Tyler Labine, Cat Deeley
Hulu's new original comedy series Deadbeat is both familiar and different at the same time.
Although the show features a typical TV conceit — a protagonist has one amazing skill, but the rest of his life is a disaster — when you add in ghosts and a large quantity of controlled substances, you get something you'd be hard pressed to ever find on your TV dial.
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The series, created by Wilfred writers Cody Heller and Brett Konner, stars Reaper's Tyler Labine as Kevin "Pac Man" Pacalioglu, a stoner medium who helps ghosts resolve their unfinished business so they can move on to the afterlife. In the series premiere, he helps a dead soldier sleep with the girlfriend he left behind when he went off to war. In another episode, he helps a competitive-eating champion whose stomach was transplanted into another person win one last trophy. Yes, the premise is wild, but that's what drew Labine to the project. Well, that and one other thing.
"The drugs, man!" Labine jokes when asked what he responded to when he first read the script. "I really loved the controlled absurdity that was involved. I call it high-class absurdity or absurdité. But really, the thing I love most about the show is that although there's a lot of comedy, we actually peppered in some touching moments. There's some real emotional content. It's not just ghost of the week and me getting high all the time!"
Those touching moments comes as Pac Man learns some tough life lessons from the ghosts he works with. But even though he's great with dealing with the dead, Pac Man has only one friend — and he is actually his drug dealer, Roofie (Brandon T. Jackson). "He's been dealing with this skill or curse since he was a kid," Labine says. "He's been made fun of and mocked his whole life, and so he's put up some walls. I don't think he wants to be alone, I think he's afraid he's going to get hurt."
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However, Pac Man will attempt to take down those walls when Roofie suggests Pac Man pursues Camomile White (So You Think You Can Dancehost Cat Deeley), a hugely successful medium who has built an empire by connecting people with their lost loved ones (and by writing erotic ghost fiction!). But Kevin's crush on Camomile is ruined when he learns that she's actually a fraud.
"He gets disheartened by that, but he can't help but still have this crush on her," Labine says. "And on top of that, she starts toying with him. She's convinced that he's this weird evil genius who's trying to expose her and topple her empire. There's constant game-playing going on, but Kevin doesn't know what game they're playing."
Indeed, Camomile will stop at nothing to protect her public persona. "She is one of the most manipulative villains I've ever seen," says Deeley, who describes the character as mix between Dynasty's Alexis Carrington and Alan Rickman's Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. "She's America's sweetheart and she's built an empire on being a complete fake. It's a giant house of cards that could come down on her at any minute. That's why she's paranoid."
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But could that initial antagonism turn into something more? After all, if you combine Pac Man's actual skill with Camomile's business savvy, that's a pretty good team, right? "Does he want to be this rich, famous, sellout medium or does he want to stay stoned with his buddy and eek his way through life?" Labine says. "It's a big question for the show. Where are these abilities going to take him and does he want them to take him there? He starts to be turned off because he's been let behind the curtain a little bit and he doesn't like what he's seen."
Adds Deeley: "I don't think there's room on her throne for another person. ... She loves being the puppeteer, but it's the whole thing of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. How close does she have to take him into the fold so that she's in complete control of him at all time?"
And could that delicate balance lead to romantic sparks? "It's a love-hate relationship," Deeley says. "There's very little difference between love and hate and it can switch at any time. In the first episode, I've literally got him by the balls, and he goes to kiss me. He knows he feels something but he doesn't quite know if it's passionate love or passionate hate."
Between the ball-grabbing and the aforementioned erotic fiction, the usually prim-and-proper Deeley says she's having a blast letting out her naughty side. "It's all the more fun because she's such a bitch," Deeley says of her first major acting role. "The cast and crew around me and love it all the more when I really go for it. It was very exciting and very, very scary, but I've really enjoyed it."
You can watch the first episode of Deadbeat below. The first two episodes are available on Hulu now, and more will be added each Wednesday. Hulu Plus subscribers can watch all 10 episodes right now.