Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Reaper, "The Devil and Sam Oliver": And it's 1, 2, 3, the kids love the monkey

Spoilers for the "Reaper" season/series finale coming up just as soon as somebody helps me get nuded...

When "Reaper" and "Chuck" debuted at the start of last season, the comparisons were as frequent as they were obvious. Many people (myself included) even preferred the "Reaper" pilot, thanks to Ray Wise, bigger laughs and what seemed to be a more assured sense of story and tone. But watching what's likely the final episode of "Reaper"(*) one month after what thankfully turned out not to be the final "Chuck," it's not hard to see how the two shows diverged creatively, and why there was such passionate outpouring from fans and media about the Save "Chuck" campaign, while the movement to save "Reaper," while there, has been a lot quieter.

(*) Yes, the rumor of the CW affiliates picking up the show to help fill their now-vacant Sunday lineup is still out there, but A)I know nothing about it that you don't, and B)It seems like such a Hail Mary, between the logistics of ordering it and the departures of Tyler Labine and "Reaper" creators Fazekas and Butters, that I'm going to assume, until there are confirmed reports of production beginning on new episodes, that it'll turn out like "Arrested Development" on Showtime or the "Deadwood" TV-movies.

The "Chuck" finale was a balls-to-the-wall, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink, other-hyphenated-cliche-about-giving-your-best-effort affair, something that built on everything that came before. It ended in a place that had me very eager to see the next season, while at the same time (though I doubt this was the creators' intention) had the same air of the "Terminator" finale, where what seems like a cliffhanger also feels like a satisfying stopping point if need be.

The "Reaper" finale, on the other hand? Well, it was funny in parts (the Devil making Sam dance like a monkey, Sock speaking in tongues after putting his tongue on a toad, Andi getting drunk, Steve complaining about life as a guardian angel), but it also felt as lazy and aimless as the show so often was, and the ending just has me frustrated that we likely won't get to see where things are going. (Even if the show comes back, the creators likely wouldn't be back with it.)

"Reaper," like Sam himself, has never seemed to have much of a plan, and while that feels thematically appropriate, it also gets frustrating to watch whenever the series does a mythology-driven episode like this one. As Fienberg points out in his own "Reaper" finale review, Sam's ability to play Quarters was never established earlier, and most of this season has felt like Fazekas, Butters and company were just treading water, not sure what to do after the unexpected renewal. Last year's finale already established that Steve was an angel again, and that Heaven had some kind of grand plan for Sam, and 13 episodes later, we're basically at the same point. Andi having sold her soul in the bargain does add a new element for a hypothetical third season, but that's only after wasting her as the wet blanket for most of this year. (And I sure would have liked to see Andi's first meeting with the Devil, as opposed to finding out about it afterwards.)

If "Reaper" somehow comes back, even in a cheaper form with a smaller cast and a new creative team, I imagine I'll still watch for a while, if only for Ray Wise and Rick Gonzalez. But the series could have been so much better than it was. Maybe if it had been, its future wouldn't be so uncertain right now.

What did everybody else think?


dez said...

I thought it was an okay ep in most respects, with a few things being above average, such as Nina's willingness to sacrifice herself to make things right between Ben and his grandmother, and the Devil's Narcissus moment as he looked at the mirror. However, I'm bummed that this is where the story might end. Seems Sam would be much more motivated to get out of his deal now that Andi's been drawn in (and really, shouldn't he have shown more love to her, given what she sacrificed for him?).

Definitely wish we could have seen how Andi conjured the Devil, or just a wee bit of Sock's exorcism. Oh, and I know where Tony was--opening up the latest branch of Souper Crackers (well, either that, or puking)!

Eric said...

Agreed. A bit more wasted potential from the series. I wouldn't mind seeing Reaper continue as a comic book (though, if the creators were bigger comics fans, they probably would have taken the series in a more satisfying direction.)

