Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen in “Forever”

Why I’m More Drawn To Shows About Death and Dying

I recall some years ago when the short-lived show Dead Like Me premiered on Showtime back when cable TV was royalty. There were only two seasons and I didn’t watch any of them. The center theme about death and grim reapers who are assigned to save remove the souls of people right before they die was unappealing.

Besides, I was quite invested in another more appetizing and engrossing alternative about a family-run funeral home.

Six Feet Under incidentally made its debut not too long after the horrors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. And as someone who suffered the emotional turmoil that followed the brutal aftermath, it was surprising to be drawn to a show that explores the personal and professional aspects of a life-altering rite of passage.

Aside from deliciously complex characters, there was a refreshingly more humanized approach to a subject matter that we understandably run away from for as long as we can manage it.

Director Alan Ball, who is best known for the hit movie, American Beauty, which also does an awesome job of digging deeper into the human psyche for that element of shock and wonder, created Six Feet Under with the intention of exposing the normalized existence of those who aren’t able to blissfully forget that people do in fact die everyday.

The series finale happened almost 15 years ago, and it was the tear-jerker that united long-suffering fans in unexpected grief over the shocking conclusion that changed everything.

Back then, social media was in secret formation, but we had access to the busy chat rooms on HBO’s website, and that’s where we gathered to discuss before the final goodbye.

And now I’m hungry again for offerings that don’t sugarcoat the jarring finality of the final goodbye.

Pretty sure it has a lot to with the hovering menace of COVID-19, and how none of us who are still breathing can confidently declare ourselves immune to a mysterious virus that has no cure.

Netflix’s Dead to Me, co-starring Christina Applegate as Jen, a real estate agent and mother of two sons, who tragically loses her husband in an awful accident, and Linda Cardellini as Judy, a quirky and unassuming woman who crosses paths with Jen at a grief counseling session is a more palatable dish because of comic relief amid the twists and turns.

However, Amazon’s now-defunct Forever with amazing leads Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen who play married couple, Oscar and June, takes a more whimsical detour into the fantastical realm.

Not to give too much away, but Oscar and June undergo a mandatory change in scenery that removes them from the mundane existence that suited the husband just fine, but provided suffocating tendencies for the wife, who unexpectedly gets more than she bargained for.

The genius of Forever has to be the freeing foray into uncharted territory for the characters who are tasked with revelatory gems that are meant to stimulate the imaginative cells of viewers.

My fascination with death comes from our current proximity to the grim reaper of our time, and how we are forced to contend with what we can’t curate or control, which leads to outlandish claims of what awaits our souls when we shed our shells.

The metaphorical pieces of Forever alerts our senses to the simplicities of what we spend our entire lives trying to repurpose for the rewards that never seem to match expectations.

Maybe we don’t know what happens after we die because that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We can personalize with our versions of “heaven” and “hell” but ultimately peace and understanding means embodying the “hear and now.”

And that’s why the second season of Netflix’s After Life, starring Extras’ Ricky Gervais as a broken hearted widower, cuts deeper in ways that can only be possible for those of us who are accommodating that stage in life when you start counting the wins and devastating losses.

Gervais plays Tony Johnson, a moody journalist at the local free newspaper who runs on the battery of crude sarcasm and mental disillusionment stemming from the painful death of his loving wife from breast cancer.

In season one, we watch Tony grapple with his recent loss with the expected heaviness that Gervais eloquently displays, along with the heartwarming ode to how even during the awfulness of life, laughter can offer much-needed remedy.

For season two, viewers are presented with the harsh truth that doesn’t play into the dramatic antics of the generic delivery that typically focuses on the character’s heroic rescue from the unbearable burden of being.

Tony experiences more loss, and his battered disposition bruises our spirits, as we face the unfiltered reality of how things don’t improve over time, even when we desperately want a release from the torture of being left behind by those who didn’t willingly disappear.

I guess I’m more drawn to shows that don’t avoid tackling the audacity of something that will sooner or later upend misleading normalcy with the firm promise of never again returning to when we were able to live without death.

My parents are much older now compared to a decade ago, when most of their friends were alive and I wasn’t terrified by the fast approaching moment that will forever tear my family apart.

For me, it’s not the fear of dying because I’m obediently resigned to the facts that confirm how we will find out when we get there.

It’s really about the premature sadness of being left behind or leaving the ones who will miss you beyond measure, and will never quite recover from the trauma.

So maybe that’s why After Life wins!

The dead have moved on without us, and Tony Johnson isn’t so sure he wants the gift of being alive, and that daily challenge is showcased brilliantly with affecting scenes that are disarmingly relatable.

All we have is now. Forever can wait until we are six feet under.

So, let’s make it worthwhile. For us. For them.

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