On top of that, I tuned in fully expecting to not like this show at all based on the description. I'm not used to being surprised by actual quality on network television.
Reaper is the ongoing story of newly turned 21 year old Sam Oliver (played by Brett Harrison) who on his birthday discovers that his parents sold his soul to the Devil before he was born, and that on his 21st birthday he would be turned over for whatever nefarious purpose Satan (played by Ray Wise) had in store for him.
Sam has basically always been a slacker (he quit college after one month because it "made him sleepy") who works at what looks like a cross between Home Depot and Costco as a sales clerk. His best friend is Bert "Sock" Wysocki (played with great glee by Tyler Labine) who revels in his slackerness and has far less ambition than Sam. Sam says he's friends with Andi (Missy Peregrym), a hottie with "low standards" who is going to college but enjoys working at the store with these guys more than anything. Sam is burying his crush on her because he thinks he's not good enough.
The show started out kind of weak, with his parents being portrayed as being your typical clueless late teens drams idiots. They won't tell him what's supposed to happen today (his birthday) but fall all over themselves trying to tell him to have the best day ever. However when the show moved away from them and concentrated on Sam, I couldn't help but really like the guy. Brett Harrison plays him with quite the endearing quality, and kept reminding me of Jake Gyllenhaal. As a matter of fact, many of the characters reminded me of other actors, with Tyler Labine looking like he was channeling Jack Black and Missy Peregrym reminding me of Jennifer Garner.
Anyway, Sam experiences some odd things, including knocking a huge air conditioner out of the way before it falls on Andi without quite touching it. Eventually Satan shows up to fill Sam in on the fact that he is to be a bounty hunter for the Devil, tracking down escaped souls from Hell and returning them via portals located in various places. Sam's first challenge is a big, buff bodybuilder-looking dude who was an arsonist 50 years ago and is back to continue his hobby. Sam's weapon and method of capturing this escaped soul?
A Dirt Devil hand-held vacuum.
Kevin Smith directed this pilot episode and it demonstrates why he's so loved by many when it comes to a certain kind of humor. This episode had me laughing out loud many times but it also had it's serious and even touching moments. One example was when Sam's father, now not acting the fool, finally explained why he and Sam's mom made the deal with the Devil and how they thought they'd get around it by just not having a child.
Now I don't know if Kevin Smith will be directing any other episodes, but much of the credit must also go to the actors - like Ray Wise who played Satan with utter charm right up to the moment where he shifts gears and reveals his true character. And then there's Tyler Labine playing the best friend: totally irreverent and hysterical as the laid back slacker buddy.
And let's not forget the writers. Some of the lines they came up with were so great that I just had to share them here:
"Sock" to Sam after he's told about the deal Sam has with the Devil:
You're the magic devil guy with kung fu mind grip now.
Sam's prototypical, "Lord of the Store" manager giving him a pep talk:
It's not just about ham, it's about self respect.
And Satan, congratulating Sam on a job well done and talking about the arsonist he captured:
He's right back where he belongs, getting his nuts burned off for eternity.
I don't know if the show will continue to be as funny as the series premiere, but this episode definitely gets a (surprising) thumbs up from me.
Reaper airs on The CW network on Tuesday nights.