Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Reaper: It's the great Satan, Pumpkin Sam

Spoilers for the much-improved Halloween episode of “Reaper” coming up just as soon as I figure out whether I still have my copy of Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins” script...

Just when I was about to write off “Reaper” as a one-episode wonder, along comes an episode that was easily the best since the pilot, full of humor, pathos and tweaks on an already-tired formula. Now, a show about Satan’s minions should consider a Haloween episode a gimme, but the “Reaper” of the last few weeks seemed incapable of rising to the occasion. (I figured, at best, that we’d see Sam go after the soul while dressed as a ballerina or something else humiliating.)

When I’ve complained about the lack of face time for the escaped souls, a character like Leon -- very loosely based, given the real guy’s fondness for anarchism, on Leon Czolgosz -- is exactly what I had in mind. It’s a lot more interesting when Sam’s prey has a personality – compare how Leon dominated the episode while the primary target, the Butcher, was just an afterthought (and the lamest-looking CGI hellhound since Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis at the end of “Ghostbusters”). It helps when you have a very funny guy like Patton Oswalt around, but Leon was entertaining both as himself and as a wedge between Sam and Sock.

Meanwhile, we got the first real growth in Sam’s relationship with the Devil, who (perhaps foolishly) let Sam witness an unguarded moment of his Linus-esque melancholy over the commercialization of Halloween. I don’t know if any other Satan-themed movie or TV show has made that point before (I stopped with “Brimstone” after the pilot), but it’s an astute – and, as beautifully played by Ray Wise, funny – one.

There were some other nice touches throughout, like the shameless Sock’s pumpkin envy, the visits to the DMV both without and then with Gladys, and Ben bonding with yet another animal from Hell. I even found Ted amusing for once with his overenthusiasm for Halloween.

So, one-time fluke thanks to the Halloween inspiration, or a sign that Fazekas and Butters have realized they can’t just stick to the formula every week?

16 comments:

rukrusher said...

I gave up on Reaper one episode too soon I guess.

John Coulter said...

yeah, i like how Leon was based on a real person from history. Maybe we'll get Genghis Khan or Hitler in upcoming episodes. Or maybe Heat Miser for a Very Special Christmas episode. When I was a kid, my whole concept of the Devil and Hell was Heat Miser and his lair.

Nicole said...

I think the writers are Colbert fans as I heard the devil say "Humans are the most untrustworthy beings.. except for bears"

Alan Sepinwall said...

Nicole, I made a mental note of the bears joke when the Devil made it, then couldn't remember what I had made a mental note about when it came time to write the post. This is what written notes are for, I guess.

Dan Coyle said...

Brimstone didn't do a Halloween episode. Its devil was much, much more malicious.

I felt the episode was one step forward, two steps back- Sock may have redeemed himself, but he still screwed up. Oswalt gave the show too much of a jolt, I thought, because despite the good work Labine's doing with a limited character, I found Leon to be far more appealing a sidekick.

And the Andi stuff is STILL getting on my nerves. Plus the fact that Missy Peregrym still looks too supermodel hot and well made up for someone who works in a big box store. How's she affording that tan?

HOWEVER, having SAID all that, when I got to the end of the episode I foumd myself more optimistic, because Fazekas, Butters, and the writers worked out an arc for Sam for the episode and completed it very successfully. He asserted himself, showed real confidence in dealing with Leon in the climax. So the show just might make it yet.

Anonymous said...

Bret Harrison stated in the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly that soon they are going to slightly move away from the 'Freak of the Week' towards a more serialized storyline.

drake leLane said...

Speaking as someone who lives in the Ballard neighborhood, I was excited and then quickly disappointed about the Butcher of Ballard. Excited because it's the first time I think my neighborhood's gotten mention in a primetime series, and disappointed by the lame studio backlot depiction. The CGI hellhound looked pretty realistic in comparison.

This reminds me of Dead Like Me's depiction of Seattle via Vancouver. Last night they even used the Vancouver, BC Chinatown herbal store Hang Hing Herbal, complete it's phone number visible on the awning (604-682-1895).

Hedwig said...

Ah, and you forgot to mention the funniest sight-gag: Sam and Sock lying in what can only be described as a post-coital pose after defeating the Butcher.

I was also about to give up on this show, but this episode gives me new hope!

Mac said...

On "Buffy", vampires stayed in on Halloween because they disapproved of the commercialization.

Anonymous said...

Ellen:

I agree -- best episode since the pilot. And I haven't laughed so much at a line involving bears since Dwight Schrute explained the difference between black ones and brown ones.

Alex R. said...

Mac's absolutely correct about "Buffy" of course.

Maybe Patton Oswalt could permanently replace Tyler Labine?

Anonymous said...

I'm with everyone else. They need to find a way to make Leon a part of the regular cast. He is EXACTLY what the show needs.

Mike Mac said...

Gotta say... I was thrilled by the show's opening, if only for the change in format from previous Reaper episodes. It showed promise in the show's ability to progress the story without going 'by-the-numbers' every week. If they can find a way to keep the weeks fresh, it will afford them the time they need to develop some of the secondary characters and start a forward-moving plot from week to week that doesnt involve prop-jokes like the weekly vessel and rely so much on the Sock and Ted characters to provide comic relief to an otherwise tired formula. They still have a long way to go before becoming a must-see show... this was the first time i've tuned in in about 3 weeks... but I was happy to see a little more effort on the part of the writers in developing characters and expanding the series from weekly installments to a true story arc.

filmcricket said...

I'm watching the episode right now and aside from the bears line I haven't laughed once. Wise is great and I'm enjoying what Labine's doing with the Jack Blackesque sidekick thing, but Harrison's got exactly one facial expression: furrowed brow, showing front teeth, looking simultaneously puzzled and like something smells bad. I think my biggest problem is that I really don't care about Sam or what happens to him. I may keep tuning in just for Wise, but this is always going to be the show that I record while I'm watching "House."

Edward Copeland said...

This was by far the best Reaper since the pilot. I loved the Czolgosz stuff, even if it were based very loosely on the facts. Ray Wise can do more with throwaway lines than just about anyone -- and I loved seeing him play golf with pumpkins, reminscent of Leland's driving practice in the Palmer living room after he killed Maddie on Twin Peaks.

esther said...

While I remain moderately concerned about the similarities in the plot-lines of Reaper and Chuck (this week: lecture immature best friend about how he needs to grow up; resolve with faux-romantic comedy set-up), the episode was a lot more enjoyable than previous efforts. Andi? Still boring and personality-lite. But I loved the scene in the shrinks' office at the end. You could see Sam starting to affect a number of Ray Wise's speech and body language traits. He's even got the new Satan-lite hair style. Sam becoming more like his new boss? That is a story-line I can get behind.