2007-2009 – 2 Seasons of hilarity, action, bro-hood, romance, and the Devil…
We are here today to remember some of our favorite television shows that were taken from us long before they were ready to go. At least, long before I was ready to let them go.
And unfortunately, that seems to be the case with most of our favorite TV shows these days. It’s rare to be given a second season, let alone continue on an epic run. So this new segment is here to remember some of the shows that may be forgotten. We might even remember some movies, video games, comics… anything that was Gone Too Soon…
Today I am going to talk about Reaper, a show that aired on the CW from 09/25/07 to 05/26/09. It was created by Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas, and was known for having its pilot episode directed by filmmaker Kevin Smith.
Sam (Bret Harrison) learns on his 21st B-Day that his parents sold his soul to the Devil. Harsh, right? Well, since the Devil (played masterfully by Ray Wise) owns Sam’s soul, he puts him to work as his bounty hunter, tasked to catch escaped souls from hell using his wits and sometimes Devil powers. Aided by his two heterosexual-lifemates Socks (Tyler Labine) and Ben (Rick Gonzalez), he fulfills his duty to the Devil, while trying to win the girl, his best friend Andi (Missy Peregrym).
Take Buffy The Vampire Slayer, add a little Supernatural, a dash of That 70’s Show and just a pinch of life. Strain out all the useless teen angst and dramatic pauses and you’re pretty much left with Reaper.
The show follows your basic “Freak of the Week” plotline, as Sam is given a new assignment for each new episode. While this can sometimes be the downfall of a show, to be stuck in that pattern, it turned out to be one of the great strengths of Reaper.
Here’s a clip of Socks and Ben getting some exercise:
Every episode, the Devil appears to Sam with a vessel, a device that will capture whichever escaped soul is featured that episode. Now, this vessel can come in any form, whichever is best suited for that particular soul. It’s been a Dust Devil mini-vac, a giant wooden mallet, an ancient Mongolian spear, a wicked collapsible scythe (that one should have stayed around longer), a cattle prod, and a bicycle horn, just to name a few.
Sam shares his news with his friends – Socks and Ben – who immediately join up and start helping him capture the souls, in between (or during) shifts at the Work Bench, a Home Depot knock-off. He leaves co-worker Andi in the dark for obvious reasons.
Once a soul is captured, it must be delivered to a spot that most resembles Hell on earth. the Department of Motor Vehicles, where we are treated to many great discussions with the resident grumpy demon, Gladys (played by Christine Willes), a character who offers a lot of humor to the show, as well as an occasional ally of Team Reaper (Sam, Socks, and Ben).
Each case offers more than a funny attempt at capturing souls, as we soon find out there is a lot more to the Devil’s plans with Sam than we thought. It’s easy to notice the beginning threads of Evil that the Devil is trying to tempt Sam with, and as the first season moves on, we learn more about their relationship and the contract that binds Sam’s soul to Hell.
Team Reaper eventually moves out on their own after Socks is kicked out of his newly married mother’s house. In their new apartment building, they encounter a friendly gay couple that lives down the hall. Tony (Ken Marino) and Steve (Michael Ian Black) become good friends, even buying clothes for Ben and feeding Socks on numerous occasions. They eventually learn that the couple are actually a pair of rebellious demons, plotting to destroy the Devil.
Tony and Steve remain recurring characters throughout the series, Tony as a demon, and Steve as an angel after he dies in the failed rebellion. We’ll get back to them later. After Sam gets Tony’s help in perusing the contract, they learn that a number of pages have been ripped out (by Sam’s father, the man who made the deal in the first place) and they all cover the facts about Sam’s real father.
Take a guess who that might be…
Season 2 begins on the assumption that Sam is now the son of the Devil, but that doesn’t really change anything between Sam and the Devil. I mean, he is the Devil. So Sam must continue with his bounty hunting, aided by his friends. Andi has found out everything by this point, so their “on again-off again” relationship roller-coaster has already started. But this development really takes the series in a whole new direction.
I won’t talk too much about the rest of the show, because I don’t want to ruin it, but I’ll give a few details away. We are introduced to another son of the Devil (Armie Hammer as Morgan), a demon girlfriend for Ben (Jenny Wade as Nina), a sexy step-sister for Socks to lust after, and a way for Sam to get out of his contract with the Devil. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as the“Real father of Sam” question continues to be an issue.
Let’s talk about the cast. Bret Harrison pulls off the likable slacker with the damned soul pretty effectively and sometimes is even left playing the straight guy to match his co-stars. His friend Socks is the obvious funny guy on the show, a role he plays perfectly. An awesome mix of Chris Farley-like physical comedy, an impressive personality, and some great comedic timing. Socks was the star of the show for me personally for a long time.
But he wasn’t just the funny guy, he’s one of the legs of this group, and is often the one left to inspire the others out of the dark hole that the bounty hunter business sometimes takes them in. But while Socks may be the positive attitude, the heart of the show comes at most times from Ben. A character that really grew from Rick Gonzalez, and experienced the most change in a character from pilot to end that I’ve almost ever seen.
Andi is a lovable cute girl next door who can hang with the guys and is always there to keep Sam from turning truly evil. While she isn’t without her own doubts and issues about the whole soul hunting son of the devil as a boyfriend thing, she does everything she can to help. And you end up loving her for it.
Ray Wise delivers a smooth, vain, evil-loving version of the Devil that is instantly believable. The way he talks, moves, laughs, gets angry, it’s exactly the type of Devil that fits into this world. You often see him hosting AA meetings, selling diamond engagement rings, running corporate America, sowing temptation and discord around the world, smiling his evil smile as he does it. The biggest tragedy of this show’s cancellation is the loss of Ray Wise in his greatest role ever.
The rest of the supporting cast adds so much to the show that I just don’t have enough to say about them. Ted, the manager of the Work Bench, is the Yin to Socks’ Yang. Even some of the escaped souls offer great moments, like Patton Oswald, who guest-starred in an episode as Leon and immediately befriended Socks due to their shared sense of humor.
The visual effects were actually pretty good, much better than most TV shows can claim. From all the demon make-up to the different powers the lost souls may have had, it was either believable or making fun of itself, which the show was wont to do. They always added to the show, it was rare to watch a visual effect and feel like I was taken out of the episode.
The series didn’t really end abruptly, but it did leave a lot of questions unanswered. Still, it was an effective last episode, with the viewers left feeling satisfied that Team Reaper (now firmly including Andi) would go on to hopefully prosper against the Devil…or Not. But they would go on…
Then they were canceled. And my beloved family disappeared off the airwaves, presumably off to bigger and better things. But I, the viewer, am left with a hole in my heart.
If you haven’t seen Reaper yet, I encourage you to watch it, immediately. If you’re looking for funny sci-fi centered around a down-to-earth group of slacker friends with a healthy heaping of hot chicks and hilarious adventures, then Reaper is for you. Good TV is too rare to let slip through the cracks of network Hell.