The Binge-Watch List: Deadbeat shows signs of life

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If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if a medium ditched all the flowing robes, crystal balls, and incense in favor of just sitting around on a couch smoking weed all day, you may well be in charge of green-lighting shows for Hulu. Because that’s essentially the idea behind Deadbeat, a new original series available on the streaming video service.

What it’s about

Deadbeat stars Kevin Pacalioglu (played by Tyler Labine, who you might recognize from a number of television shows including Reaper and the movie Tucker & Dale vs. Evil), a fat, lazy stoner who talks to ghosts. His only friend is his drug dealer, Roofie (Brandon T. Jackson, from Tropic Thunder and the Percy Jackson movies), and he’s engaged in a feud with Camomile White (Cat Deeley, the host of So You Think You Can Dance), a successful medium who’s everything he’s not: tall, attractive, blonde, a woman, and a fraud. In each episode, Kevin has to take care of a ghost’s unfinished business, which allows the ghost to stop haunting people. It’s rude to haunt people, ghosts.

Season One debuted with all ten episodes becoming available simultaneously on Hulu Plus earlier this month. Each one takes about 23 minutes, because that’s how much show there is in a 30-minute network television show after you take out the commercials.

What makes it interesting

Kevin exists in a very low-stakes environment. His medium fees are on the order of $25, which is a pretty good deal for an exorcism. And wacky hijinks inevitably ensue. For example, he might run across the ghost of a competitive eater whose stomach was transplanted into someone else. The ghost wants the new owner of his stomach to enter a hot dog eating contest, but the recipient turns out to be a rabbi who would prefer to stay kosher. Complications pile upon complications until everything gets resolved.

deadbeat labine ghost

Deadbeat star Tyler Labine (right) and friend discuss how hard out there it is for a medium. 

With Kevin on his own so much, the supporting cast doesn’t do a great deal of supporting, but they’re good at what they do. Roofie is probably the nicest drug dealer in the world, because he not only loans Kevin money but actually gives him a job, letting Kevin run his newsstand.

And I can’t say enough about how much fun it is to see Cat Deeley, who’s unfailingly friendly and nice as she hosts a televised dance contest, portraying an evil, scheming villain. She’s fairly convincing as a threat, because her great height allows her to loom over Kevin. And while Labine looks like a normal out-of-shape guy, Deeley is significantly more attractive. So it’s natural that he starts out admiring her as a famous, successful medium. But almost as soon as she shows up, it turns out that she’s not even a real medium. Camomile uses techniques like cold reading to bilk people out of their money, but she puts on a better show than Kevin, who just stands there and talks to ghosts.

What makes it not so great

There’s a lot of ghosts causing trouble in the world of Deadbeat, so much so that you’d expect mediums would be in high demand. These aren’t the kind of ghosts that show up in a window during the full moon; instead, they’re the kind of ghosts that actively make things fly around the room. You’d think that Kevin’s proven track record of ghost-mollification would get him some success, but he stays a loser for the whole first season. To be fair, some of his lack of success is probably due to the fact that he’s not very good at self-promotion or self-motivation or really anything other than talking to ghosts.

deadbeat labine deeley

If you must have an arch-nemesis, Cat Deeley seem like a good choice.

The show’s humor is not terribly sophisticated. For example, a Japanese-American ghost is named “Hiro Tamagotchi,” and I’m pretty sure it’s because of those little digital pets that were all the rage 15 years ago. In another episode, Kevin runs afoul of the Swedish mafia, which is a cavalcade of terrible accents and jokes about eating meatballs. I’m not saying none of the meatball talk was funny, but you should know going in that this is a show that’s more interested in dopey jokes than subtle, character-based comedy.

What’s the math

Ghostbusters divided by Workaholics divided by My Name Is Earl.

So how is it?

It’s OK. Kevin is an appealing character, which is important for a show where he’s in almost every scene and spends so much time just wandering around empty rooms waiting for ghosts to show up. If you’re going to spend a lot of time with an aimless loser, it’s nice to have one who’s relatively cheerful. And although the ghosts have a tendency to state the episode’s task in very blunt, expository terms, they usually have interestingly convoluted reasons for their goals.

How many hours should I watch at once?

One. Three episodes in a row would be pushing the limits. That will let you get through the season’s ten episodes in just over three sittings.

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