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TV Show About Seeing Ghosts Basically Dead on Arrival

Gina Rodriguez stars in ABC's new comedy "Not Dead Yet" about a woman writing obituaries with help from dead people only she can see.

A woman at a bear in a leather jacket stands next to an older man in a cap and jacket; still from "Not Dead Yet"

“Not Dead Yet”

ABC/Eric McCandless

Any time a TV show opens with the main character providing exposition, the bar is pretty much set.

ABC’s “Not Dead Yet,” from creators David Windsor and Casey Johnson, opens with Nell (Gina Rodriguez) narrating essentially the series logline and synopsis.

“Five years ago, Nell Serrano threw away a promising career to move to London for a man. She went all in on love, until it dropkicked her in the face.” Nell gets drunk on weekdays and falls behind on laundry and offers lots of other flailing-adult signifiers right down to the actual line “How did I end up here?” She’s back at her old job, where she’s now entry-level and reporting to former peers who are now superiors. The half-hour comedy is adapted from Alexandra Potter’s “Confessions of a 40-something F**k Up.”

As deeply boring as Nell’s backstory is in the landscape of human disaster television shows, the twist is what gives “Not Dead Yet” some edge — and then immediately squashes it. Nell is tasked with writing obituaries at her newspaper job, and quickly starts to see the very dead people she’s writing about. All of the departed are barely interested in their own unfinished business or untimely passing, but deeply invested in helping Nell get her life together. She gets to know the dead, they offer her sage advice, she writes the obit, and then they shuffle off this mortal coil, at peace now that this almost-grown up bought a dining 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 floundering persona. It’s nowhere near the serendipitous showcase that was “Jane the Virgin,” but it’s a great performer making the best of not-great material. Nell is not particularly relatable, funny, or endearing, but she doesn’t push the viewer away.

Four friends sit around a table enjoying drinks at a bar; still from "Not Dead Yet"

“Not Dead Yet”


The ghost-of-the-week format gives “Not Dead Yet” a classic network procedural feeling, but sadly doesn’t breathe any life into the series. Five episodes screened for critics reveal a few details about Nell’s past and mere morsels about best friends Sam (Hannah Simone) and Dennis (Josh Banday) and frenemy boss Lexi (Lauren Ash). Angela E. Gibbs carries the lackluster writing as Cricket, the recently widowed owner of a wine bar whose husband visited Nell (and whose establishment the friends conveniently start to frequent). Rodriguez, Simone, and Ash are all excellent, but it’s difficult not to see them as reminders wonderful television shows they starred in previously. The cast chemistry feels initially forced, but the characters are still thin. Their interactions are reminiscent of the premiere season of “How I Met Your Father,” but the good news is that “HIMYF”s core grew stronger over time.

It’s a tiring critique to have to keep flagging, but “Not Dead Yet” is one of many shows with a confused relationship to technology and social media. Nell works at a mercifully thriving local newspaper, the kind of untouched bastion where there is a sole individual in charge of publishing articles to the website (this is something that every editor at almost every publication does every day). None of the older staff or elder millennials know how to drive website traffic, yet Nell gets her news from Tiktok. She writes an obit for a former classmate who was an Instagram influencer, a very real position many now occupy which is about as fleshed out as it would have been in 2012 — when this show would have made much more sense. It’s unclear if “Not Dead Yet” targets its characters’ age demographic (late-30s and early-40s), young people who have otherwise moved away from linear television and networks, or older members of the ABC audience who might resonate with this protagonist.

It’s a slow start, but not nothing. Windsor and Johnson produced “This Is Us,” which leaned into grief and death without the dark levity that imbues so much modern TV, and “Not Dead Yet” gives them a chance to do just that. If “Not Dead Yet” dares to get more personal with Nell — and it takes a major step in Episode 5 — the series could improve, especially if the cast chemistry starts to feel more organic than forced, as it often does early in a series. “Not Dead Yet” is not dead yet, but as of now it doesn’t have much of a pulse.

Grade: C-

“Not Dead Yet” premieres February 8 at 8:30 p.m. on ABC, with new episodes weekly.

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