"That my friend was some fine Hell sucking."
So said Sock after this week's ghost was busted on Reaper, and I must agree after my favorite episode since the pilot. I'm sure the debate over whether Reaper is "deep" enough will continue after "Magic," which answered my prayers by making Ray Wise a central part of the action (more on that in a minute) but otherwise continued on its path of stubbornly self-contained, lightly comic storylines. For Reaper watchers impatiently waiting for a novelistic--a smarty pants way of saying soap opera-- turn in the storytelling, "Magic" might have been the last straw. I can sort of understand where you guys are coming from, but I maintain that Reaper is so damn charming and good at what it's doing that what it's not doing isn't really concerning me at the moment. Right now Reaper will win or lose viewers based solely on whether they like characters, and hanging out with Sam, Sock, and Ben has become one of the most purely pleasurable experiences of my weekly TV viewing rounds.
The thing about Reaper is that it's not only avoiding overarching storylines; it's also not all that focused on self-contained storylines. I've been engaged by the supernatural action in every episode, but the most memorable parts for me tend to be the doodles in the margins. Reaper already proceeds in fairly predictable fashion: Typically Sam is confronted by the clues about this week's demon right away. The vessel is introduced, the demon's identity ascertained, and by the episode's mid-point the demon is found and the final battle gets set in motion. We know the formula, and the writers know we know it, so we get a lot of scenes where the characters get to banter and generally enjoy each others' company on the way to playing out the mechanics of the story. TV show characters don't often show affection for each other--the closer they are by friendship or family ties, the meaner they act toward each other--but there's real generosity on Reaper; even "villains" like store manager Ted are depicted with affection. (Ted might be a dick, but he's benign and likeable.)
Commenters on this blog have rightly pointed out that Ray Wise is perhaps portrayed a little too nicely. He is the devil after all, and his heart-to-heart with Sam in the final scene was easily the worst moment of "Magic," negating the (necessary) dark shadings added to Wise's characterization by him intentionally putting Andi in danger at the Cris Angel-esque magic show just to goad Sam. This is only the second glaringly false note of the series so far, and it's very similar to the first--at the end of the second episode, Sam's mother seemingly no longer felt guilty about selling her son's soul to Satan because he was honest about being Hell's bounty hunter. Which of course makes no sense at all, just as Satan caving in to Sam's demands vis a vis the contract because he just can't say no to the little guy makes no sense at all. I've been whining for weeks about getting more Wise, and now that I finally got more of him I have to agree with the commenter who said Wise is best utilized two or three times an episode. This is no fault of Wise's--he was great as usual--but he loses his coolness if he's just one of the guys.
But overall I really liked "Magic" though I suspect some of you really didn't. What'cha think?
--I'm really glad they didn't rely on the ol' Let's-use-Sock's-ex-girlfriend-in-the-DA's-office-to-get-background-on-the-demon trick again this week. Then again, without this trick, what's the point of Sock having an ex-girlfriend in the D.A.'s office?
--Is the gang's hangout bar really called Booze?