Thursday, 30 July 2009

(Don't Fear) The Reaper

In a complete reverse of the famous Blue Oyster Cult song, it was the ‘Reaper’ that had something to fear going into its sophomore season.

This quirky, original and very funny show had the axe hovering dangerously close to its demon-hunting neck from the get-go and it was a surprise to many that it returned at all.

The inevitable soon happened though, and ‘Reaper’ is now officially no more, once the reduced season 2 wraps up over here it’ll be the end of Sam Oliver’s days as a reaper.

I stated earlier in the year when this news first broke, that rather than mourn the loss of ‘Reaper’, that we should celebrate and savour the second and, sadly, final season of the show – so in that spirit, I’m dedicating this week to ‘Reaper’ and I’m going to do my damnedest to try and expose as many people to this hidden gem as I can before it disappears forever…

‘Reaper’ first caught my eye when I heard Kevin Smith was involved with the show, although Smith’s involvement turned out to be nothing more than directing the pilot, I was intrigued enough to stick around and subsequently developed a great love of this sorely underrated show.

So where exactly does ‘Reaper’s charm lie? Well, it plays like a small screen ‘Shaun of the Dead’ – riffing on similar genre pieces and it clearly has a fondness for campy B-movies and horrors.

Although we aren’t really treading new ground here on the demons/slayers front – to do it with a smile on its face is something different. From the ridiculous vessels Sam must use to capture the escaped souls to the strange powers the souls have, everything is highly campy and very fun.

I like shows that make me laugh and shows that have underlying mythologies – ‘Reaper’ has both, in spades and it’s got Michael Ian Black; what more could you want!?

The cast of ‘Reaper’ is almost universally good and the chemistry, especially between Sock, Ben and Sam is one of the show’s strongest points.

Bret Harrison has had bad luck really with TV, he was invariably one of the funniest parts of ‘Grounded for Life’ (which was way past its sell-by date when it was mercifully taken out back and shot) ‘In the Loop’ went a similar way after only two patchy seasons and now ‘Reaper’ has been shamelessly pulled.

This very talented young actor deserves a lot better than he’s been getting, he does the nerdy, everyman role better than almost anyone out there and, in spite of his bad luck, should have a very bright future.

Rick Gonzalez has improved drastically in his role as Ben and the character has grown into a very important part of the show, when at first it seemed as though he may have been left by the wayside.

The ‘Reaper’ crew obviously quickly realised that the relationship between the three male characters was where the show drew a lot of its laughs and a great deal of its heart from, and this subsequently became a big part of the show’s focus.

‘Heroes’ alum Missy Peregrym is suitably hot and lovely as Sam’s love interest Andi, although I dare say she could do more given the opportunity, and several of the supporting and recurring characters are well cast. The aforementioned Michael Ian Black and Ken Marino in particular were great in there roles as Tony and Steve – the demons that the gang ended up living next door to.

The real stars of the show though are Tyler Labine as the oafish Sock and Ray Wise who has never been better, or cooler, as the devil.

Labine in a way reminds me of a character from a Kevin Smith film, the way he talks, the things he does – he has the look of Silent Bob but the personality of Jay.

His schemes and beautifully loose tongue are often the source of the show’s biggest belly laughs and this should be the role that launches him on to bigger things.

Ray Wise is a veteran actor, with an eclectic list of credits to his name, but for my money he has never been better cast than as Sam’s employer in ‘Reaper’.

He practically drips charisma every time he steps on screen and his tormenting of Sam is always amusing – the two of them have developed a nice relationship over the show’s run with the bantering becoming more frequent.

It would have been nice to see The Devil show a more compassionate side towards Sam, but I suppose this is The Devil we’re talking about here! There would undoubtedly be uproar were The Devil to be portrayed as having a ‘nice’ side – just look what happened to ‘God, The Devil & Bob’.

Either way, Wise has been great in ‘Reaper’ and with any luck won’t be far from our screens for long.

‘Reaper’ won’t be around for much longer, so people may think that there is no point in investing time and emotion in a show that will soon be coming to an end, but if you like the sort of quirky, affectionately made programming that too often gets overlooked in favour of the more polished, over-produced, big budget shows then you owe it to yourself to check this lovely little show out before it disappears into cancellation hell.

