Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Reaper: Season 1, Episode 17, "The Leak"

Well, that was encouraging. Since coming back from the strike, Reaper has been on a roll, solving most of its formula’s problems (the lame, will-they-or-won’t-they romance; the lack of any overarching narrative) while maintaining the comedy and secondary characters that kept the show watchable even during its doldrums. Last week I speculated that “Greg Schmeg” might have been to Reaper what “The Boyfriend” was to Seinfeld, propelling a formerly pedestrian show upward, into the heights of legitimately good television, and “The Leak” cheerfully confirms that hypothesis.

“The Leak” wasn’t as funny as “Greg Schmeg” (though there were some great moments: Heathcliff vs Garfield; the tuxedo shirt; Winston) but in every other respect, it was an improvement. I’m not sure we as a television-watching public are willing to put up with purely episodic shows anymore—although judging from the CSIs and NCISs splattered across the Nielsen charts, it’s probably just me—and “The Leak” satisfied that need for overarching plot, advancing the overarching demon-insurrection, as well as revisiting Sam’s contract shenanigans.

Curiously, both narratives intersected this week. Back when Sam moved out and away from his family, it really benefited the show—the sappy parental angst really didn’t fit in with the rest of the secondary characters accepting Sam’s fate with magnanimity—but it was obvious that the show would eventually have to return, given that Sam’s father intentionally sabotaged Sam’s chances of getting out of his contract. Along with everyone else, I had presumed that this would ultimately lead to a tacky, emotionally hollow confrontation between Sam and his father that no one would care about. But the demon insurrection story allowed that dynamic to breathe. Thanks to his father’s selfishness, Sam’s only demon allies now think he’s the son of the devil (there’s no way he could be; I think it was pretty obvious that the Devil knew the rebels were watching him just then), and I expect that’s going to lead to some amusing betrayals and headspins: Sam has to spy on the demon rebellion because the Devil compels him to, the demons have to keep him close because they can’t risk alienating him, etc.

This was also the first time since Patton Oswalt’s guest spot that the soul-of-the-week was in any way interesting. While previous souls had some cool gimmicks—the acid queen, the tattoo guy—they were blandly developed, assuming they were developed at all. Maybe it was just because Mike the lothario was given a lot more screentime than any other souls, but that seedy, snake-oil charm was never off-putting or perfunctory the way other souls have been.

Brendan says that The Workbench might be the coolest hangout for a TV gang that we’ve seen in a while—and I don’t disagree—but Reaper has always had trouble capitalizing on that potential. “The Leak” finally changed that, whether it was Andi and Sam lounging in the tub section, the Devil transporting Sam via mailbox, or taking away his stepladder. It’s yet another problem that, for now, seems to have been fixed.

Again, the only real complaint that I can consistently lodge against Reaper is that it doesn’t know what to do with its women, especially Andi. Ever since Andi’s box fort established her quirky, creative side, she’s fallen into the trap of the bland, attractive girlfriend who would never in a million years stir up trouble. Thanks to Sam’s similar sad-sackedness, their relationship won’t ever be too dysfunctional, but my word, she’s getting absolutely railroaded by Sock, and it’s a bit distracting to watch. Look, I get that Sock is a force of nature, but it would be nice to have Andi stick up for herself once in a while. Hell, I’d be happy with her just kicking Sock to the backseat so her boyfriend could ride shotgun.


Brendan K. said...

I'm starting to think that how the show handles the "true father of Sam" question might become the ultimate referendum on the series. I'm not wholly convinced that they're not going to make him the devil's son.

I'm definately coming around on Rick Gonzales, but Labine had another weirdly-protective-of-Gladys episode and I do love those... But the funniest moment in "The Leak" came from Tony.

Andi: "Well... we brought a body to bury. Also."
Tony: "Okay, let's do that."

Steven said...

That Heathcliff/Garfield debate was more than just funny; it underscored how much funnier Gonalez is than Labine.

I hate to use a southern rock reference, but here we go. It's sort of like The Allman Brothers versus Skynyrd: one's an intelligent, artfully understated band; the other pummels you into submission by virtue of being loud.

Loud is good, but it's also much easier to do.