The fact that Heaven wants Sam where he is is fairly intriguing, but again, I wouldn't expect the show to do much with it. In the comparison to Chuck, both shows reflect their central character - Chuck really was (and is) better than his circumstances, and the show has steadily improved itself. Sam, on the other hand, may have whined about his circumstances, but never seemed to reach for anything more, and the show has never really reached for the additional complexity or depth that has always been so tantalizingly close.

Anonymous said...

The way that Steve wasn't sure of the exact translation and the way he had Sam dressed like the Devil, I thought they were going in a much different direction.

A huge chunk of this season has been a fight between Sam and his step brother over who would take over Hell. How great would it have been if beating Satan held different results for Sam, as the son of Satan, than some average Joe?

The son of the Devil beats him in a game of skill and takes over the throne...they could have gone lots of places with that. He could have saved everyone's soul not just his, plus you'd have a very angry Ray Wise for next season and you could even run a parallel about how terrible the job is just like with Andi's reign at the head of the Work Bench.

Mapeel said...

I agree that the Ray Wise mirror moment was super. And the Devil trying to convince Sam he is worthless is chillingly "true." I also agree with Eric's point that "additional complexity" "has always been so tantalizingly close." Great potential for a series never realized.

b said...

So was it just me who thought Leland Palmer when Ray Wise looked in the mirror? :D I was half expecting his face to shift into Bob.

I really liked Dolores in the episode. She's so spunky. And while the whole Nina thing was pretty dumb, it was still fun to see that whole exorcist bit there.

While I do get frustrated from time to time with the lacksidasical nature show, the show is still somehow quite endearing to me, because I do like most of the characters despite them always heading back to square one; so I wouldn't mind seeing them have an extra season to see where it'll all go.

Brian said...

I was also irritated that the one really interesting thing about this season -- the suggestions that because of Sam's link to the Devil, he may have genuine evil within him and has to fight his destiny to rule the underworld -- was totally ignored in the finale, replaced by a comparatively lame "Sam is a slacker/loser" tension.

I found the episode gripping and funny enough, and the twist with Steve breaking Sam's hand was intriguing, but at the end of the day you're right: there's so much wasted potential here it hurts to think about.

Maybe in 25 years some creative Ron D. Moore type of the future will reimagine Reaper and do it right.

Doug S said...

Boy do I wish I cared more about the fate of this show. The quarters things just seemed so tired - I mean really, that's what the writers come up with as a talent for Sam? Why not hacky-sack?

This show left the rails when the creepy middle eastern guy showed up with his slimy sexual innuendos. Like the guy from The 40 Year Old Virgin's annoying and unfunny cousin. Characters like him should wear sign boards: We Give Up.

I hope Harrison and Wise find good material, they deserve it.

jcpdiesel21 said...

I would be fine with this episode being the last one. I really enjoyed Reaper last season, especially its post-strike strong run of episodes. But I've been mostly disappointed with this season, and constantly feel like the writers drop the ball with what could be a really compelling show, and watched all of it mainly out of obligation and my love of Ray Wise.

pgillan said...

For two seasons, none of Sam's friends ever saw the Devil- they took it on faith that he existed, based on everything else that was going on. And it's only been this season (I think) that anyone other than Sam has had any interaction with him, and none of them had any idea who they were dealing with. I think you seriously understated how much of a major cheat it was, when someone else finally met the devil, to have it happen offscreen.

Anonymous said...

Reaper has felt like a show that was written by its characters. Amiable, goofy, but not nearly as ambitious as you would like it to be. Maybe the writers sold their souls to get a two-season series and knew that it didn't matter if they tried or not...

From the moment it was suggested that Sam needed to beat the devil in a competition I knew that whatever they came up with would be introduced in the last episode. For all of the mythology elements and overall story arcs, the show has felt like they were winging it all along. At the very least I was hoping it would be something more Sam-specific than Quarters, like shelf stocking at the Work Bench.

Ah well. If this is the last episode ever, and it looks very likely that it will be, then it was a delightful hour of each week. Even the weak episodes had their charms, specifically Ben, who came on this season as an MVP to rival Ray Wise.

