Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Reaper: Tooling around

Spoilers for the second episode of "Reaper" coming up just as soon as I ask Thomas Wilson if that was real manure...

Last week, I noted that the CW had only sent out the "Reaper" pilot, and that I had no idea whether they could execute the show that well on a weekly basis. Based on episode two, I was right to worry. This wasn't an "I'm out" level misfire, or even necessarily a bad episode. What it was, though, was a thorough rehash of the pilot, but with most of the energy sucked out -- and not by the lightning-hurling bad guy.

As with last night's second "Chuck," there were a lot of repeated beats from the pilot -- Sam again shirks his responsibilities to Satan for a large chunk of the episode so that the plot doesn't have to begin until the halfway point, for instance -- and even, oddly, several moments that seemed to be in direct violation of the pilot. Sam seemed to not only be at peace with the bounty hunting gig, but actually embracing the fact that he was good at something for once in his life, and here he was back to being too afraid that he couldn't get the job done. And after portraying Sam's mom as borderline catatonic until Sam relieved her of the horrible guilt she felt about selling his soul, episode two has her be totally cool with the news that he's still Satan's underling. Even Satan suggesting that Sam shouldn't try to look for patterns in the escapees' behavior based on who they were as mortals contradicted things said last week, though it turned out that Sam was again right to look for motivation in Ferrey's past life.

It's almost as if the creators had some regrets about things they had put into the pilot script -- Sam adjusting to his new lot in life in only one episode doesn't give the character a lot of room for growth, after all -- but weren't allowed to reshoot anything in the pilot save for the Nikki Reed/Missi Peregrym shift. Whatever the reason, it was awkward.

Worse, though, is that the show has already settled into a formula by episode two, and what was so fresh and amusing the first time -- say, Sam and Sock getting suited up in some ridiculous gear from The Work Bench -- already feels obligatory. Ben's "We're gonna die dressed as condoms!" was funny, but what are they gonna wear next week? Gas masks? Beekeeper suits? Fiber insulation?

Even the Devil wasn't particularly funny this week, save the gag at the end with the shopping cart -- the only time in the whole hour where someone apparently let Ray Wise flash that amazing smile of his.

Maybe Kevin Smith really was the X factor that made the pilot so cool. Maybe it's a more limited concept than it seemed at first. Or maybe the production team took a minor stumble as they settled into life up in Vancouver. We'll see.

What did everybody else think?


Matt said...

Agreed. Felt formulaic and blah, with a decided worry of "are we going to have the exact same scenes, just slightly different every week?" present. For all of the "Chuck" rehashing, they added some cool elements in Week 2 and grew the characters at least a bit.

And can they give Peregrym something to do besides smile and be mildly flirty in a couple of scenes each week?

afoglia said...

Agreed as well, but I'm still enjoying it more than "Chuck." You omitted the most formulaic point though: Sam learning about the soul's past life from his friend in the DA office. If she actually had a character and did something other than give info, it wouldn't have stuck out so badly. Also, Ferrey's past life was completely irrelevant, except for dramatic purposes. Both problems could be solved by having the devil brief Sam.

Anonymous said...

Actually, what's interesting to me is that I see the parallel issues with both Chuck and Reaper, and I enjoyed Reaper episode 1 more, but I was much happier with Chuck episode 2. I was also thinking, dude, if the devil is going to be spending all this time with Sam, why doesn't he just snag the damned person and be done with it?

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed it myself, I didn't mind the formula at all. I was glad he told the mom, I hate those sort of "Can't tell her" resolutions.

There IS a danger of keeping the action isolated to the big box store, which is a set I'm sure they have to get a lot of use out of because it looks so expensive.

But I'm not sure it's going to work with Sam running around THEN figuring out how to beat the bad guy while on the night shift. Buffy had the Hellmouth, Ezekiel Stone moved to LA after the first few episodes, Sam... works at a Big Box store!

R.A. Porter said...

It was definitely a let down from the highs of the pilot, but I'm going to give it a few more episodes to settle into its rhythm.

I think they'd be better served cutting the DA/ex-Sock-girlfriend out entirely rather and give her one scene to lay down the week's pipe. If Sam could sense the presence of this week's escaped soul (at least, I assume that was the point of his super-static charge) he didn't need anyone's help finding him.

As for why Old Scratch himself doesn't retrieve the souls, I hope the creators have a good reason that will eventually be revealed. Perhaps he just takes great joy in seeing a mortal dance for him. Dance, Sam, Dance!

