Review: ‘Not Dead Yet’ Squanders Mighty Cast With Tepid Premise
Gina Rodriguez stars in ABC’s new comedy “Not Dead Yet,” about a woman who writes obituaries with the help of dead people only she can see.
Anytime a TV show starts with a main character, the bar is pretty much set.
ABC’s David Windsor and Casey Johnson’s “Not Dead Yet” opens with Nell (Gina Rodriguez) essentially telling the show’s logline and synopsis.
“Five years ago, Nell Serrano threw aside a promising career and moved to London for a man. He was totally in love, until he kicked her in the face.” Nell gets drunk on weekdays, misses the laundry, and offers many other flailing, grown-up epithets all the way up to “How did I get here?” to the line. He returned to his old job, where he is now entry-level and reports to his former colleagues, who are now superiors. The half-hour comedy is adapted from Alexandra Potter’s Confessions of a 40-something F**k Up.
As profoundly boring as Nell’s story is in the realm of human disaster television, the twist is what gives “She’s Not Dead Yet” some edge — and then promptly squashes it. Nell’s job is to write obituaries for the newspaper, and she quickly starts seeing the dead she writes about. Each of the deceased has little interest in their own unfinished business or untimely passing, but is deeply invested in helping Nell get her life back together. He meets the dead, they give him sage advice, he writes his obit, and then they shuffle off this mortal coil, now at peace that this almost grown-up has bought a dining room table or whatever.
In Rodriguez’s hands, Nell is vulnerable and witty, the actor’s command of the screen almost at odds with her character’s rambunctious personality. It’s nowhere near the serendipitous showcase that was “Jane the Virgin,” but it’s a great performer who makes the best of not-so-great material. Nell isn’t particularly relatable, funny or engaging, but she doesn’t alienate the viewer.
The ghost of the week format gives “Not Dead Yet” a classic network procedural feel, but unfortunately doesn’t breathe life into the series. Five episodes screened for critics reveal few details of Nell’s past and mere tidbits about best friends Sam (Hannah Simone) and Dennis (Josh Banday) and nemesis boss Lexi (Lauren Ash). Angela E. Gibbs carries the lackluster writing as Cricket, the recently widowed owner of a wine bar whose husband visits Nell (and whose establishment the friends conveniently start visiting). Rodriguez, Simone, and Ash are all excellent, but it’s hard not to see them as reminders of the amazing television shows they’ve been on before.. The cast’s chemistry initially feels forced, but the characters are still thin. Their interactions are reminiscent of the season premiere of “How I Met Your Father,” but the good news is that the core of “HIMYF” has grown stronger over time.
It’s a tiresome criticism to keep flagging, but “He’s Not Dead Yet” is one of many shows that have a murky relationship with technology and social media. Nell works for a mercifully thriving local newspaper, a pristine bastion where only one person is responsible for publishing articles on the website (which is what every editor at almost every publication does every day). None of the older co-workers or older millennials know how to drive website traffic, yet Nell gets her news from Tiktok. For a former classmate who was an Instagram influencer, he writes about a very real position that many people now take, and it’s about as fleshed out as it would have been in 2012 — when this show would have made a lot more sense. It’s unclear whether “Not Dead Yet” is targeting the age demographic of its cast (late 30s to early 40s), young people who have otherwise drifted away from linear television and networks, or an older ABC audience. does it target members who might resonate with this protagonist. .
It’s a slow start, but that’s okay. Windsor and Johnson made “This Is Us” bent on grief and death without the dark levity that permeates so much of modern TV, and “Not Dead Yet” gives them a chance to do so. If “Not Dead Yet” dares to get more personal with Nell — and it takes a big step in Episode 5 — the series could improve, especially if the characters’ chemistry feels organic rather than forced, as it often does early in the series. . “Not Dead Yet” isn’t dead, but it doesn’t have much of a pulse just yet.
“Not Dead Yet” premieres February 8 at 8:30pm on ABC with new episodes weekly.
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