Review: Reaper v. Buffy

Reaper v. BuffySo, I’ve been watching Reaper and enjoying it. The pilot was easily the best one, the rest have stabilized at “pretty entertaining.” While watching it, it occurred to me that it had some obvious similaries to early Buffy – from cast structure to generalized stories – enough that it made me want to watch my Buffy Season 1 dvd’s again. So I did.

Eye opening. Buffy was immediately great. Every episode was good in a way that is not true on any of the shows this season – all of which were sort of “Yeah, it’s ok, show’s some promise so I’ll keep trying it out.” And the comparison with Reaper is sort of a non-comparison. Superficially they’re similar. Main slaying character, two sidekicks, one wacky, one smart. One older teacherly figure. One love interest, outside the circle. You know, some bad guy comes every week to kill, research must go into why he’s killing and how to kill him.

Sure. Whatever. Buffy, though, walked a razor fine line between cheesiness and awesomeness and stayed firmly on the awesome side. It was never meant to be a straight up comedy – somehow it remained consistently dramatic and moody, despite top notch comedic writing and storylines like a possessed ventriloquist dummy. The characters all had depth and you could see how they struggled. Reaper, on the other hand, opted out of the drama – it’s entirely comedic. Which is fine and funny. Good to watch, Socks is easily funnier and a better actor than Xander was (not to bust on Xander or anything, I loved him, too). But still… give me something to sink my teeth into, no pun intended. It’s a little bit all fluff.

Buffy was a high school show. It had a wealth of themes to pull on high school drama and stereotypes to teen anger, rebellion, insecurity and everything. Sometimes more literally than others, but there was a wealth of things to pull from that everyone could relate to. Reaper is a slacker show. There’s only so much inspiration you can pull from this and even in that I don’t think the show is a wonderful job. They show his dissatisfaction with life, but they never really show why he’s that way or really anything.

They are both reluctant good guys. Neither Buffy nor Sam want the job. A huge difference, though, is that Buffy has a choice. She could, if she wanted, stop slaying and the only bad thing to happen would be the end of the world. Sam, on the other hand, is forced to hunt down the bad guys. Short of allowing his folks or himself a one way ticket to hell, he doesn’t have an option in the matter. That’s pretty critical.

The real problem with Reaper, thus far, is that every episode is the same. Except the pilot which was totally awesome, but it isn’t fair since Kevin Smith directed it. Boy gets vessel, boy gets beaten up by bad guy, boy researches bad guy, boy gets beaten up by bad guy, boy finds out how to use vessel and anticlimactically kills bad guy. Sprinkle boy making excuses for not hanging out with girl throughout and you have the outline. The silly vessels were kinda funny the first few times but it’s getting a little old, although, the DMV dropoff is very admittedly extremely awesome. The other problem is that the climax is always Voltron-form-blazing-sword style. The unbeatable monster is immediately and easily beaten as soon as they figure out the vessel – which kind of always happens by accident.

Neither does it have depth. Everything is very shallow – the character relationships are never explored, except for the love interest which, honestly, is getting a little boring with it’s same-iness. Ray Wise as the devil is a bright and shining point – I wish he was on screen more – he really is incredibly brilliant in the role. He switches from happy go lucky to creepy as all get out without missing a beat (a feat Angel/Angelus pulled off in Buffy, but it’s different). Off kilter the whole time. Amazing.

The show does have potential, though. The end of the last episode showed real promise – I wish it had been the whole episode. We see the devil beginning the slippery slope of Sam’s corruption. Up until now, I’d seen the devil as another naughty but ultimately kinda good guy – wants to get the bad guys back in jail and act as a guide to Sam’s growing up in an off beat way. Not original, but you know. This twist, though, where he’s actually evil and trying to corrupt Sam is really a dark and interesting twist that I wasn’t expecting (at least I hope that’s what it is). I love it. And with his Dad ripping pages out of the contract – it hints at something deeper to the show. I hope it pans out. As it was, most of the shows after the pilot were throw away – nothing changed, no longer term plots were formed or completed.

Oh, you know what else I don’t like? The opening. No song? No theme? This show has so much story to tell that it can’t afford a 30 second intro theme? Please. I’m not saying… I’m just saying.

At any rate, I’m still watching. Looking forward to see how they deal with Halloween. Those Halloween Buffy’s were always completely awesome. Good times. What do you think of Reaper? You watching?

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