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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2007-2008 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we still want to give you a heads up on what you should - and shouldn't - keep on your radar in the coming months.
And as an added bonus this year, each day we'll also take a look at one of the pilots that didn't make the cut. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
REAPER (The CW)
(Tuesdays at 9:00/8:00c this fall)
The network's description: "For the first 20 years of his life, Sam (Bret Harrison, "The Loop," "Grounded for Life") wondered why his parents went so easy on him. Whether it was school, sports or career choices, Sam's mom (Allison Hossack, "Falcon Beach") and dad (Andrew Airlie, "The L Word") always let him get by with the least possible effort, while at the same time pressuring his younger brother Keith (Kyle Switzer, "15/Love") to excel. As a result, Sam skipped college, took a dead-end job and now wastes endless hours playing video games and wishing he had the guts to ask out his pretty co-worker, Andi (Nikki Reed, "Thirteen," "The O.C."). Everything in his slacker world changes the day Sam turns 21 and discovers the ungodly reason his parents let him slide: they sold his soul to the devil before he was born. Satan himself (Ray Wise, "24," "The Closer") drops by to personally explain that Sam must now serve as his bounty hunter, tracking down evil souls that have escaped and returning them to Hell. At first, Sam refuses to accept his bizarre fate, but after getting just a glimpse of Satan's temper, Sam realizes that breaking a deal with the devil has consequences that are very, very bad. Armed with a constantly changing series of vessels - starting with a Dirt Devil mini-vacuum - to collect the escapees, Sam immediately finds that the work is dangerous and frightening, even with the goofball help of his friends and fellow slackers, Bert "Sock" Wysocki (Tyler Labine, "Boston Legal," "Invasion") and Ben (Rick Gonzalez, "Coach Carter"), along with Sock's former-girlfriend-turned-paralegal, Josie (Valarie Rae Miller, "Dark Angel"). Still, as weird and scary as his life has become, Sam is surprised to find that he somehow feels good about his newfound "mission" - removing evil-doers from the world and sending them back where they belong. With his friends and his trusty vessel-of-the-week at his side, Sam is ready to face his destiny as the Reaper. REAPER is from ABC Studios with executive producers Michelle Fazekas ("Ed," "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"), Tara Butters ("Ed," "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"), Mark Gordon ("Grey's Anatomy," "Criminal Minds"), Deb Spera ("Criminal Minds"), Tom Spezialy ("Desperate Housewives") and Kevin Smith ("Clerks," "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back"). Kevin Smith also directed the pilot."
What did they leave out: Producers have subsequently recast the role of Andi - Missy Peregrym will now play the part.
The plot in a nutshell: Sam Oliver (Bret Harrison) expected his 21st birthday to be just like every other day in his slacker/underachiever-esque existence - the morning with the folks since he still lives at home, the afternoon at his minimum wage job at The
Home Depot Work Bench and the evening at the local townie bar the Brickhouse. Fortunately - or unfortunately actually - something special is in store for him on this special day. It begins with his parents (Allison Hossack, Andrew Airlie) acting cagey for no reason. That's followed by the odd feeling of fire surrounding him and various dogs freaking out in his presence. And if that wasn't weird enough - he somehow moved a falling air conditioner to rescue his longtime crush Andi (Nikki Reed)... with his mind. Oh, and the Devil (a pitch-perfect Ray Wise) appeared in the backseat of his station wagon during his drive home. Soon enough though he finds out there's a reason for all these strange occurrences - Dad once fell ill and he and Mom agreed to sell the soul of their first then-unborn child so he could live. It's an explanation that also reveals why they never pressured him to excel ("College made him sleepy," Mom notes), opting to instead focus on Sam's younger brother (Kyle Switzer). The Devil then has his own plans for Sam - he's to work as his bounty hunter, collecting the souls of those who escape from hell. Each week he'll be presented with a vessel (in the pilot's case - a Dirt Devil, natch) and a target (a pyromaniac firefighter who can shoot flames - I know, don't ask) whom he must capture and return to a window at the DMV (a.k.a. "anywhere that's hell on earth"). And because the Devil is the Devil, there are no loopholes - if Sam doesn't do what the Devil says he'll take his mother's soul in his place. In any case, aiding Sam in his quest is his overly enthusiastic best friend/co-worker Bert "Sock" Wysocki (Tyler Labine, in full Tyler Labine mode); Sock's ex-girlfriend (Valarie Rae Miller), who just happens to work in the D.A.'s office; and Ben (Rick Gonzalez), Sam's hard working, religious co-worker. Together they'll find it's a dangerous journey, one that just might shake Sam out of his slacker/underachiever-esque existence to try and be something more.
What works: Much like NBC's "Chuck," there's an inherent sense of fun to the show that's downright infectious. And for all its egregious elements, there's a flair and style to them that keeps things from getting either too silly or too bizarre. Literally stealing the show then is Ray Wise, whose Prince of Darkness is all charm and smiles. Between his off-the-cuff commentary ("That's really nice," he says about a bracelet Andi gives Sam for his birthday. "Not too gay at all.") and "see, I can be nice too" attitude, there isn't a scene with him that didn't leave me wanting more. The rest of the cast also doles out some fine moments, whether it be Sock's panache for throwing cans at Sam thinking he'll bat them away with his new powers; to Andi and Sam's cute-but-not-too-cute flirting (making one wonder why Nikki Reed was recast in the first place); to even The Work Bench's manager (Donavon Stinson) inadvertently offending the staff by offering a 25-pound spiral cut ham ("I'm Jewish," remarks one such employee) as the prize in the latest sales contest. All in all, any show that features the term "victory ham," has our heroes spend a solid minute waiting for a Dirt Devil to charge or has the Devil cooking himself chicken fried steak is gold in my book.
What doesn't: Other than the fact the show's mythology feels a little convoluted in parts - for example, Sam can't just go out and capture a soul, he has to find out why it's here first - there's nothing keeping me away from this show this fall.
The bottom line: "Reaper" completes the CW's - and maybe even UPN and the WB's - best development cycle to date.