Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Reaper: Season 1, Episode 18, "Cancun"

Oh, Reaper. I had such high hopes for you. Really, I did. You were an honest-to-gosh success story, the plucky underdog that somehow managed to overcome its birth defects and blossom into a fine TV show. You became so breezy and confident, in fact, that you were setting yourself up to be the heir apparent to Buffy. But now, Reaper? I think you’ve bitten off more than you can chew.

So let’s talk developments, shall we? After a scant week of letting viewers consider the potential demonosity (not a word, but it totally should be) of their show’s hero, showrunners Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters predictably hedged on giving an answer. There were certainly some strong hints that Sam is indeed the Devil’s son, whether it was the Devil’s unnerving sympathy for Sam (which may just be a subconscious rebellion against Ray Wise playing any positive emotion, as all my experience has conditioned me to think of him as, well, evil), Sam and the Devil having a catch, or the tarot card revelations, but there’s enough uncertainty that it could still go either way.

At all events, the denouement of Tony the demon’s insurrection has changed the show’s underlying dynamic forever, because this time Fazekas and Butters can’t fix things just by having Sam move into another apartment. The Devil is very clearly on Sam’s side now, whether or not they’re kin, offering Sam time off from being a reaper until Sam wants to return. (To which one wonders, why would he ever?) On the one hand, that means we’ll stop having to suffer through a torrent of lame “villains” like the tarot card reader this week, who was so underdeveloped it wasn’t even clear that she was evil. On the other hand, Sam opining, “They’re not gonna stop. They’re gonna keep coming till I’m dead” probably just means we’ll be given a weekly trickle of souls gunning zealously for Sam, instead of the much more fun dynamic of the souls running away from him.

I probably wouldn’t be so displeased with these revelations had they been handled with the narrative confidence of the past few weeks, but in “Cancun”, everything felt rushed and incomplete. That was most galling when Tony inexplicably failed to rescue Sam’s father, but it manifested itself too in Sam’s total lack of emotion in the wake of his father’s death. Maybe that was unintentional—Bret Harrison isn’t a very good actor, after all—but the rest of the emotion felt contrived, too: Andi’s perfunctory sympathies, Sam abandoning her to go to the (admittedly awesome) fireworks pyre. And then, of course, there was the weirdness with the Devil (the Devil!) choking back tears.

Oh, and apparently Sam (or the devil’s son, should he be introduced later) is destined to end the world. Of course, it was apparently too much trouble to let the audience in on that supremely important fact except as an afterthought during the fireworks show, so maybe it’s not as profound as I presume it is. Certainly it’s not as crucial, in the near term, as Sam’s mother disinterring his father, who seems to have supernatural powers of his own. That’s a development that would be more appealing if Sam’s familial angst had ever held any dramatic sway, but Sam’s family is a total dead end for this show, and I honestly couldn't care less about the shenangians between the Devil and Sam's father (or mother, for that matter).

The rest of the episode was similarly off-putting, as just about everything fell flat. The subplot with the succubus may have been funnier if the high-Sock was qualitatively different from normal Sock, and his willingness to share his new paramour with Ben just felt crass. It wasn't at all consistent with the normally empathetic Sock that's shown to be pretty attuned to the women in his life, Gladys especially.

Meanwhile, Andi gets forced into doing Sam’s busywork, in yet another example of Reaper being about 30 years behind the rest of the world when it comes to women’s empowerment (even if it did allow her to show off her detective acumen). What the hell happened to feisty Andi, who talked back to Ted and built a cardboard box fort and didn’t take shit from anyone? I miss her.

Really the only thing that worked well in "Cancun" was the return of the gay demon Steve, now a gay angel. Having been raised on The State, I never knew that Ken Marino had such impressive acting chops, but the look of joy and wonder on his face upon realizing that God’s capacity to forgive can extend to demons was marvelous. I really hope both he and Michael Ian Black return for next season, because this is a show that badly needs some more supporting characters. It could also use some heavenly input every now and then too, if only to bring the Devil back under the evil umbrella.

So here we are, with a show-altering finale that wasn’t handled particularly deftly. Still, considering Reaper is slated for a Spring return, Fazekas and Butters have 8 months to figure out how to fix what went wrong.

What did everyone else think?

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