Thursday, December 06, 2007

When Does Ellen Come On?


So I watched the first half dozen episodes of the new TV show Reaper, a decision made irrationally and almost involuntarily based on early reviews comparing it to Buffy. It certainly had a great premise: on his 21st birthday our protagonist, a boring young man named Sam, finds out that his parents promised his soul to Satan before he was born. Now that he's reached the age of majority, he must work off his parent's debt by becoming the Devil's bounty hunter - catching and returning souls that have escaped from hell.

Unfortunately Reaper, at least in the first few episodes, fails completely to capitalise on such a great premise, instead quickly finding a generic formula and falling into a dull routine. This would be tolerable if the writing and acting were sharp enough to keep it entertaining but sadly the show also suffers from a fatal lack of wit. The characters are unbelievably generic, the attempt at a wacky sidekick (a guy who acts out a pretty straight impersonation of Jack Black) might have helped if his wackiness contained a trace of genuine humour, and the less said about the others... well there is nothing to say about them because they're so boring and two dimensional. But the nail in the coffin for the show was the romance, in which Sam pines for his workmate Andi, which over the course of a mere six episodes became so offensively inane that I had no choice but to cancel my bittorrents in disgust.

Sam spends a decent percentage of each episode trying to gauge Andi's feelings for him and/or smooth over the latest misunderstanding that has arisen between them because of his secret other life. At no time does Andi evince any hint of a personality or an opinion of her own, merely making puppy dog eyes when Sam breaks a date with her after work and remaining a blank cipher, both to her suitor and to the viewer, as to what she's really thinking or feeling. If I saw someone behaving this way in the real world I would shake my head and cluck disapprovingly at her cruel and manipulative toying with this poor sap who's quite obviously infatuated with her, but of course that's not what the writers intend us to see. Andi is a perfect example of this peculiar American TV/ Hollywood creation, the artificial love interest: a character (invariably a woman) who exists only to stand in as an example of chaste virtue, and to be used by a primary character to learn a valuable lesson about honesty, or some other fatuous homily. Aside from the obvious crimes against characterisation that this approach entails, it's offensive for two more reasons. Firstly the creepy crypto-chauvinism it implies (the perfect woman is completely passive and virginal), not to mention the numerous opportunities it provides for the writers to massage conservative America's madonna/whore complex (contrast Andi with the women Satan sends to tempt Sam with, who (gasp) have tattoos and make the first move in trying to kiss him). And secondly because of the nauseatingly Disney moral of twue wuv that it's expressing.

But there is a reason that I made it through six whole episodes, and that's because Reaper does have one genuinely great redeeming feature in the person of Satan as played by Ray Wise (who of course we all remember as Leland Palmer from Twin Peaks). Appearing as a distinguished, tanned, well dressed older man, Wise steals every scene with his delicate balancing of the character's cheerful, friendly outer persona and his true nature as the malevolent manifestation of all evil. He is also apparently the only character which brings out any trace of wit in the writers. Sadly he (and the concept) are not enough to redeem the show. I've since shifted my attention to Pushing Daisies, which has it's own problems, but pleases me much more on a moral and philosophical level.

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