing question arises: why does Not Dead Yet, another sitcom featuring Rodriguez as a gloomy obituary writer who develops medium-ship abilities, feel so devoid of life? The overall tone seems muddled and downright dull. Nell, brought to life by Rodriguez as an emotionally impactful performer grappling with existential troubles, is reduced to situations like yelling at unseen ghosts at her desk and awkwardly misspeaking at every opportunity.

Nell and her best friend Sam rarely interact. Sam often remains on the sidelines while Nell seeks advice from ghosts. Lexi, the aloof boss, occasionally provides humour, the content of which is not only dull but also lacks depth. Nell’s roommate, who is on the autism spectrum, unfortunately, is predominantly defined by this characteristic. There is little to talk about besides video games. There is a lack of room for these characters to grow, which is unfortunate given that most of them are painfully uninteresting. The storytelling also becomes evident in the first episode when Nell finishes one obituary and immediately moves on to the next.

The show lacks a cohesive plot to connect episodes, making it neither bad nor good. It feels incomplete but works for mindless binge-watching.

The author is a freelance contributor

Mediocre endeavours