I am not ashamed to admit that I found the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television show to be quite clever. There are about four obvious directions a narrative can take when given a title like that, and when the story instead goes a different, fifth direction, you’ve got to give it some props. Sure, it kind of collapsed at the end, despite attempts to invigorate it with gratuitous sex, and though in my opinion it never quite reached the heights I thought it capable of, Buffy… was a good show. It also helped create a hybrid genre: prime-time youth-oriented supernatural dramedy, a monstrous marketing cutlass that has never been wielded capably outside of the hands of Joss Whedon. It’s a lucrative demographic with a relatively low bar to hurdle, and since most of them employ the old reliable three-act storytelling formula, these programs can be churned out like bargain hot dogs sold behind the glue works factory.
I’m not really drawn to these supernatural serials, so it’s no surprise that I completely missed Reaper, a show that ran on television from 2007-2009. I vaguely recall commercials for the show, but the way it was presented coupled with my own assumptions about it turned me off completely. I became acquainted with Reaper recently through netflix.com’s video streaming option, since I had watched a couple of episodes of Mad Love and the same Jack Black-type dude is in both shows. I have to admit, I was initially impressed. Despite Kevin Smith’s involvement, I thought it employed a reasonably clever premise and had a tight cast of characters where everyone’s role was well-defined and purposeful. That was the first season.
To bring people who haven’t seen the show up to speed: Reaper is about a guy named Sam whose parents sold his soul to the devil before he was born. When he turns twenty-one, the devil shows up for his due and employs this hapless kid as a reaper–which is a bounty hunter who sends escaped souls back to Hell. The reaper works at a Home Depot knock off during the day with his two buddies, a chubby mischief-maker named Sock and a line-towing good boy named Ben. Plus, Sam has a retarded, easily manipulated boss and the girl of his dreams also works there just to mix it up a little. Reaper’s strength is the relationship between Sam and the devil, with whom there is always a catch. The roles of Sock and Ben as the reaper’s conscience are also enjoyable. The show didn’t blow me away, but I was enjoying it for the first season, especially towards the conclusion where we learn that Satan is Sam’s actual father.
Before tackling the mess that is the second and final season of Reaper, I’d like to say that Reaper was a really fucking bad name for this show. Who came up with that shit? When I think of a reaper, I think of the Grim Reaper, that scythe-swinging herald of death in a Jedi robe who escorts people to the Great Beyond. I don’t think of some whiny kid who sends souls of already dead people back to Hell because, apparently, Hell is just some kind of shitty jail that can be broken out of. I mean, the premise is dubious but that isn’t the problem. I’m willing to accept on blind faith that Hell is a revolving door prison and the devil employs shy nerdlings because he’s just an asshole like that. But why cock it up and call this kid a reaper? You could call him Soul Hunter or the Devil’s Henchman or Hell’s Retrieval Officer and people would have at least an inkling of what he’s about. That Reaper didn’t even try to include the word “devil” in the title is disheartening. The pun fodder there is tremendous.
From the beginning of the second season, all misgivings about the show’s presentation are made irrelevant as it quickly begins to go off kilter. Sam’s earth dad, who died at the end of the first season, comes back as a zombie for no good particular reason. A group of rebel demons seeking to unseat Satan attack Sam, and then one of them becomes Ben’s girlfriend. And then some old Indian dude gets hired at the fake Home Depot. Also there’s this other nauseating plot line where Sock wants to fuck his stepsister. There are so many confusing sub-stories and meaningless extra characters, I feel like Reaper’s second season existed solely to give some jobless industry people a paycheck. What was a tantalizing, promising premise becomes a slurry of confusing character introductions and conflicting plots that left me thinking, “I don’t think I want to finish the second season of Reaper.”
I would be remiss not to discuss Kevin Smith, or at least explain why I thought the show was okay initially despite Kevin Smith’s influence. In a word, Kevin Smith sucks. His ideas and execution are of a caliber that should get the highest grade in any public high school, but no more. Of his movies, I’ve only watched four or five–but what am I supposed to so, sit through twenty-plus hours of bullshit before I can effectively determine that Kevin Smith is a hack? Chasing Amy is like an eleven year-old’s understanding of relationships and homosexuality, Dogma is from the mindset of a kid who challenges the Catholic church right after confirmation. Kevin Smith is an emotionally stunted buffoon, whose thoughts and ideas should be relegated solely to comic book forums and conventions. And even at that, he’s not the worst offender in films. I mean, I can somewhat enjoy Mallrats despite its shitty pacing and unlikeable characters.