And even at this reduced level, I still like it miles and miles and miles better than Chuck.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I hate to keep comparing it to Chuck, but I agree with Matt that while they both repeated lots of stuff from the pilot, Reaper felt like they had already started to paint themselves into a corner regarding how things would go from week to week.

But, it was still funny -- I thought Ray Wise was just as hilarious as in the pilot. They toned down Sock a little and kept Ben as a voice of reason, which sets up a nice dynamic between the three of them. And I was glad he talked to his mother, since otherwise they would have had all the male characters in on the secret but neither of the women.

I have two concerns going forward: 1) Sam, Sock, and Andi all seem to be pushing the limits of how much they can goof off and realistically not get fired, and 2) the implication that innocent people are dying while Sam initially shies away from the case is uncomfortable. It all goes back to how hard it is to balance the tone. But in general it's still a very enjoyable show.

Anonymous said...

Another problem is that the escapees are boring -- if they're all just woo-woo insane, Sam's encounters with them will get more and more tedious. And the fact that they're actually killing people makes Sam's hesitation in stopping them seem more than cowardly, and his eventual successes seem less than heroic.

This episode was a real letdown. What do they need? More humor, better villains, more character development, more relationship development, and a whole lot more time outside of the store.

R.A. Porter said...

Dan Coyle's right, though. They look to have spent a lot on the big box set, so they're going to need to use it a lot. I wouldn't be surprised - this is on CW after all - if they ended up doing two or three bottle episodes in the first half of this season. And that would *not* feel cooly claustrophobic like Die Hard; it'd just feel like a cost-cutting measure.

I'd also really like to see a little less of scowling Sam and more of the joyful, happy Bret Harrison. I know, I know. Soul was sold to the Devil. Boo-hoo. Have some fun, already! The Devil sure is.

Anonymous said...

I liked both piliots (Chuck and Reaper) about equal - maybe a little more to Reaper just because I liked the concept of the devil a little more. But after the last two nights I think its Chuck all the way that has legs as a series. The funeral scene of Chuck really made me feel like there was heart to the show and characters to care about. There's really no heart to Reaper and that more than anything is going to keep it from ever being that interesting. They dont have the moolah to make cool special effects, the villains are boring, the love interest is blah, and the workplace does not seem to have the potential of Chuck's.

After tonight I feel like I get it and I'm out. Cute pilot, mediocre second episode - but beyond that no pulse in terms of the future.

Toby O'B said...

There was another element in the second episode that was basically a repeat from the pilot - that of Ben getting injured in the confrontation with the escaped soul.

It almost feels like they'll be going for a "They killed Kenny!" moment each week, only not taking it to that extreme as in 'South Park'.

If it's all to be based on the second episodes, I'll go along with 'Reaper' being more formulaic than 'Chuck'.

In a way, 'Reaper' has almost the same problem as 'Threshold' had, only week after week they were chasing alien-infected humans. The only thing that could be the saving grace for 'Reaper' is its sense of humor in each situation, but even that might get stale....

memphish said...

It was okay. The payoff was the last 15 minutes. There is definitely a "we killed Kenny" feel to it, but it's the guy with the hair whose name I still don't know. Hopefully they can ignore Sam's homelife now that he's told his mom the truth. Those scenes are very dull. And hopefully they'll either get Andi more involved or lose her. For a show written by 2 women, they seem to have a hard time writing women.

Anonymous said...

I thought the first half was a little slow, but I liked the second half, and I like the running gag of them suiting up in ridiculous ways. I'm willing to give it a few eps to grow, especially if they keep giving Ray Wise throwaway moments like the shopping cart scene.

Anonymous said...

I'll give a show that has an entertaining pilot 3 more episodes to find its footing, particularly if it's the EPs' first show. But the A-plot in this one was boring, and it's strange that the devil contradicted himself about how to find the demons (i.e., research).

I've never missed Buffy so much as in watching this show-- it probably will not hit the same notes of pathos, and that makes me sad.

Speaking of Buffy, I expected inventory to become a tool they could use throughout the season- their knowledge of what Work Bench had in stock akin to Xander's military knowledge, popping up when necessary.

Anonymous said...

I can't really see why Kevin Smith would be the X factor that made Reaper's pilot the success that so many found it to be. It's Smith's writing that has been widely praised since he came on the scene, not his directing. Smith has admitted in the past that he's at best a mediocre director.

