In 10 Words or Less
Probably the last diabolic adventures for Sam and company
Loves: Ray Wise, smart high-concept series
Likes: The rest of the starring cast
Dislikes: The CW
Hates: Premature cancellations
The Story So Far...
A high-concept comedic drama series from two former Law and Order writers, Reaper tells the story of Sam (Bret Harrison), a slacker who finds out his parents sold his soul to the Devil (Ray Wise,) forcing him to become a bounty hunter capturing souls that have escaped Hell. With help from his friends, Sam balances his new vocation and no-longer-normal life, which gets more complicated every day. The first season was released in November of 2008 and DVDTalk has a review here.
I have a confession: I have sinned. I am responsible for Reaper getting cancelled (as of now.) No, I am not head of programming at The CW. It's just that I, like many others, didn't watch the second season of the show, after really enjoying the first go-round. Part of the problem is the fact that I watch The CW...never, and the show isn't on Hulu (which has quickly replaced my DVR as the main way I watch TV.) As a result, I had no idea the show even came back on the air, and by the time I found out the season started, well, I didn't care. If I couldn't watch the show online (which apparently I could, but again, it was on The CW's web site) I had many other shows to watch. And now, I have no one to blame for the end of this series by myself (and an American public that shuns almost anything different or intelligent (and networks that refuse to foster such shows.))
It's a real shame, because after watching these 13 episodes (which arrive just 14 days after the finale aired), it's clear the show really was something special. There was a definite gimmick to the series, with Sam getting a new soul to capture each week, which made it similar to also-cancelled My Name is Earl. But Reaper took the concept and characters they established in the first season and expanded upon it, adding new, interesting elements and taking the storyline in a natural, organic direction. While the idea might have been hard to maintain in future seasons, the way it was all pulled together here makes one think it could have gone on to something great.
Last season, Sam found out the man who sold his soul to the Devil was not his real father, as his real dad is the Devil. As the son of Satan, he was targeted for assassination by rebellious demons, and it ended in a season finale that set Sam up for more issues than his usual trouble with his girlfriend Andi (Missy Peregrym.) Coming back this season, Sam's been on the road with his pals Sock (Tyler Labine) and Ben (Rick Gonzales), trying to run from his life. Of course, you can't run from the Devil, and soon he's back home, capturing souls and slacking off at his day job at The Work Bench. The whole "son of Satan" thing messes with his relationship with the Devil (brilliantly portrayed by Ray Wise) as Sam tries to take advantage of the situation, while the target on his back isn't going anywhere.
The story of Sam and his efforts to get his soul back from the Devil, which tie in to his relationship with Andi (whose role at The Work Bench takes a major turn,) is not the only tale to be told here, as he finds his ethics and morality questions on a weekly basis with each soul he faces, including a guy who wants to lose his virginity before being sent back to hell and a baby destined for evil. Challenged with these tasks by the Devil, Sam's capacity for evil seems to grow, putting him into direct conflict with Morgan, one of Satan's favorite sons, who's Sam's opposite: a smooth charmer with no motivation or character at all. Armie Hammer is perfect as Morgan, taking all the smoothness of Wise's iconic performance, but lacking all of the wit and charm that makes his Dark Lord the new prototype for the Devil on film or TV.
While Sock and Ben have certainly had their moments in the past, they take a much larger role in the show this season, and they even get relationships of their own, though, as expected, they are far from normal. Sock falls for his new Japanese step-sister Kristen (J-pop star Eriko), while Ben gets swept into a rocky romance with Nina, a demon who recently tried to kill Sam. It's in these couples that these guys really shine, especially Ben, whose troubled inter-realm coupling results in some great, ridiculous dates, though Eriko adds some fantastic eyecandy to the series (and Jenny Wade is beautiful too.) As Sock, Labine is an incredible, goofy force to behold, one of the all-time great sidekicks, while Rodriguez's underrated role as Ben helps ground the series, especially the out-there thing with Nina, which walks a fine line between adorable and cartoony. Their relationship with each other is also a frequent source of laughs, as there's a touch of the homoerotic love found in any good, tight male friendship.
In working through these 13 episodes, it was easy to remember what got me hooked on the show, especially when Ken Marino and Michael Ian Black return as gay, renegade demons out to take down the Devil, but it's also a series that's evolved and improved over its two seasons. The only real negative that may stick in the craws of those who enjoy the show is the finale, which tries to both wrap things up (partially), while keeping the story open for a third season. If this is truly the end, it's a rather disappointing finish, as there are plenty of questions to be answered and none of the closure needed from a series with such strong characterization.
These days, any time I see packaging any larger than a single-width keepcase, it feels almost like an antique. Such is the case here, as the four-disc set is packed in a double-width keepcase with two dual-sided trays (and an embossed slipcover,) with a single-page insert that has episode descriptions. The discs have attractive animated anamorphic widescreen menus with options to watch all episodes, select shows, adjust languages and check out extras where applicable. Audio options include English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks, while subtitles are in English and Spanish, and closed captioning is included.
The anamorphic widescreen transfers on these episodes are good, but not great, due to a lack of consistency, with some scenes boasting crisp detail while others are a touch soft. Overall the color is solid across the board, with the ruddy hue of the Devil's skin looking good. As the show is shot on video, there are no issues with dirt or damage, and there are no compression problems.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound doesn't offer up the most powerful presentation you've heard, for the most part, as the show is mostly dialogue, which comes forth from the center channel. The score, soundtrack music and any powerful sound effects are cleanly separated into the side and rear speakers, but that's not going to catch the ear of most viewers.
The extras were limited on the Season One DVDs, but at least the commentary track was about the shows on the discs. Here there's a 15-minute making-of featurette that is about the first season of the show, with no input from second-season actors. On the plus side, there's a small bit from Kevin Smith, who directed the pilot, and a look at the sets and vessel props. It still belongs on the previous set though.
The other extras are the same kind as Season One's, with deleted scenes and a gag reel included. The four deleted scenes don't reveal much and seem to have been cut for time, with two extensions of scenes in the show and two with info that was revealed inanother, later scene. The eight-minute gag reel is cute, with Wise and Labine offering the best screw-ups, especially Wise, as you rarely see the Devil flub a line.
The Bottom Line
It's hard to truly judge the way this season ended without fully knowing the series' fate, but fans of the show will find plenty to enjoy here, as Sam's story grew and changed without losing sight of what made the first season so enjoyable. The set looks and sounds very nice, and throws in a few OK extras, but it's a bittersweet package if this is the last time we'll see Wise as the Lord of Darkness.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.