Bret Harrison is a likeable enough actor, but I don't think he is a strong enough presence to carry a series. Between this and the Loop (kudos on the post title, Alan), I hope people figure out that being the stable center in a cast of eccentrics is not the role for him.

Love me some Michael Ian Black, though.

So it goes. Goodbye, Reaper.

Elena said...

I'm with you Alan, and the majority of posters here, I'm fond of this show, but won't shed a tear if it disappears. It has good moments, but does overall have a "slacker" mentality to the stories and production. I think Andi losing her soul could improve the story a lot, and if they moved a bit on what heaven's design for Sam is that could be intriguing. I loved this show for the small stuff, like Ben introducing his rabbit to the frogs, the boys stealing Ben's childhood homemade gifts, and the oft mentioned Sam dancing like a monkey. But many great bits don't add up to a mag whole in this case.

Kris Eton said...

I liked this show because of the actors and the line delivery. That saved most of the lackluster episodes for me. Sock being my favorite (although I think you disliked him, Alan?).

The show was much much better this season, after leaving behind the 'soul of the week' formula.

They also had great minor characters, such as the older Indian gentleman working at the Work Bench using 'street' terms or Sock's step-sister or even Gladys.

I'd be interested to watch it in syndication, but I'm okay with "Reaper" disappearing and these actors allowed to move on to other shows.

Anonymous said...

Kris Eton, there is a special display case at the Museum of Television in Los Angeles that I would like to put you in with a plaque that reads "The Only Person That Actually Liked Sock's Step-Sister"

You're like a unicorn!!!

Tracey said...

Best part of the episode: The devil trying to play quarters on a mirrored table. Really well-thought out; I was expecting a mirror on the wall or some such thing, but the fact that he actually had to look at the table to play and couldn't stop looking at himself was brilliant.

Worst part of the episode: Sock driving under the influence of toad. Really? When exactly did it become OK to use DUI as a source of humor? I must have missed the memo, because I thought that stopped being funny somewhere between Arthur and Arthur 2.

I wasn't crazy about the bit with Nina being exorcised. I thought Ben's abuela was supposed to be a bit psychic, so how could Nina fool her by simply pretending that the demon was gone? And Nina had already explained what she was to abuela, so why did she suddenly think that Nina was possessed?

I agree with Alan that it seemed like this season was treading water. It didn't seem to have any direction to it. The primary ongoing theme was Sam's attempt to get out of his contract, which this episode did indeed address, but... hmn... there just wasn't much to that. They showed a number of not-really-so-evil souls this year -- Alan, who got out of his contract; the boxer; the kid who lusted after a married woman, Stevie the baby, etc. -- and I was always sort of hoping that Sam would get into conflict with the devil by helping these souls redeem themselves, sending them to heaven instead of hell, but no, they all just wound up back in hell (except Stevie, who ... never really paid off much).

It was a fun ride, but it just didn't seem to go anywhere.

Tracey said...

Oh, and the competition thing was handled much better in the second Bill and Ted movie, where Bill and Ted beat the Grim Reaper at Twister, Battleship and other children's games, although Quarters was pretty entertaining to. But I kept thinking, "This is dated. They should be playing Beer Pong."

So Cal said...

Didn't watch the show this season, but i noticed the title of your entry, Alan, and had to chime in since you gave a shout-out to The Loop...were you a fan of the show?

I thought it was hilarious, and it was a shame how Fox treated it.

Alan Sepinwall said...

So Cal, I liked "The Loop."

Anonymous said...

The movement to save Reaper has been quiet? Huh?

Anyways, Industry insiders confirm Hollywood Reporter's article that ABC Studios is actively trying to sell Reaper. Syndication is a very real possiblity right now, but EVERYONE is recommending writing your affiliates! Help out! All details here: or visit us at for the most up-to-date info.

Anonymous said...

