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Not Dead Yet review: A worthy return to network TV for Gina Rodriguez

The Jane The Virgin star leads ABC's sweet-but-not-too-saccharine sitcom

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Gina Rodriguez in Not Dead Yet
Gina Rodriguez in Not Dead Yet
Photo: ABC/Temma Hankin

There’s something undeniably charming about Not Dead Yet, the new ABC sitcom that stars Gina Rodriguez as a reluctant obituary writer who discovers that she can see and communicate with the newly departed individuals whom she’s writing about. It’s an intriguing premise and, despite a few minor faults and foibles in its early execution, a worthy star vehicle for Rodriguez, who brings much of the same heartfelt humor and emotional intelligence that she delivered in spades as the titular protagonist on The CW’s Jane The Virgin.

Created by This Is Us co-executive producers David Windsor and Casey Johnson and inspired by Alexandra Potter’s novel Confessions Of A Forty-Something F**k Up, Not Dead Yet follows Nell Serrano (Rodriguez), a 37-year-old journalist who, after having uprooted her life five years ago for a London-bound ex-fiancé, moves back to Southern California following their breakup. Hoping to restart the life she left behind, Nell returns to her old job at the SoCal Independent, but she soon discovers that nothing is the same anymore.


For starters, Nell is forced to move in with a slightly passive-aggressive roommate (Rick Glassman) she found on Craigslist, who asks her to walk his dog every morning as part of their lease agreement. Her best friend, Sam (Hannah Simone), is now a mother of two and the lifestyle editor—and she’s even befriended their former nemesis, Lexi (Lauren Ash, in a dramatic departure from her work on Superstore), an aloof nepo baby who now runs the paper owned by her demanding father. Nell’s other close friend, Dennis (Josh Banday), is now the metro editor and the one who puts her on the obits beat. She later befriends an older woman named Cricket (Angela Gibbs), a bar owner who recently lost her husband to cancer, in one of the best relationships on the show.


Each of these supporting players in Nell’s life is relatively well-defined in the jam-packed pilot, which finds the once-successful journalist struggling to balance the changes in her friends’ personal lives with her seemingly newfound ability to see dead people. But whereas some shows go out of their way to come up with a semi-plausible reason for their protagonists’ specter-seeing abilities (Sam from Ghosts, for example, fell a flight of stairs and bonked her head), it’s not entirely clear, over the first five episodes screened for review, how Nell came to develop such a mystical power in the first place. Has she seen dead people at different points in her life and never realized it? Would this ability go away if she was no longer writing obituaries? What about if she wasn’t working as a journalist? These unanswered questions linger in the background of the early episodes, as Nell tries to make the best of her new set of circumstances.

Not Dead Yet - Official Trailer

But if jaded viewers are willing to suspend their disbelief, they will find a sweet but not too saccharine sitcom that largely succeeds in blending an acerbic wit with life-affirming lessons. Nell uses the life advice from ghosts not only to write their obits but also to remind herself to get out of her own way, and Rodriguez imbues the character with a warmth and humanity that makes her worth rooting for. The show will only stand to benefit from making better use of its supporting characters, who don’t make as much headway after the pilot and are already competing for the limited screen time remaining after Nell’s ghost-of-the-week storyline (which occasionally extends to multiple episodes).

While Nell is largely off reckoning with the ghosts of her past or seeking advice from friendly new ones, her colleagues and friends take a back seat in terms of development. One might argue that the creative decision to focus more on Nell’s personal journey and less on her personal friends and friendships underscores how detached Nell feels from the people around her. But the show is still strongest in its nascent stages when it brings that existing history, especially between Nell and Sam, back into focus. By focusing more on its core relationships, Not Dead Yet could very well help to breathe new life into the network sitcom.

Not Dead Yet premieres February 8 on ABC