I’m thinking of a new policy of only watching TV shows after they’ve been cancelled, so I know the level of commitment expected of me. Lexx, an occasionally-brilliant, mostly-awful show ended after four seasons; easy to get through them despite the rapidly-plummeting quality because the finish line was always visible. Lost, on the other hand, I watched as it was broadcast and I abandoned the show in the third season because with no end in sight it was starting to feel like I was in purgatory.
Reaper only managed two seasons between 2007 and 2009, making the show practically bite-sized in the grand scheme of things. Similar in tone to God, The Devil & Bob but approaching the concept from a different direction, Reaper sees underachieving Sam Oliver discover that his parents sold his soul to Satan before he was born and he is now forced to carry out whatever tasks the Devil sets him, chiefly capturing evil escaped souls through a variety of, you know, hilarious contraptions and scenarios.
I’m probably making it sound weak but the truth is that the situation isn’t so important, though it picks up significantly when story arcs — demon rebellions against Satan; Sam attempting to break his contract; various other side stories — start appearing. What makes Reaper brilliant is the quality of the casting and the writing; both are excellent.
To start with, cult favourite Ray Wise (Robocop, 24, Twin Peaks) is Satan. Wise brings a preternatural gravitas to any role he takes, but in the case of Satan it’s an especially subtle, smart, layered performance, full of sly smiles and meaningful looks. If Satan actually did take the form of Ray Wise, of course people would sell their souls to him; the surprise would be if they didn’t. He’s charming, smooth and likeable almost all of the time, even lovably dorky occasionally, and then…he does or says something evil. Really evil. All the charm and twinkle drops instantly away and it’s chilling to watch.
Bret Harrison takes the lead role as Sam with Missy Peregrym as his on/off girlfriend and both are, you know, fine, solid enough, pretty typical for American lead roles. Peregrym is hampered with the fairly uninteresting straight man role to begin with but as she discovers more about Sam’s situation she proves herself to have decent comic timing and presence, and she saves the show from descending into some terrible imitation of Men Behaving Badly.
More noteworthy are Sam’s two friends Ben and Sock, played by Ben Gonzalez and Tyler Labine respectively. Both of them are entertaining comic foils for the heavier material but Labine shines as Sock. He’s loud and obnoxious but enormously likeable and funny at the same time, sort of how I imagine James Corden would be if he didn’t suffer the disability of being a colossal prick. Ben’s role as the quieter, sensible friend is a little underwritten at times but when he starts dating a demon things get more interesting with some ‘odd couple’ dynamics going on.
With only two seasons to go with there’s not much sense of closure by the end of it, but I’m ok with that. What there is never gets tired, the writing is sharp and witty and the supporting cast is always excellent (it’s hard to go wrong adding Christine Willes to your show).
As TV commitments go, Reaper is a worthwhile one.