I didn't much care for the pilot but was eager to give it another shot, especially in light of the enthusiasm expressed over Ray Wise's performance. That said, episode 2 was quite a letdown. Another bland, featureless villain and an increase in the obnoxiousness of Sock.

Again, I just don't understand the appeal of this character. He's immature and gross without being charming our lovable. And am I the only person who finds his interactions with the DA woman not only unbelievable but actually gross and creepy. Does anyone else really believe that this woman would have ever given him the time of day?

I know he's got fans, but everytime he shows up onscreen it's like nails on a chalkboard to me.

Sometimes I think they should just toss the whole concept and turn it into a 15-minute feature on Adult Swim called "Ray Wise Is The Devil". For 15 minutes we can watch him do his hijinx and not have to bother with all the other stuff, which currently amounts to tedious filler on Reaper.

Anonymous said...

I'm in agreement with Alan and a lot of other folks here. I was really let down by the second ep. It was pretty much a rehash of the pilot -- with an even more boring villain.

I hoped in my heart of hearts that this show would do what Buffy and Angel and The X-Files did at their best - used the villains not just as scary dudes who move the plot along, but as analogies or allegories for something else.

Even some monsters of the week on X-Files had a certain poignance to them. If Reaper is a series of one-note villains, executed with such ponderous predictability, then, well, that'll suck.

Also, a minor thing, but the boss at the store is overdone. I kept thinking, if this guy is such a douche, why don't they just quit? It's not as if there aren't other crappy jobs at other big box stores. And I know he wants to stick around for Andi (also, she's a snore so far), but jayzus, whcy doesn't *she* quit? The manager's just too much of an ass for anyone to put up with.

I basically saw every beat of this story coming before it did, and an amping up of Sock was not gonna hide the overall lameness of the story. The directing also seemed a bit blah, overall.

Word to Wise being great, esp with the shopping cart, but the man can't carry the whole show.

he's not God, after all.

Anonymous said...

"Word to Wise being great, esp with the shopping cart, but the man can't carry the whole show.

he's not God, after all."

Ha ha, that's a great line, Mo!

With regard to the jerky boss, I had the opposite thought, not "why don't they quit," but why doesn't he just fire them?

Chris Littmann said...

I want to watch because of Bret Harrison and Missy P, but it's already boring and I found myself thinking "THIS is why I couldn't change channels at 9 when my DVR was taping two shows? Pass."

I'll give it another few weeks and hope for something more.

theblankscreen said...

Disappointed that ep2 didn't hit the ground running, but not giving up faith just yet.

Mo? Spot on. Use the villans

"...not just as scary dudes who move the plot along, but as analogies or allegories for something else"

Alan? Whats that famous Tevee quotation. You make your pilot 5 times in a row so people get what the show is about? I think that the Reaper pilot very clearly set everything up. Maybe they didnt trust their pilot or their audience enough...

I can see why anonymous missed Buffy so much. Reaper will never be Buffy but...it has so much potential. Hopefully the writers just need time to find their legs and then the fun can really begin...Who says the bad guy has to come out with lightening bolts/fire and brimstone every-week... Sams boss at work could be an escaped soul from hell. What if Sam has to send an innocent soul back to hell? Is Buffy... I mean Sam the only Reaper? *S*


"are we going to have the exact same scenes, just slightly different every week?"

Yeah. Fraid so. That is network TV. House, 24, NYPD Blue. We get the same scenes every week with a slight difference.

House diagnoses an illness.
Sipowicz gets a confession.
Jack does what he has to do.

But what does change, what should change from week to week is the emotional jeopardy of that scene we saw last week, and our emotional involvement in the regulars of the scene. That's what seperates TV from good and even great TV.

I'm still hoping Reaper can deliver.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, sounds like I watched a completely different episode 'cause I enjoyed it and I really don't get why so many people are disappointed.

I agree that the villain was kinda lame, and some things that were established in the pilot have changed, but so what? The show is just getting started so some growing pains are to be expected.

The most important thing, and the main reason why I liked this episode, is that the dialogue sizzled - lotsa great lines.

Granted, the show runners/writers need to work a bit harder on their storylines, but I feel that the show still shows a lot of promise. And as long as they keep bringing the funny like they did in this episode I'll definitely keep watching.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking you have to be in the Veronica Mars demographic to really enjoy this show. And I'm not.