by Donna Barstow | April 25th, 2009
By “friends,” I mean my favorite TV shows, but no, I’m not exaggerating. I look forward to certain shows all day or all week. And then I get a little nerdy, and run over to TWOP (Television Without Pity) to see what those guys have to say about it. (Diff shows draw different commenters. Some are smarter than others. You have been warned.) I love my TV shows.
Life on Mars is dead and buried. Prison Break has been pronounced dead by Fox for 3 months now, with just a few shows left, moved to the always dead Friday. I’ll write about them later. But Reaper, the rare show that works as both a comedy and a drama, and is totally, always compelling, has just recently been pronounced dead by Hollywood Reporter. I think it’s a premature burial, and still very much alive. Let’s work to save the one that still has a chance to live… (Full disclosure: before I became this cartoonist person, I worked in the studios for a few years, and so I analyze behind the scenes as much as in front of the screen.)
If you liked The Screwtape Letters, (yes, by the same C. S. Lewis who wrote the Narnia books, which are much better than the movie The Chronicles of Narnia – although I haven’t seen the movie :) ), you’ll love Reaper. I read The Screwtape Letters quite a few years ago, but I still remember the good parts, and I keep the book just to reread it. (I’ve read the Narnia series at least 5 times!) Basically, it’s letters from Uncle Screwtape, a demon, to his demon nephew, on how to do it better: that is, how to tempt man and womankind, and what evil is, and how to make it.
I don’t know if the extremely clever writers of Reaper actually read this book, but I saw that Ray Wise, the only actor in Reaper I was familiar with, read a lot and saw a lot of films with a devil to design his portrayal. And boy, does he knock it out of the park. He is the perfect devil. And Sam is his perfect victim.
The series begins with Sam, a slacker who works at a Home Depot type place because “college made him sleepy” waking up on his 21st birthday, ready for a normal day at his boring job. Then he meets the devil. Turns out his father, an attractive appealing advertising exec, promised Sam’s soul to the devil when he turned 21, in exchange for keeping his mother alive during some illness. (I think, the deal isn’t quite clear.) Sam has 2 jobs now: his job at The Bench, and his work for the devil to find different souls who have escaped from hell and bring them back. He’s allowed to let Sock and Ben, co-workers at The Bench, in on his secret, and they help him out in the chase.
One of the most beautiful things in this show is that even with the setup of a different soul (scary bad people of all types) to get every week, EACH EPISODE IS ALMOST TOTALLY SURPRISING! This is just not a predictable show. How rare is that! And thank God!
Other things I love:
- The casting is impeccable. Give the Casting Director an Emmy!!! Sam, Sock, especially Ben, Andi, of course the Devil, and even the supporting characters, like Ted, the funniest boss ever, Gladys at the DMV (because souls have to be handed back at hell on earth: the DMV. Hee!), Nina, who I’m very sorry to read is leaving – bad, Nina, bad-, Sam’s parents, and even Morgan. I also especially liked Andi’s ex, Greg – bring him back, brilliant!
- I don’t have a crush on anyone in particular. It’s a fabric. I just like the whole world. It all works.
- Locations. I know it’s filmed in Canada, and I’m a union person – hate runaway production. But they make it very interesting. I like it when they go to various outdoor lakes, forests, houses, that are NOT LA. And I have to add that since I’ve been watching this, I’ve had to go to the DMV twice, and I didn’t mind!! And to Home Depot. They weren’t as bad as usual.
- The first season Reaper had a makeout session (and more) between Gladys (who happens to be a demon) and Sock. A twenty-something guy and 50-something woman get it on. On the CW. Is this not scream-worthy? In a good way? The brilliant part is they made it work. Sock was sexier in that scene than when he did his step-sister. (oops, hope I didn’t spoil anything.)
- You might imagine that as a cartoonist I laugh a lot. Unfortunately for me, that is not the case. Yes, I often laugh at my own cartoons – at least the first few times – but I don’t think a lot of other people are as funny as they think they are. TV hardly ever is. But I usually laugh a lot, and loudly, at this show. And the writing is so tight that I can watch it again, several times, and find even more cleverness in it.
- It’s not just the funny. Remember how I said it was like The Screwtape Letters? There are a lot of interesting iffy situations with good and bad, and constant choices. Is Sam really Satan’s son? Ray Wise constantly tempts him and goads him. But Sam, Sock and Ben – particularly Sock – aren’t perfect either. Will they go to hell, too? And who hasn’t done more bad things than the latest soul, a young man who was a virgin, and coveted a woman? He went to hell for that! That wasn’t fair! The Devil pointed up to the sky and said “His rules, not mine.” Still not fair!
Well, I don’t want to go all fanwanking on you. Let’s just agree that this show deserves to live, and move on, shall we? TWOP has a small forum. There’s a bigger forum here, ReaperDMV. Here’s the CW’s Reaper Lounge. And The Reaper Site.
And just to prove my love, now look what I did. I wrote my latest Slate cartoon, above, to incorporate both Obama and Reaper. (You might not agree with the politics – or you might! It’s a tiny bit ambiguous, like lots of my cartoons. But they put me up first today! That can’t hurt for Reaper. Or the Devil! You go, boy!
NEW: Just found Bullz-Eye.com that lists Reaper as # 4 of the top 20 shows! (And they also say ABC sucks for pulling Life on Mars the way they did.)
The travails of Sam Oliver (Bret Harrison), big box wage slave and well-intentioned devil’s minion, remains a highly reliable source of big laughs, and an occasional thrill, in its second 13-episode season…. “Reaper” has done a fabulous job of balancing emotion with comic timing and spook-hunting slapstick. What more could we ask for? Well, a third season would be nice…but given that creators Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas have signed a development deal with another studio, “Reaper” seems all but consigned to cancellation. Damn you, CW! Damn you to Hell!
Who isn’t terrified of being buried alive? Don’t do it to Reaper!
For cartoon fans: Lettering is super important for these Slate cartoons, as I only get 500 pix wide, and if you can’t read it, you can’t get it. I’m sure you’ve noticed cartoonists who have nice artwork, but it’s too hard to read the captions, so you don’t bother. In this case, I decided to have fun by putting it on a background of taupe brush strokes. Maybe it makes it harder to read, but if I didn’t experiment, I wouldn’t be much of an artist…
NOTE: My political cartoons for Slate have all been moved to The Opposite of Wrong, where I skewer all the cartoons! I think Obama came out pretty good. His mouth looks a little like how the talented Carol Lay draws! And again, took a chance with the turquoise couch and the lime green table and the magenta sweatshirt. Your eye kind of bounces around. Oh well, it’s like dancing – you get more points if you cover the whole floor.