No fate worse than 'Dead'

Life stinks and then you die. And then things get even worse. That roughly sums up the tone of the new supernatural drama "Dead Like Me" (9 p.m., Showtime).

Ellen Muth ("The Truth About Jane") stars as Georgia "George" Lass, a cranky college dropout who snaps at her parents, ignores her sister, and couldn't care less about her lack of career options. But fate has other plans for her. While out on a 35-minute lunch "hour" from her dead-end job, she's struck and killed by an errant piece of space debris. Rube (Mandy Patinkin), the Grim Reaper assigned to her case, quickly informs her of her new status, and introduces her to the rather glamorous Betty (Rebecca Gayheart), another soul collector.

After a belabored orientation to the afterlife, George learns that she's assigned to become a Grim Reaper, too. She's trained by Rube, Betty, the no-nonsense Roxy (Jasmine Guy) and the hunky Mason (Callum Blue). Apparently, Reapers get no respect. They have to scrounge around for housing and steal money from the departed just to survive. Roxy works as a meter maid to make her undead ends meet.

While the notion of a celestial teenager has its quirky appeal, this pilot wastes our time on elaborate death scenes, bizarre rules and regulations and caustic, foul-mouthed characters. There's even some pointless mythology about a comic frog bringing death to the world. Rather than offer a new look at profound issues, "Dead" goes out of its way to be confusing, shallow and unpleasant all at the same time.

  • Steve Harvey is host of the 16th annual Essence Awards (7 p.m., Fox), honoring Queen Latifah as Entertainer of the Year. Performers and presenters include Beyonce, Vivica A. Fox, Kimberly Elise, Ce Ce Winans, New Edition, Lionel Richie and Erykah Badu. The show was taped earlier this month at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles.

Tonight's other highlights

Note: Schedules may vary due to baseball coverage. Please check local listings.

  • Lily feels burdened by a killer's confession on "Crossing Jordan" (7 p.m., NBC).
  • Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith star in the 2002 blockbuster sequel "Men in Black II" (7:30 p.m., Cinemax). A pug steals the show.
  • Scheduled on "Dateline" (8 p.m., NBC): A daughter stands by her mother, despite the woman's murder conviction.
  • Kirsten Dunst appears in the 2000 thriller "The Crow: Salvation" (7 p.m., UPN), the third installment in the murky series.
  • Many suspects emerge after a doctor-activist's murder in Central Park on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (9 p.m., NBC).

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