Judge Erich Asperschlager once considered selling his soul for some Hot Buffalo Wing pretzel pieces. Those things are good.
Our review of Reaper: Season One, published November 4th, 2008, is also available.
Hell Just Froze Over.
It's a struggle as old as time itself. Good versus evil. Two sides locked in pitched combat for hearts and minds, each knowing that in the end only one can prevail. I'm not talking about God and the Devil. I'm talking about quality programming versus network stupidity. When Reaper hit the fledgling CW network in 2007, it boasted a killer premise and the involvement of chic geek Kevin Smith. The show, about an aimless big box employee who finds out on his 21st birthday that his parents sold his soul to the devil, had a strong pilot, meandered through a series of repetitive "monster of the week" episodes, then finished its freshman season with a strong story arc about a demon rebellion and a plot to overthrow Satan. Though the killer finish seemed too little too late, the CW decided to give Reaper a 13-episode second season. Unfortunately, by the time the new episodes began in March 2009, the network had solidified itself as the home of sexy teen dramas, and Reaper no longer fit the plan. The show's ho-hum ratings didn't help its chances of renewal, and to no one's surprise the CW decided to cancel it, leaving even more room in its fall line-up for waify youths and remakes of '90s-era Fox soaps. As such, Reaper: Season Two—which hit store shelves mere weeks after the finale aired—is a bittersweet collection. While it never quite captures the coolness of the last batch of season one episodes, it builds on the show's mythology and adds several memorable characters. Sad as I am to see Reaper (more than likely) end, at least it goes out with a bang.
Facts of the Case
Reaper's first season was all about Sam (Bret Harrison, Grounded for Life) coming to grips with his parents having sold his soul, and learning the ropes as the Devil's bounty hunter. Season Two finds him much more comfortable in his unusual job. Friends Sock (Tyler Labine, Invasion), Ben (Rick Gonzalez, Boston Public), and Andi (Missy Peregrym, Heroes) all know about his gig and join in his weekly hunt for escaped souls. But the revelation that the Devil (Ray Wise, Twin Peaks) is not only his boss, but his real father, has thrown Sam for a loop, and threatens to destroy his burgeoning dating relationship with Andi. His only hope is an elusive Hell escapee who might just know the secret to getting out his diabolical deal.
This season is filled with awkward, messy, even taboo, relationships. Besides Sam's evil parentage and Andi's inability to deal with it, Ben rocks the boat when he starts dating a demon named Nina (who just happens to have once tried to kill Sam as part of the demon rebellion). Sock stays away from the explicitly evil, but strays into very tricky waters when he falls for his half sister, Kristen. Though Sam's earthly father was buried alive at the end of season one, it turns out the deal he made with Devil to save his life had a catch: he can't die, but he can decompose—forcing him to "live" in a cooler out in Sam's garage.
The turning point for season one was the introduction of Steve and Tony (The State alums Michael Ian Black and Ken Marino) two gay demons who move in next door and recruit Sam into their plot to overthrow the Devil. Both characters are back in season two in limited roles (in Steve's case, for obvious reasons, though he plays an important part in the finale). The demon rebellion gets a mention or two as well, though its contributions to the story arc are mainly the introduction of Nina (Jenny Wade, Pushing Daisies), and the way they help Sam deal with his Devil-spawn half brother Morgan (Armie Hammer, Gossip Girl).
The main focus of Season Two is Sam trying to find a way to get out of his parents' deal with the Devil and to repair his relationship with Andi, but that doesn't mean the series ignores the other characters. If anything, Sam's best friends get more time to themselves this year. Ben's decision to buck societal mores and date a demon causes plenty of problems, even after his peers accept his girlfriend into their group; it infuriates his evil-sensing grandmother, who threatens to cut him out of the family. While not my favorite Reaper arc, adding inter-species differences into the already messy world of dating yields some funny, thought-provoking material, and newcomer Jenny Wade hits the perfect mix of cute-as-a-button and rip-out-your-throat. Less interesting is Sock's infatuation with his half-sister, a silly arc that ends abruptly enough that the writers must have realized it didn't have much going for it. The misfire is even more of a shame since Tyler Labine's hilarious Sock is by far my favorite character on the show, and up there with the best goofy best TV buds of all time.
As was true in season one, the reason to watch Reaper is the interaction between Harrison's Sam and Ray Wise's Satan. Wise has added his brand of creepy charm to shows as varied as Twin Peaks and 24. His interpretation of the Devil—as a jovial guy's guy who dresses well and flashes a brilliant smile whenever an innocent is corrupted—is as close to perfect a vision of Lucifer as has ever graced the small screen. His subtle seduction and unabated joy in exploiting human weakness is fun to watch. Maybe a little too fun. I can't imagine the real Satan being any more charming.
Like Reaper: Season One, this set is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and looks at least as good as it did on TV. This time, though, they added a 5.1 surround mix to the 2.0 option. The 5.1 track doesn't hit with much force, but it's a welcome addition.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The first season DVD set had only one commentary track. This set doesn't even have that. Instead, there's a 15 minute featurette that's all about the making of…season one. Why it ended up on this set is a bigger mystery than anything on the show. It includes interviews with characters who aren't even on the show, and focuses on the pilot. The pilot! What a way to say goodbye. The only other extras are four deleted scenes (two of which are barely different than the way they originally aired) and a gag reel.
For as much as this season did right, there are also some real head-scratching moments. The whole Sock/Kristen storyline is Pulitzer-winning material compared to the late-season addition of an elderly Indian employee at the Work Bench who talks almost entirely in inappropriate sexual innuendo.
There are rumors circulating that Reaper might find new life on another network, but for now fans have to console themselves with having gotten as much of the show as we did. It's a minor TV miracle that Season Two exists at all, and there's no better way to celebrate the brief life of this cool, funny series than catching it on DVD. It would be a sin not to.
The Devil made me watch it, and that's okay by me. Not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
• Deleted Scenes
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