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Reviewed by Will Harris
eaper” is one of those shows that you almost hate to describe to people, not because you don’t want them to watch it, but because you just know your description of the premise isn’t going to do it justice.
Sam (Bret Harrison) is a bit of a slacker, working at the local Work Bench (which in no way resembles Home Depot) and not doing a hell of a lot with his life. How ironic, then, that his life goes to Hell on his 21st birthday, when his parents reveal that they sold his soul to the Devil before he was born. As a result, the dapper lord of the underworld arrives, looking suspiciously like Ray Wise, and informs Sam that he’s now contractually required to serve as a sort of bounty hunter for Hell. His task is to capture the souls that have escaped from Hell, using the various vessels that are provided to him, which can take the form of anything from a remote control car to a Dirt Devil. Aiding him in his tasks are his best friends and co-workers, Sock (Tyler Labine) and Ben (Rick Gonzales), but what proves even harder than doing the Devil’s bidding is trying to successfully woo the uber-cute Andi (Missy Peregrym) while not telling her about how he’s secretly Satan’s lap monkey.
See what I mean? It’s a weird concept, but if you’ve got an open mind, you’ll quickly find that it’s a pretty damned cool one, blending humor, action, and kick-ass special effects into one of the best shows on TV today.
The show got instant street cred by corralling Kevin Smith to direct its pilot episode, but even if you’re not a fan of Smith’s cinematic oeuvre, his work on “Reaper” is a big reason why it was widely considered to be one of the strongest pilots in recent memory. Then again, he also had quite a talented cast to work with. The decision to cast Wise as the Devil cannot be praised enough (where’s that Emmy nod, dammit?), but Harrison had honed his comedic chops on several seasons of “Grounded for Life,” and he’s a master of the look of befuddlement. Labine, meanwhile, was mistakenly written off by many critics as “Jack Black Lite,” but aside from the occasional moments of wackiness, he’s far more restrained than Black. What’s not mentioned nearly enough, however, is how much Rick Gonzales adds to the cast as Ben; it’s a shame that he got saddled with the silly marriage-of-convenience subplot, but when he’s teamed with Harrison and Levine, the three of them never fail to shine.
If we’re to be honest, it must be said that “Reaper” suffered a bit during its early episodes by falling quickly into the predictable rut of 1) Sam has to find a soul, 2) Sam finds the soul, and 3) in the process of finding the soul, he screws up a chance to go out with Andi. The chemistry between the cast members never faltered, but the creativity of the concept felt like it was being wasted. The writer’s strike might have annoyed the cast and crew of the show, but it seems less than coincidental that the show returned from its industry-caused hiatus with a new direction that caused those who’d stuck with the series from the beginning to assure their friends, “Look, if you tuned out because it felt like there was too much of a soul-of-the-week thing going on, you totally need to give the show another shot.” The addition of Michael Ian Black and Ken Mario as demons that have an eye on Sam and want to utilize his proximity to the Devil for their own means was a masterstroke, and its exploration of what Hell’s like and how things are governed down there was the sort of thing that people had been waiting for all along.
Season 1 of “Reaper” ended with a twist that all but rewrote everything that had presented throughout the preceding episodes, but it’s been promised that Season 2 – tentatively scheduled to premiere in early 2009 – will tackle these developments head on. Frankly, we couldn’t be more excited about it.
Special Features: Sadly, it must be said that the bonus material here is rather disappointing. Given how personable the cast members are, it’s stunning to find that none of them have contributed to the set, except in an incidental manner. There are deleted scenes and a gag reel, both of which prove to be enjoyable viewing, but despite the phrase “audio commentaries” appearing on the back of the box, there’s actually only one, and it’s with creators Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters and executive producer Deborah Spera. Not that they don’t provide an interesting and entertaining discussion, but it’s just hard to believe that no-one from the cast either made the time or was given the opportunity to chime in. Also disappointing is the decision not to include the series’ original pilot, where the role of Andi was played by Nikki Reed rather than Missy Peregrym. (Sorry, but I still say Nikki is cuter.)