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September 26, 2007 |

By Stacey Nosek | TV | September 26, 2007 |

So, here we have a show about a grim reaper. And I already know what you’re thinking — oh, big wow, what a totally original concept — right? Well, I’ll be damned, because surprisingly it kinda is. For starters, that Other Show about a grim reaper is a wry and poignant dramedy about a young girl recruited to help along recently departed souls to the afterlife. “Reaper,” The CW’s new screwball comedy on the other hand, is about a kid whose parents sell his soul to the Devil, who then recruits the kid to capture escaped souls and bring them back to hell. Which, by technical definition isn’t so much a grim reaper as some sort of supernatural bounty hunter, leading me to believe that maybe “Reaper” wasn’t actually such a great name for this show. Actually, if I had to make comparisons, I’d say “Reaper” is much more akin to NBC’s recently premiered “Chuck,” in that it centers around a 20-something slacker type working at a cheesy big-box chain store (in this case “Work Bench” — a blatant Home Depot rip-off), who wakes up one day to find that he has extraordinary abilities and a higher purpose in life.

I’ve gotta admit — even with Kevin Smith’s directorial involvement, I went into “Reaper” with fairly low expectations. Between the aforementioned token “Dead Like Me” comparisons, unfortunately edited trailers and a pseudo-hip logo that looks like it was taken off a K-Mart brand skate deck, I was prepared to give this series a meticulous, fully-salted verbal evisceration. But incredibly, miraculously even, I found myself enjoying the hell out of this show. As much as I was fond of the strikingly similar “Chuck” earlier this week,”Chuck” definitely had more of a fam-friendly vibe, while “Reaper” — having clearly been created for the 16-25 bracket, has a more PG-13 sense of humor. It probably also doesn’t hurt that I tend to gravitate more towards the supernatural genre rather than spy series.

In the premiere episode we meet Sam, played by Bret Harrison, most notably recognizable from the moderately funny “Grounded for Life.” Sam is, of course, the typical underachieving early 20-something, a college dropout (it made him sleepy) living with his parents and working retail. On this day in question, Sam wakes up early to go to a meeting at the “Work Bench” and, aside from it being his 21st birthday, it doesn’t seem to be a day much unlike any other. That is, until Sam comes down for breakfast and notices his parents acting somewhat strangely — a fact he doesn’t have a chance to take much stock in before his wacky sidekick “Sock” a.k.a Bert (Tyler Labine) breezes through the door. At this point it’s only about a minute and a half into the show, and I’m still expecting to hate it, and so I’m initially unimpressed with Sock — narrowing my eyes at this over the top, ridiculous Jack Black-esque character. But as the pilot grew on me, so did Sock, who winds up becoming obnoxiously endearing, eliciting some of the biggest laughs of the episode. As the day progresses, Sam begins to notice more strange occurrences, such as telekinetic episodes, a superhuman feat rescuing girl-crush Andi (Missy Peregrym, who looks disturbingly like a female Jared Padalecki) from a falling crate, and random dog attacks — the latter resulting in a hilarious scene with Sock coming to the rescue by chasing the dogs with a leaf blower, bellowing “RUN BITCHES!”

The Devil, played delightfully tongue-in-cheek by seasoned character actor Ray Wise, finally makes his presence known while Sam is driving home from work, causing him to crash his car — a scene that was unexpectedly funny enough to cause me to inhale a lung full of burning hot orange pekoe. When Sam arrives home, his parents explain that they accidentally sold his soul to the Devil before he was born, and that his time was set to expire at 21 years of age. Although Sam assumes his ass is headed to hell in a handbasket, the Devil soon makes his plans known, which comprise of Sam being a bounty hunter for hell escapees — apparently now common due to overcrowding. The gig is not without it’s perks, including telekinetic powers and a supernatural dustbuster. Although Sam initially refuses to comply, the Devil can be, as one may assume, a relatively persuasive fellow — and soon Sam, Sock and co-worker Ben are off to capture the first target, who happens to be a former arsonist responsible for a recent string of deadly fires.

While the first attempt at soul-catching goes decidedly awry — as it turns out, the hell escapee has got some supernatural tricks of his own — after landing their friend in the hospital, Sam is crestfallen yet decides to reevaluate himself and give it another go. Sam and Sock (oh hell, can I just call him Bert already?) team up for a little amateur sleuthing to discover the arsonist’s motive — to burn down his former parents house which is now (of course) an Elementary School. This time around however, the two pair comes fully prepared, suiting up in gear reminiscent of the Ghostbusters and (heh) making sure to charge the supernatural Dustbuster before heading back out to save the day.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised and thoroughly entertained with “Reaper.” The blatant goofball and sometimes juvenile humor is offset with just enough snark to make even obvious jokes, like a gateway to hell being located at the DMV, amusing. And although the ensemble may seem a little two dimensional this early on — particularly the female love interest, whom I found to be rather wooden — it’s got a solid enough cast, which promises room for growth. Compared to other shows based around some kind of gimmick, the premise of “Reaper” seems wide-open enough to lend itself to what I’m expecting to be a strong series — and one that I can already tell is going to fall onto my “mandatory viewing” roster.

(Although “Reaper” premiered last night — you can catch an encore Thursday night on The CW at 9 p.m.)

Stacey Nosek is a television columnist for Pajiba, and lives in a quaint little town in rural Pennsylvania. You can also visit her blog, Litelysalted.

The Devil Made Me Do It

"Reaper" / Stacey Nosek

TV | September 26, 2007 |


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