Fall 2007 TV: Reaper
Reaper (The CW)
Ah, The CW. Home of Gossip Girl. Canceller of Veronica Mars. Is there nothing you can do that I will not hate?
Turns out: yes. Reaper, the action/comedy about a slacker who becomes a bounty hunter for Satan, is exciting, funny, charming -- a real winner. I expect it to be killed by Christmas.
Reaper stars Bret Harrison (of Grounded For Life and the uneven but generally underrated The Loop) as Sam Oliver, an underachiever who dropped out of college because it made him "tired," is living with his parents, and killing time at the Home Depot-like Work Bench store. On his 21st birthday, he receives the alarming news that his parents sold his soul to the Devil before he was born, payment due when he turns 21. And the Devil has come to collect, taking the form of the scary but charismatic Ray Wise (whom of course you all know as Leon Nash from RoboCop. Oh, and also Twin Peaks).
Satan doesn't just want to drag Sam to Hell, though. He wants to put Sam to work as a bounty hunter, recapturing souls who have escaped from Hell. With the help of some Satan-granted powers, a magic vessel that looks like a Dirt Devil, and his slacker friends (mainly Bert "Sock" Wysocki, played by Tyler Labine), Sam tracks down and defeats a pyrokinetic escapee, all while keeping Andi, the girl he secretly loves (played by Heroes' Missy Peregrym, replacing Nikki Reed from the original pilot), in the dark about his new calling.
Harrison is perfectly cast in the lead, funny, high-strung, and awkward, believable both as a hopeless slacker and as someone with great, untapped potential. Ray Wise is about seven different kinds of awesome as Satan; he absolutely makes this show. I'm not entirely sold on Labine as the sidekick; he has his crack-up moments, but when one of his first actions is to smack a tiny dog with a car door (even if that dog does turn out to be a devil dog)... that's more being an irredeemable asshole, than a scampish ne'er-do-well. And I don't agree with the many reviews who claim he's ripping off Jack Black's routine. Preposterous! ...Clearly, he's ripping off Kevin Smith's routine.
Speaking of whom, Smith directed the pilot episode. In some ways, it really shows: much of the juvenile but hilarious banter between Sam and Sock is classic Smith, practically straight out of Clerks, if a little cleaned up for TV. And in some ways, it really doesn't show, which is a good thing: Reaper looks better than pretty much any Kevin Smith movie. Better cinematography, better staging, less wooden line readings, and the action supersedes anything Smith has directed before. I've always said that Smith, whatever other assets he may have as a director, is utterly incapable of directing a convincing action scene. But he manages it here, giving the showdowns between Sam and the fire demon the energy and excitement he's never been able to create in a feature film. It doesn't hold a candle to, say, the look and action of Lost, or even another CW show, Smallville, but for Smith and The CW in general, it's practically Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
There's one little highlight that I want to point out, that may not really have made an impression on other viewers. It's the scene in which Sam comes home to find his mother drowning her sorrows and shame in a bottle of vodka. She's devastated that she has let this awful thing happen to her son, and she begs him to refuse to do the Devil's work, to let him take her soul instead. I thought that was a very genuine and touching moment amidst the craziness, well-written and well-played.
Good comedy, good action, a sweet relationship between Sam and the adorable Andi, and Ray Wise. I've now got one strong reason to watch The CW. Who'd have thunk it?
Rating: 8 out of 10