Also, Tyler himself has said his Reaper contract comes first, and he'll be back no matter what. Plus, the creators still remain involved in the show despite their FOX contracts. I think you should check this blog out:

We've been getting some very positive feedback from SEVERAL of the CW affiliates we've contacted, and Reaper's renewal chances aren't looking as poor as you're claiming.

If you want a list of links to the affiliate responses, just ask. Or check out our "Ideas to ensure a Season Three" thread at

Alan Sepinwall said...

The movement to save Reaper has been quiet? Huh?

I didn't say "non-existent," just quiet. It certainly hasn't caught fire the way the similar "Chuck" campaign did.

Best of luck to you on this.

Edward Copeland said...

While I enjoy/enjoyed the show, little things always end up bugging me. What if Andi had left to get a new shot glass instead of Sam rushing to do it and then Steve couldn't have broken Sam's hand? Of course, Sam couldn't have won or show would be over. I also felt cheated by not having the scene between Andi and the Devil. I assumed by what came later that Steve mistranslated the text on purpose so Sam would lose.

OldDarth said...

Reaper suffered from limp leads ie Sam & Andi.

Socks and the Devil were the best part of the show.

Wasted opportunities like you said Alan. Andi's meeting with the Devil taking place offscreen and the concept of her selling her soul should have happened much sooner.

Close Reaper, but no cigar.

Anonymous said...

Says someone who posts on blogspot... And before anyone starts whining, I read the about me. But it's impossible to take anyone on
*blogspot* seriously.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I loved this as a season finale, which I firmly BELIEVE that's what it is, that this syndi or cable deal will come through for a Season Three. Never did buy the Chuck comparisons, but hope Chuck's renewal means something good for Reaper, not bad.

Sure maybe there's some missed potential here; that's why we need more! Fans, help out by showing ABC and the affiliates there's support for this show! for details.

And Alan, even though you've had mixed feelings, always appreciate you covering Reaper!

Karl said...

I have always thought Reaper was a fun show, and I enjoy most episodes, but as a season finale this was pretty bad. As a series finale it was awful.

Is Sam really dumb enough to think that the Devil, an immortal entity with supernatural abilities, would be incapable of playing quarters? I couldn't buy this at all.

I'd really like to see more of Reaper, and it'd be annoying if this is how the series ends. It's a fun show with really great characters.

The other thing that bugged me, and also bugged me in the season 1 finale, the angel effect with the angelic music is possibly one of the lamest effects I've ever seen. Way over the top cheesy.

I hope that somehow we get at least one more season, but it seems unlikely.

Pammy said...

Oh, I don't know if it's that dumb for Sam to think he can beat the Devil at quarters. I think the Devil did say one time that he doesn't drink, and he doesn't have any friends, so in all likelihood he wouldn't have spent much time playing a drinking game that people mostly play with friends.

His first idea to challenge the Devil to a clarinet contest, on the other hand... Yeah.

I like Chuck, too, and that show had a kickass second season, but it definitely has its weaknesses and requirements of huge amounts of suspension of disbelief at times. I don't see why liking one show means there's the need to knock another show with similarities. It's like when Supernatural fans knock Reaper. And that's another show I also like. It's just unnecessary and comes off kind of petty.

Shows like these are way better than yet another series of "reality" crap-pile any day of the week. Or the shows that are all about who's hooking up with who. Or procedurals. Yawn.

Yay to all shows that makes use of imagination. They're often the underdogs in the TV world. Us fans of these shows need to band together and show the networks we want imaginative programming. Not JUST ONE imaginative program and then fill all the rest of the time slots with the same old, same old.

Tyroc said...

Maybe beer pong would be more up to date, but I loved the quarters challenge. Thought it was really funny.

Plus, beer pong seems to have changed from when I played it in college (with rackets, and just a cup in the middle of each side to try to sink the ball -- by hitting it in with your racket, not tossing it with your hand.)

The finale was a little underwhelming, but still pretty good.

And as the showrunner is Tom Spezialy and not the creators of the show, whether they come back or not isn't that important. I hope the show returns.