Reviews

Reaper: Season 1

Is the casting of Ray Wise as the Devil so obvious that it’s brilliant, or so obvious that it’s banal?


Reaper

Distributor: Lionsgate
Cast: Bret Harrison, Ray Wise, Tyler Labine, Rick Gonzalez, Missy Peregrym
MPAA rating: N/A
Network: ABC
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2008-11-04
Amazon

The question that kept occurring to me, and distracting me, while watching the first season of Reaper, the CW’s minor sleeper hit from the 2007/2008 season, is this: is the casting of Ray Wise as the Devil so obvious that it’s brilliant, or so obvious that it’s banal? With his slick suits, his exquisitely coiffed salt and pepper hair, his suave demeanor, his leering grin and a…well, devilish glint in his eyes, Wise wears the role of Satan very well – maybe too well.

In fact, he is such a natural as the Prince of Darkness that it starts to raise some troubling questions. Like, is Wise, in fact, actually the Devil? And if so, what is he doing on network television?

My regular Viewing Companion and I have had this discussion before, mostly in reference to Wise’s most famous role, as Leland Palmer on Twin Peaks, but Reaper has sealed the deal, and we are now in complete agreement: Ray Wise is actually the Devil, and the proof is that Reaper got picked up for a second season, despite its semi-lowly ratings on a regularly cancellation happy network, and the fact that the show itself, though not unenjoyable, is not as consistently good as one would like it to be.

The premise and pedigree do show promise out of the gate. In the pilot (directed by Kevin Smith, who presides over the rest of the series as a guiding spirit and “consultant”, whatever that means), Sam Oliver (Bret Harrison), a going nowhere fast slacker who is wasting life away working at a giant box chain hardware store, is drafted into Satan’s service on his 21st birthday. Turns out his parents made a deal with the Devil long ago to sell their first born’s soul, and now the Devil has come to collect. Instead of dragging Sam off to Hell, the Devil enlists him as a sort of supernatural bounty hunter in charge of rounding up escaped evil souls in need of shepherding back into hell.

The majority of the episodes are mostly (and frustratingly), well, episodic, monster of the week type fare, and tend to unfold in a repetitive manner. Aided by his similarly motivationally-challenged friends “Sock” (Tyler Labine, blustery and obnoxious and the main reason to watch the show) and Ben (Rick Gonzalez), Sam must figure out who the newly escaped soul is, how to track it down, and then figure out how to corral it with a supernatural soulcatcher, which presents itself as a different semi-comical object each episode (the first, most obviously, was a dustbuster -- the best? A Magic Bullet food processor).

The Devil pops in and out of Sam’s life at will, directing him or misdirecting him indiscriminately. After each soul is rounded up, Sam must deposit it back into Hell, the portal to which is the local DMV (the show’s one really good running gag). Wash, rinse, repeat.

When he’s not acceding to the Devil’s whims, Sam is navigating his “will they/won’t they” relationship with his friend and co-worker, Andi (Missy Peregrym). This forms one of the show’s early overarching narrative strands, which mostly fails due to the lack of chemistry between the two actors, and the fact that Andi is just not all that appealing (much better is the chemistry between Sam and his best buddy “Sock”).

The other narrative arc, which is picked up and discarded seemingly at whim, is Sam’s parents’ involvement in all this, which the show seems to conveniently forget for long stretches at a time, even though it seems sort of a big deal at first, and turns out to be a big deal in the season finale. And this points to the larger problems of the show.

Reaper is terminally unsure of what it wants to be, and its refusal to congeal into anything definitive undercuts its various strengths and its appeal. It can be quite funny in bits, but it’s not really a comedy. It wants to delve into the back story and have some sort of narrative mythos about Sam’s relationship with the Devil, but it never follows up on the few hints it drops in its few myth-arc type episodes.

And it dabbles in darkness and the lines between good and evil without ever really asking any difficult questions or exploring any sort of moral quandaries, which one would expect, when one of the main characters is Satan. Wise’s Devil is more impish than diabolical, though as the series progresses a certain amount of grimness begins to descend on the proceedings. But still, its comedic undertone consistently undercuts any sort of gravity in the end. As the show winds up in the back third of its 18 episode first season run, there are hints of it turning into something that would compel weekly tuning in, but it’s perhaps too little too late.

So, it’s a tough call. It’s not that exactly that Reaper is lacking in charm, humor, wit, or narrative interest. It’s just that, much like its slacker heroes, it has a hard time realizing its potential in these areas, and is more often than not merely content to coast by with minimal effort and frustrating inability to follow through every time it starts to take a turn for the promising. And maybe that’s the point -- the form matching the content. But I think not. I think it’s merely a lack of creative writing, and sure handed direction, and it’s just too bad, because it’s a show I want to succeed, and want to enjoy, immensely.

The presiding ethos of underachievement seems to hold sway in the extras department as well, which, aside from a gag/blooper real and some deleted scenes of negligible worth, are pretty much non-existent aside from a stray audio commentary. I was at least hoping for a guided tour of the underworld from Ray Wise. Or at least an interview. But no, the Reaper package is discouragingly barebones.

4

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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