‘Reaper’ returns with more devilishly good comedy

[3 March 2009]

By Aaron Barnhart

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

Jeepers creepers, I thought we’d never get new “Reapers.”

After a nine-month hiatus, one of the best new shows of last season returns from the undead at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday on the CW with a bit more of the deviled edge that made it so great when it first emerged from the crypt in the fall of 2007.

For those of you who missed out last season - which wasn’t hard, considering “Reaper” vanished for nearly four months during the writers’ strike - and those of you wondering whether to tune in after a somewhat disappointing first season, here’s a wicked-pedia of reasons to jump on board:

Sam’s grown a backbone. So you’ve heard that there’s this kid Sam (Bret Harrison), and his soul was sold to the devil by his parents, and now Satan (Ray Wise) - possibly the most dapper Mephistopholes ever; he may even wear Mephistos - has turned Sam into an earthly bounty hunter, returning escaped souls to Hell.

Sam accepted this fate as though Satan had told him to clean up his room, which was fine once or twice but, like every domestic dispute, soon felt more rehearsed than authentic.

But this is Sam 2.0, and something about losing his dad in the season finale, and realizing he really is Beelzebub’s beyotch for all eternity, has proven oddly liberating. (We know dear old Dad isn’t actually dead, but Sam doesn’t.) Look for Sam to get more assertive with the old man, thus altering the show’s chemistry just a little bit for the better.

Sock isn’t a spawn of Jack Black. One of “Reaper’s” weak spots last season was Sam’s best friend and fellow employee at the big-box store, Sock (Tyler Labine). For a while there this character, while likable, was overly familiar, an extended-play version of the chubby, demonstrative slacker sidekick going back at least to John Candy, the guest that wouldn’t leave.

What everyone at “Reaper” seems to have realized is that having him tormenting Sam all day long is the least interesting and challenging thing you can do with Sock. So now the writers are throwing new things at him - like a hot new roommate who walks around in short shorts all day but is, for reasons you will soon learn, completely unavailable.

Satan’s got issues. I love Ray Wise, and I love the fact that the Most Evil One could someday make People’s 10 Best Dressed List. But let’s face it: He could do that devil impersonation in his sleep. Run a comb through his hair, cock an eyebrow, say something really awful with a smile - he’s Dubya with a tan.

“Reaper” is a comedy, I get that. And it works as one. But the best comedies are defined by their ability to impart even the heaviest messages with the same light touch as a pratfall or a put-down. One of the weaknesses of the first season, it seems to me, is Satan just seemed joke-proof. He’s like the comedian who could never host a talk show because it would mean he’d have to listen to someone else. And when you’re the all-powerful uberdemon, why would you do that?

So one of the challenges of the rebooted “Reaper” is putting enough dents in the devil’s armor that he looks ... well, human’s not the word I’m looking for. How about: That Angel Who’s Eventually Going Down And He Knows It? The paradox is delivering a powerful message like that so that the viewer scarcely notices.

I think you’ll see an instance of that in Tuesday’s episode.

Andi’s got issues. Another weak spot from “Reaper’s” first season was Sam’s on-again, off-again girlfriend Andi (Missy Peregrym). It only took a few weeks to bring them together and push them back apart, but I felt there was an unreality to this shopworn TV device. For Pete’s sake, he’s the son of Satan! There should be an element of danger in dating someone with the devil’s bloodlines. That also gets addressed this Tuesday.

There’s no show like it on television. Even when it wasn’t firing on all cylinders, “Reaper” was the cream of a crop of uninspired network shows last year and utterly unlike any of them. Yeah, “Chuck” is set in a store, too, but if viewers don’t start getting behind shows that aren’t set in police stations and hospitals and upwardly-mobile prep schools, pretty soon those are the only kinds of shows we’re going to have.

The network executives may all be doing the devil’s bidding, but they’re not idiots.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/71110-reaper-returns-with-more-devilishly-good-comedy/