Weekend Review – “Reaper: Season One”

Season two hits DVD this coming Tuesday. Is it worth getting into the series?

Cast and Crew Information

Bret Harrison as Sam Oliver
Tyler Labine as Bert “Sock” Wysocki
Rick Gonzalez as Ben Gonzalez
Missy Peregrym as Andi Prendergast
Ray Wise as The Devil
Andrew Airlie as Mr. Oliver
Christine Willes as Gladys, the DMV Demon

Created by Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas

Availability Information

Season one is available on DVD from Amazon.com and Amazon.ca. Note the price point; the MSRP is $34.99 US, but it’s often available at considerably less than that. At the time of this writing, it’s under $30 on both sides of the border, and at $21.49 at Amazon.com. Season two is available this coming Tuesday from Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.

Premise

Sam’s parents have never had high expectations for him. His brother is vying for Ivy League colleges, while Sam dropped out of college because “classes made him sleepy.” He’s now working at “The Work Bench,” a big box hardware store that has various electronics and such in stock as well. (It appears to be a blend of Home Depot and Wal-Mart.) On his 21st birthday, strange things start happening. Dogs attack him, he develops uncontrollable telekinesis, and so forth. To top it all off, on his drive home from work, a man appears in the back seat, claiming to be the Devil. When he gets home, his father is waiting, ready to offer explanations for the unusual day. It seems that his father was once very sick, and made a deal with the Devil to get better. The price: the soul of his first born. Sam’s parents decided not to have children, which seemed easy when they were told that his father was infertile. They later learned that the doctor had a gambling problem, and that the Devil took care of that in exchange for telling Sam’s parents this one little lie. In fact, it seems like everyone involved with the Devil does a lot of lying. Funny how that works… At any rate, Sam is now forced to work for the Devil as a demon hunter, rounding up souls that have escaped from hell.

High Point

Ray Wise does an incredible job as the Devil. The sharp wit is bang on, and his got the right edge of evil lacing every conversation to keep things scary. In early drafts of this review, I tried to quote some of his lines, but they just don’t work as well when you don’t see and hear Wise deliver them.

Low Point

Their house seems to have the same staircase the Cunninghams had on “Happy Days,” which can magically eat inconvenient siblings so they are never heard from again.

The Review

This is one of the most original shows to hit the air in a while. Yeah, it’s not the first show about a demon hunter, and not even the first on the CW with “Supernatural” holding strong with an early season five renewal, but the tone is dramatically different than most others. For context on the tone, know that Kevin Smith directed the pilot episode and stayed on as a consultant from there on. They walk the line, keeping laughs coming while establishing ongoing plotlines, without ever disrespecting the religious texts it draws from. I give it 5 out of 6.

The effects got better as the season progressed and the crew learned what this group of people could do with these resources. The writers also learned the budgets, and developed ideas and scripts that matched. Some of the flying demon moments don’t look that great, but natural flying is really hard to do, especially when you need to match it up with a moving camera. I give it 4 out of 6.

The stories are nicely done, with a steady migration from the “escapee of the week” to more significant and long term stories. Things like the amazing vanishing brother seem to be results of the “making it up as we go along” syndrome, where scenes that had been broadcast already in the early season were later ignored or contradicted for the sake of a better story idea that came along months later. Given what happens with those later ideas, I agree that it was totally worth it. This evolves from a decent supernatural comedy into a great dramatic show with long-term plotlines by the end of the season. I give it 4 out of 6.

The acting plays to the characters very well. The cast doesn’t have a lot of recognizable faces in it (I only knew Peregrym, Willies and Airlie on sight), which is actually a good sign. They were cast by how well they fit the roles as written, and it shows. Tyler Labine works well as Sock, and Ray Wise is perfect as the Devil. They not only play their roles, they define their roles. When the scripts call for emotion, they deliver, but the comedic tone needs a different kind of delivery that they hit very well. Even some of the early awkwardness seen from Sam’s parents can be easily written off as intentional given events from later in the season. I give it 6 out of 6.

The production is well done, keeping things close to the point of view of the characters, and changing in style during shifts from comedy to drama without feeling inconsistent. As I said, this is a show rife with hard lines to walk, and it pulls it off every time. I give it 5 out of 6.

The emotional response is great. It starts off as simply being funny as hell, and then develops the viewer’s interest in the characters over time, trials and tribulations. Unlike most sitcoms, this even allows characters and relationships to grow and change. The season one finale makes me wish I’d gotten through the DVDs soon enough to catch the season two opener and keep up with it. Thankfully, the season two DVD release is coming up very quickly relative to the end of the season, so I won’t have to wait long. I give it 6 out of 6.

Overall, this is a show that’s easy to underestimate based on the previews. It’s actually a really enjoyable, high quality mix of comedy and drama. Given the price point of the DVD editions, it’s even easier to recommend. The early growing pains are easily forgiven by the finished product. I give it 5 out of 6.

In total, Reaper: Season One receives 35 out of 42.

8 replies on “Weekend Review – “Reaper: Season One””

  1. Erf says:

    Wow. It seems like “Good guy working for the devil to collect escaped demons/souls” is becoming its own subgenre. (Or maybe it’s been one for a while.) Makes sense — it’s a great high concept for an ongoing series. Glad this one is pulling it off so well!

    Do they touch on why the devil let all these souls escape? Usually that comes out when they introduce the show’s premise. (Often the good guy is one of the escapees, catching the rest for penance, though that’s obviously not the case here.)

    • fiziko says:

      There’s a comment in the pilot episode. I don’t remember exactly what it is, but it’s something about overcrowding and unmotivated employees. Of course, this incarnation of the devil has a history of lies, inadequate information sharing, and so forth. He definitely has a plan for Sam that hasn’t been revealed by the end of season one, so the escapees could be released intentionally as a part of that plan.

    • GrimSean says:

      Have you seen Brimstone? Close to the same premise – souls escape hell, and a cop who went to hell for killing the man that murdered his wife is promised freedom by Lionel Luthor the greatest TV devil ever for finding them.

      John Glover always does his best work when playing evil.

      I watched a few episodes of Reaper when it first came on, but then it slipped off my radar. I’m going to pop into FutureShop and see if I can’t grab this season cheap to check it out.

  2. Fez says:

    I keep telling my wife this needs to happen since Reaper isn’t getting a third season, but Supernatural is:

    At the end of the Supernatural finale, Lucifer is supposed to walk the earth, yadda yadda, and so on.

    I think Ray Wise should be Lucifer on Supernatural. Hell, he should play the devil on anything and everything, that guy is awesome in that role.

  3. Damien says:

    Ray Wise was a perfect choice, he just eat up the role!

  4. Damien says:

    I also forgot, Ray Wise played Leland Parker in Twin Peaks, so he’s used to being possessed ;-)

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