Television Review: Reaper - Pilot
by R.J. Carter
Published: September 21, 2007
Don't fear the reaper -- laugh at him, instead.
Bret Harrison plays our leading man, Sam Oliver, who has just turned 21 in the pilot episode of CW's Reaper. For most young guys, 21 is the age where you can start drinking and not have to fear being carded any more. But Sam's coming-of-age is a different kind of milestone, one he's blissfully unaware of.
As Sam goes through his work day at the warehouse-sized hardware store, The Work Bench, odd things begin to happen to him. Dogs begin chasing him in the store, and when an air conditioner falls from a high rack, threatening to kill his secret love Andi (Missy Peregrym), Sam instinctively leaps at it and pushes it out of the way. "You Bruce Bannered that thing!" cheers his best-bud and uber-slacker Sock (Tyler Labine), but Sam knows he never touched the box -- he moved it with his mind!
Obviously, there's something different about Sam. It turns out that, once upon a time, his young, childless parents made a certain contractual deal with a certain infernal entity: restoration of health in exchange for their firstborn. That firstborn would be Sam, and today's the day the devil comes to collect what's due to him.
But the devil (played to pernicious perfection by Ray Wise) doesn't want Sam's soul -- he wants his servitude. It seems that Hell has something of a prison-overcrowding issue, and every now and then one of the inmates escapes back to the temporal planes. Sam's job -- whether he chooses to accept it or not -- is to retrieve those souls and return them to a portal so they can be returned to Hell. According to Satan, anyplace that seems like Hell on Earth is Hell on Earth, and thus a portal to the actual realm itself. In Sam's case, it's the DMV.
The Devil, Ya Know? Sam gets what passes
for a pep talk from Satan. (L-R: Harrison, Wise)
The show (directed by Kevin Smith) is filled with dry humor as the devil continues to encourage a depressed Sam. He reminds Sam that he's seen how it all ends: God wins! Sam will be doing Him a favor. Meanwhile, Sam's buddy Sock has a totally different reaction to learning of his pal's turn of fortune: "You lucky bastard! Nothing cool ever happens like that to me!" But it's not like Sam has a choice -- if he refuses, it's not his soul that's forfeit, but the soul of someone very close to him.
Sam's first fugitive (played by Fraser Aitcheson) is an escaped arsonist, who's reliving his past sins by setting the same fires all over again. Sam, Sock and their buddy Ben (Rick Gonzalez) go after the firebug with one of the devil's special tools: a supernaturally strong Dirt Devil hand vac. But it's no easy task, especially when their target goes all Human Torch on them with his own ethereal powers and nearly burns them all alive.
Naturally by the time the hour is up, Sam manages to get by (with a little help from his friends) and chalk one up for the Guy Downstairs, when he gets the idea to investigate what the escaped soul did when he was still alive. The final takedown scene has more than just a hint of the flavor of the "Ghostbusters" movies.
Of trivial note, the Oliver family mailbox can be seen in one shot: their house number is 667. One surmises that the devil must live across the street.
The series has a decidedly Chuck feel about it: an action comedy about a reluctant superhero with a secret crush and an unambitious best bud. It's definitely aimed at the same demographic. But in a head-to-head, I'd have to choose Reaper for believability. Having a computer program downloaded into your head? I can't really buy that. But a deal with the devil? Sure! Why not?
Reaper premieres September 25 on The CW at 9:00pm, 8:00pm CST.
Read our complete look at the Fall TV season at Network Programming Falls Into Place for 2007/08 Television Viewing Season