Obituary – Making a living from death

“I found my voice now – a voice with murder as its means.”

Something about the Irish experience has melded their idea of comedy with the darker side of life. (Note such films as Waking Ned Devine or last year’s Banshees of Inisherin.) That blend of humor and depressing may seem odd, but the two views often play off one another in interesting ways. That seemingly antithetical combination now comes in the form of the Hulu series,Obituary. I’ve had the chance to watch the first two episodes of the series.

Elvira Clancy (Siobhán Cullen) is the obituary writer for a small-town newspaper. The first thing we learn about Elvira is “As far back as I remember, my life has been steeped in death.” Her mother died in childbirth. The first time that she remembers truly feeling joy was when a errant shot doing target practice killed a deer. It seems natural that she should gravitate to writing obits.

When the paper’s financial situation worsens, she is told she’ll only get paid when her writing is in the paper. The problem is that on average there is only a death every ten days. How is she to make enough to support herself and her alcoholic father (Michael Smiley)?

There are many people in town she’d like to write obits for, and fantasizes their deaths. She even writes up the columns to practice finding her voice. When she learns that a man has been telling people he’s dying turns out to be lying, in a fit of anger she “accidently” pushes him off a cliff. She is amazed at how good that made her feel. Soon, she has her list of people who can help her make a living writing about their deaths.

Meanwhile, there is a new crime writer at the paper. Emerson Stafford (Ronan Raftery) has come to town to try to solve the mystery of a German writer who was murdered there. Elvira immediately takes a fancy to him, but he seems more interested in Elvira’s best friend Mallory (Danielle Galligan). By the end of episode 2, we get hints that Elvira’s father may have had something to do with the murder—or maybe Elvira herself.

My first thought when I heard the premise was that this could be something in the mold of Dexter, in which a police forensic analyst was a serial killer of serial killers. Dexter spoke of his “Dark Passenger”, the urge to kill that he controls by finding targets that he knows deserve to die. Elvira also speaks of her desire to kill, but she does not have nearly as high a bar for picking victims. It seems anyone who wrongs (or even slights) her or someone she loves could well end up dead as the result of  “a mishap or suicide … an act of God or a sex act gone wrong”.

That lack of a moral compass (yes, I think Dexter did possess one) makes Elvira a much less sympathetic character. There is no righteousness in her actions. They are (at least the ones in the first two episodes) vindictive and mean spirited. There is enough in these two episodes to provide enough promise of growth to get me to continue on a bit more, but the final verdict will have to be withheld for now.

Obituary streams on Hulu.

Photos courtesy of Hulu.

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