Everything is right about ‘Reaper’, which is why it is so wrong that it was canned, the pace, the dialogue, the characters, the tone – it even has great use of music.

Without beating you over the head with this – just take an hour out of your life and indulge in a little escapism through a young man forced to capture souls for The Devil.

I’ve always thought that ‘Reaper’ is the kind of show I would write were I to ever break into TV writing, so maybe I’m rather biased, but the show has built up enough of a cult following to prove that we had something great here.

So, once again, here’s to the DVD box set and long may ‘Reaper’ live on through those shiny little discs that allow shows to continue to make us smile long after the big bad networks have sucked them into a vessel and sent them to hell.

‘Reaper’ currently airs Thursdays at 9pm on E4

Other Televisual Musings this Week:

- I’m still disgusted in myself that it has taken me four seasons to get into ‘House’, it has rapidly become one of the highlights of the TV schedule and is so much more than the “medical” show I’ve ignorantly dismissed it as for the past few years.

My only gripe with the show thus far though is the criminal under use of Omar Epps as Dr. Eric Foreman. Epps is a great actor and I am shocked at how much of a periphery player he has been so far.

Hopefully his kiss with ‘Thirteen’ this week will lead to something meaningful for the character and lead to more Epps screen time.

Olivia Wilde is also growing on me as ‘Thirteen’ and again, hopefully this blossoming relationship with Foreman will lead to something more for her than simply pouting and looking miserable.

- The staff at Charlie Brooker’s very funny ‘You Have been Watching’ obviously realised they were on to a winner last week by having the unbelievably hilarious Frankie Boyle as a guest, as they had him on again this week.

Every time Boyle opens his mouth, whether it’s on this or on his regular home ‘Mock the Week’, you just know something funny is going to come out, the guy could very well be my favourite working comedian right now.

- The ‘Californication’ finale last week was a little disappointing for me (to quote Randy Jackson). After such an awesome season I half expected Hank to go out with a bang, but it was all a bit soppy and nice – but then again so was last season’s finale, and look how great season 2 turned out.

The lack of Ashby grated me slightly, he had been such a big part of the season and yet he was seemingly quickly forgotten. Hank wearing Lew’s prized Motley Crue t-shirt was a nice touch, and his memorial statue was straight up brilliant, but I would have liked to have seen more focus on the book Hank toiled over all season and maybe a follow up on Lew’s lost love Janie Jones… Maybe in season 3?

One swallow doesn’t make a summer though (or whatever the opposite of that phrase is) and it can’t be argued by any sane person that this hasn’t been a fabulous season of a truly awesome show. I’m already counting down the days until season 3 and I’ve said it before: ‘Californication’ actually makes me want to break my ‘no downloading TV’ rule.

- ‘Dollhouse’ reached its penultimate episode this week and proved once and for all that it is so much better when it gets away from its whole ‘client of the week’ shtick and focuses on the mythology of The Dollhouse.

I appreciate that some padding episodes were needed to explain exactly what it is that the dolls do on their ‘engagements’ but hopefully that has now run its course and season 2 will be 100% all out myth-arcs and action. If this show is to survive it needs to become must-see and breaking off season long storylines for an episode where Echo dresses like a school girl, while nice, do not keep the viewers wanting more.

‘Firefly’ vet Alan Tudyk was simply brilliant in his guest role this week, hysterically funny and then supremely creepy in the space of about five minutes. As the stoner he had me in stitches several times, and then the reveal of him as Alpha, while head-scratching, was great and he really amped up the creepiness. I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes in next week’s finale and really hope that Tudyk becomes an important part of the ‘Dollhouse’ universe.

TV Moment of the Week:

- Donna eating lead on ‘Sons of Anarchy’.

Tig’s botched murder of Opie may have been heart-wrenching for some people but getting to see Sprague Grayden gunned down was very rewarding for me.

After she practically ruined the second half of season 7 on ‘24’ with her annoying performance as Olivia Taylor it was nice to see her get some comeuppance on another show, even if Donna wasn’t anywhere near as annoying. ‘24’ let Olivia off very lightly for how rabidly the fans wanted to see her get her just deserts, so this kind of felt like closure (yes, I know its only TV!)

Next week’s finale promises to be incendiary and I can’t wait to see what effect the fallout from Donna’s death has on the Sons.


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