I’ve seen how it all ends. Don’t worry. God wins.
–The Devil (Ray Wise)
A few TV seasons ago, Joan of Arcadia was visited by God and asked to do His bidding. This year, on the CW’s engaging new dramedy Reaper. Sam Oliver (a likeable Bret Harrison) is in the opposite position. He must be Satan’s errand boy on earth. It’s not that he wants to do it. Although he’s a bit of a slacker, Sam is a basically good guy for whom the thought of being in league with the Master of Darkness (Ray Wise) is disconcerting. However, he has no choice in the matter, thanks to a deal his parents struck before he was born.
A college dropout because college “made him sleepy,” Sam works a dead-end job at the Work Bench, a home improvement store, and can’t bring himself to ask out the girl of his dreams, coworker Andi (Missy Peregrym). The gimmick is that Sam’s newly discovered destiny provides him with a purpose and an opportunity to be a contributing member of “society.”
This begins on Sam’s 21st birthday, the day Reaper begins. As soon as he wakes, he can’t help but notice the awkwardness of his parents (Allison Hossack and Andrew Airlie), whose happy birthday wishes are tense at best. The day gets more peculiar: Sam finds himself entranced by images of a fire on TV, chased by a pack of growling dogs, and uncannily able to save Andi by moving a falling crate with his mind. And then the Devil appears in the backseat of Sam’s car. His new life has him capturing souls who have escaped from hell, then returning them. If Sam fails to make good on the deal, the Devil will take his mother’s soul instead.
At first you have to wonder what his parents had in mind so many years ago, but the premiere episode — directed by Kevin Smith — quickly reveals the mitigating circumstances. As Sam’s father explains, their decision had to do with his terminal illness and an effort to trick the Devil. The parents plainly feel guilty, and Sam’s mother volunteers to be taken, but Sam reassures them that their decision is okay with him.
And even if the Devil is a mean son of a bitch (he has Sam watch a Zamboni crush its driver as a caution against crossing him). The young man finds some good in his work. The souls Sam must collect are apparently quite deserving of a life in hell, as their lives were evil and their escapes lead to mayhem. Sam’s first target is a pyromaniac (Fraser Aitcheson), returned to set ablaze all the places he torched 50 years ago. Now, though, he not only can set fires, he can also turn himself into a human fireball.
The task is not nearly as fearsome as it sounds, as the Devil provides Sam with the special equipment he needs: a super-charged Dirt Devil hand vac. Once he has apprehended the pyromaniac, Sam is supposed to deliver him to a portal to hell. When Sam asks where to find the portal, the Devil tells him to go the Department of Motor Vehicles, adding, “Any place that seems like hell on earth, is.”
Sam takes along his best friend, Sock (Tyler Labine), and coworker Ben (Rick Gonzalez). Their scheme involves raiding the Work Bench, whereupon they emerge looking like Ghostbusters rejects, with fire alarms, night lights, leather cords, and fire extinguishers all strategically strapped to their jumpsuits.
Reaper might have explored the nature of good and evil, theological precepts, even the debate concerning fate and free will. But while it raises these issues briefly, the series is essentially light-hearted: Sam is a sweet-natured superhero with a dust-buster. He may be working for the source of all evil, but one can’t help but cheer him on.