"Hungry For Fame" and "Unseen" S1 / E11 & 12
First off, let me apologize again for missing Reaper last week, though I'm sure I wasn't the only fan thrown off by the show's new time slot. Thursdays at 8 p.m. CST is a pretty terrible time slot for a ratings-deficient program trying to re-gain its legs after a four-month layoff. Some commenters on this blog are even treating Reaper's cancellation as a foregone conclusion, latest batch of new episodes be damned. There may be good reason to think that, as the show hasn't been renewed yet. Still, I'm not about to call the governor asking for a reprieve just yet. Reaper is a good show with the potential to be a great show (though I question whether the ambition's there to be "great"), and it has a high-profile backer in Kevin Smith. Also, we're talking about the CW here, a network whose definition of "good" or even sufficient ratings differs from the big boys. So, unless Reaper really goes into the tank over the next month, I think there's an OK-to-decent chance it will be spared.
Of course, I could be completely wrong about that, as the writers strike pretty obviously disrupted the modest momentum Reaper gained way back in 2007, a quaint time when gas cost under $3 and Brett Favre was still quarterback of my Green Bay Packers. (Single tear.) So, while it was comforting seeing Sock and Ben roughhousing again in the opening moments of last week's "Hungry For Fame" (Ben was the one who ended up getting hurt, of course) it was also a little weird, like running into a high school classmate at the grocery store a few months after graduation. Fortunately, the cobwebs shook away pretty quickly and I was back in the Reaper groove by the time Sam was making out on his bed with ultra-foxy devil girl Cady. So far, Sam-Cady presents a much more interesting (or at least less annoying) dynamic than Sam-Andi, which is why I was slightly alarmed by the scene toward the end of the episode where Cady not-so-subtly implied that under the sexy veneer she's a knife-wielding psycho. Could this be laying the groundwork for her exit next episode? Let's hope not. I could definitely use several episodes worth of Andi-Cady catfights. (Also, big ups for The Devil's shelf-spilling act at The Work Bench, though there has to be more repercussions for Sam messing with his soul purchase, no?)
The B-story of "Hungry For Fame" was a bit of a non-starter for me, though Morris the Asian cowboy was a good comic idea that went largely unexploited. Sock was really funny, as usual, getting the lion's share of the quotable lines. ("Somebody get me a six-pack. It's what my mom would have done.") But the big surprise of this episode was Jamie Kennedy, whose name can finally be placed next to the word "hilarious" without a lick of irony. Honestly, the man is more appealing when he plays a middling white rocker rather than a middling white rapper. Also, seeing his hand get bit off was, in a word, awesome. In short, "Hungry For Fame" was a good but typical Reaper episode. Nothing spectacular, but pretty damn engaging and enjoyable (on its own modest terms) nonetheless. But will that be good enough to save Reaper? Following this show often feels like a waiting game for the makers to turn it up a notch, which they never quite do.
The waiting game continues with last night's "Unseen," which I thought was decent in the most frustrating sense. Reaper is falling into a pattern of making the final five minutes the only part of the episode that's really worth watching, finally touching on the plot points we care most about after spending 40 or so minutes on the usual plot mechanics. If any episode could have gotten away with eschewing the "escaped soul of the week" formula, it was this one. A potentially fruitful storyline was set up with Cady, but "Unseen" treated it like a inconsequential B-story before wrapping it up (For now? For good?) with the ol' "we need some time apart" cliché. (They were laying the groundwork! Bastards!) So, she's for sure not the devil's kid? And she's not crazy? Was Cady merely a device to show Andi making sad faces over Sam dating someone else? Ugh. So disappointed in how that turned out.
It was nice to see Ray Wise deepen the air of menace he took on last week, but again, with Reaper these sorts of character details are doled out pretty stingily. At this point I don't really care if The Devil is Cady's dad, because I'm not sure if Reaper will deliver a real pay-off either way. It's been the case repeatedly this season: any and all signs of the show going beyond the nice but superficial laughs-and-spooks formula–with the contract, with Sam's dad, and now Cady–are either left under-developed or, worse, appear to be dead ends. (Meanwhile, we get the return of Josie, no longer stuck in Reaper never-never land with Sam's missing brother and that missing page of the contract.) So, the gang's bat cave gay neighbor Michael Ian Black (another nice piece of stunt casting) is a demon. My guess is that gets wrapped up next week, and probably pretty quickly. Bring on the next alt-comic star. Todd Barry, perhaps?
Clearly, as much as I still appreciate it in many ways, Reaper is starting to irritate the shit out of me. I just feel like I've been set up repeatedly with no pay-off. I can like it for what it seems to want to be–a wacky, happy-go-lucky, ghost-of-the-week comedy–but I can't make myself care enough to love it. Reaper, you're a cock tease.
Grade: B ("Hungry For Fame"), C ("Unseen")