Gone but Not Forgotten TV Shows: Reaper
Meet Sam Oliver! Played by Bret Harrison, he is a 20-something underachiever. He never went to college. He is stuck in a dead end job in a big box store. His friends are equally unambitious. His buddy Sock (Tyler Labine) is very VERY happy living a lazy lifestyle. He is practically proud of it. They are also joined by Ben (Rick Gonzalez) who is easily manipulated and usually taken advantage of. Sam is also in love with a girl, Andi (Missy Peregrym), who can’t be with him. When she isn’t dating other people, she is stressing out about Sam’s soul being sold to the Devil. Oh right, and his parents sold his soul to the devil. They sold it before he was born when his dad got seriously ill. The Devil wanted the soul of their first born when he turned 21 in return for curing him. The Olivers just decided not to have children. Unfortunately, nature took its course, so his guilt-stricken parents encouraged his lazy lifestyle knowing one day the Devil would come calling.
Enter the Devil! Actor Ray Wise is brilliant. Quite possible my favorite version of the Devil. He is smooth, charming, and has a tan to rival George Hamilton. He is like a car salesman intensity wrapped in the fake smile of a politician. He really does get you to fall head over heels for him, but he doesn’t show up just to torture Sam. He comes with a mission. Sam is to be a reaper (hence the title!), a bounty hunter for the devil tracking escaped souls and sending them back to Hell. He does it by using a vessel, which is usually just a random household item, to suck them up like the traps in Ghostbusters and then deposited at the DMV (don’t act so surprised).
But what’s the point!
Well, it’s difficult to write any kind of story that involves an actual nice guy. These stories tend to be corny and overly saccharine. They are also usually devoid of any kind of drama or conflict. “Reaper” is able to get around this. Sam is just an average dude. Bret Harrison plays the character with a lot of empathy and sympathy as well as some sense of humor. At the same time, he is also insecure, a little dim, and really clumsy. The overall saccharine feeling is replaced with slapstick comedy that isn’t over the top. It also visualizes a man literally fighting temptation and inner demons by giving him an actual demon to fight, the King of Demons. There really is no other option. It is important that Sam is a nice guy, and it is important that it is hard for him to live up to the expectations he has set for himself. The devil is figuratively and literally the evil little devil on Sam’s shoulder constantly trying to push him to the dark side. That’s the point! The smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world, and the devil needs to shut Sam down. Sam represents the best in humanity regardless of his slacker lifestyle. If he can turn Sam, he can turn anyone. Where the show ultimately drops the ball is that they never take that point very seriously. About halfway through the first season, it is pretty much proven that the efforts of a demon rebellion, who were simply being more polite than usual, were actually hurting the Devil. That plot element isn’t really ever revisited except Sam’s solidarity in the manner.
“Reaper” is ultimately a hard show to describe. It’s hard to describe it without talking about the slapstick and humor, and if you leave it out, new viewers are left with something that is completely different from what they expected. Like most series that are cancelled too soon, there is something substantial beyond the superficial elements, but you need to be willing to invest in it. Despite what it may look like in promos or in descriptions, there is some really fun action and special effects with a level of comedy that is much more balanced. Sam is the kind of protagonist that no one wants to write about, but there is an unfinished character arc that I am really disappointed I won’t see the conclusion to.