Reaper – A Review

“Bounty Hunter for Satan” “Giving the Devil his due?”

On the surface, Reaper has a lot in common with Chuck. In both we have young twentysomethings cast adrift on the tides of life not knowing where they are going so they bide their time by working at a big chain superstore, The Work Bench (read: Home Depot) instead of Buy More (read: Best Buy). Starring a group of slackers, with witty banter propelling the show—just like the heroes from Clerks—which explains the chemistry produced by the pilot episode having been directed by Kevin Smith.

In spirit, Reaper is the inheritor of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with Sam Oliver (Bret Harrison) as the chosen one and his band of Scoobies also being a collection of slackers. On his 21st birthday, little things start to change about his life, such as being followed by dogs, echoing The Omen, and moving a falling crate with his mind. And carjacked by Satan (Ray Wise, 24). Apparently Sam’s parents sold HIS soul to the devil in order to save his father’s life. The devil then has Sam tracking down hell’s escapees to return them, with him supplying the necessary hardware (such as the demon sucking mini-vac).

Harrison plays as endearing a loser as Chuck’s Zachary Levi, still living at home with his over-indulgent parents (except for the whole “your mom and I sold your soul to the devil” thing). Tyler Labine essentially plays the same less manic Jack Black character he played on the short-lived Invasion. Wise, however, is the standout, having a ball playing a confident, rascal of a Satan (certain roles, Satan, the Joker, tend to bring out the best/worst in people). He’d steal the show if his co-stars weren’t such able players.

“Sam, there’s no such thing as the devil.” –Ben (Rick Gonzalez)

The Christian story asserts a spiritual aspect to reality, yet the impact of this spiritual world on our physical one is rarely discussed, probably for fear of sounding ignorant against the backdrop of our modern age, our theology suddenly the equivalent of some backwards people. A benevolent Creator beyond our ken and understanding we could believe in; however, angels and demons, well, that’s myth-talk.

Yet angels/demons are spiritual, free moral agents, who also make choices and have actions which have consequences in our world. This spiritual aspect to evil takes on a personal dimension in the form of Satan. “The adversary” is a force not equal to God, not God’s shadow self, nor the demonic-in-Yahweh as some people try to explain him. He would be a created being, the most powerful of the spiritual “principalities and powers,” the highest of what some cultures might call a god.

“There’s no way another person could sell another person’s soul … because all myths say God granted humans free will. There’s no way you could give away or sell another person’s essence.” –Ben

There are two paradoxical ideas running through the show. The first is that spiritual evil exists, demons and the like; and that while evil is to be opposed, it can’t be opposed with evil, because that only strengthens the cause of evil. Evil must be opposed with good.

The second is that our hero, the guy we’re supposed to be rooting for works for Satan. I’m reminded of Jesus’ words (Matthew 12:25-26): “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?” So I was left with the interesting dilemma: Can you be doing God’s work if you don’t know who it is you actually serve? Or put another way, can you think you serve one master when in reality you serve another?

Cyrus (from the book of Isaiah) was not a God-fearing individual, yet he’s referred to as “the anointed” and used by God for his work. It’s but one example, but an idea worth thinking about. Still, Sam needs to examine himself and his mission. When you find yourself saying “the Devil was right”, it might be time to fact check your life and calling.

“I’ve seen how this all ends. Don’t worry: God wins.” –The Devil

Armed with telekinetic powers and his Red Devil vacuum cleaner (or whatever personalized vessel he requires for each fugitive), Sam and the Gang subdue demonic fugitives. I wonder how long they can stick to its monster-of-the-week formula and structure before developing more of an over-arching storyline. However, teamed with Supernatural, Reaper makes for a great evening of creepy and fun chills.

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Chuck – A Review

“Nerd Delight”

My arch-nemesis/friend Nick Kaufmann and equally huge television watcher, told me that I would love the show Chuck. I hate it when he’s right. Chuck has already become one of my three favorite new shows of the fall (along with Life and Women’s Murder Club). What we see is Josh Schwartz (creator of The O.C.; McG is even around to direct the pilot) taking his best character from the show (Seth Cohen) and building a series around a similar character. Maybe it would be easier to let Chuck Bartowsky introduce the show:

“Hi. My name is Charles Bartowsky but you can call me Chuck. Those are my shoes. This is my life. It’s filled with spies, car chases, computer stealing ninjas, and me saving the day.”

The premise is simple: a twenty-something computer geek gets critical government secrets downloaded into his brain, so rival government agencies recruit him, guard him, and keep him out of evil hands. Chuck and his best friend, Morgan Grimes (Joshua Gomez), are members of the nerd Herd at the local Buy More electronics store (next door to Large Mart). One day he’s drifting through life as usual, things having not worked out the way he had planned, not knowing how important he’s about to become; the next moment, he doesn’t go into the rabbit hole, the rabbit hole goes into him. His old Stanford buddy sends him an e-mail containing thousands of encrypted images/ the combined secrets of the CIA and NSA. Suddenly, he’s enmeshed in the life of a spy. He’s like the anti-Neo.

“Some people want to be heroes and others have to be asked.” –Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski)

Despite being surrounded by a hot CIA agent, Sarah, and a ready-to-shoot NSA agent (Adam Baldwin, Serenity), Chuck refuses to let knowing government’s secrets change his life. He still goes to work, spends time with family and friends, and still pursues love. Despite him being a man with secrets, Chuck knows who he is, it is liberating. The show comes down to what’s really important in life, relationships. Chuck and his best friend (let no one come between their man love). Chuck and his sister, Ellie Bartowski (Sarah Lancaster). Chuck and Sarah. Friendship, family, and the possibility of romance.

“What’s the good of being a hero if no one knows about it?” –Chuck

Webster defines hero as “a person noted or admired for nobility, courage, outstanding achievements”. Or, as Joseph Campbell puts it, “a hero ventures forth from the world into a region of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” Granted, you may picture Jack Bauer long before you picture Chuck Bartowsky, but they share many similar traits that make them heroes: noble, trustworthy, loyal, just, and good; a mix of patriotism and professionalism, as they are both true to their country and their jobs. On another level, his essential story, the monomyth, echoes the story of Christ, humble guy who goes onto great things.

Part spy spoof, part workplace comedy, and tribute to the nerd hero, Chuck is a light-hearted romp. Considering how often Chuck stumbles on them (kind of like how Jessica from Murder She Wrote had family accused of murder every week, which ought to make one wonder about their family) there are conspiracies all around us. Suffused with a quick wit, the show is hilarious and we find ourselves laughing with the nerds, not at them. And because everyone is trying to remain undercover, a lot of the battles are cleverly staged, though there is still plenty of car chases and things that go boom.

In this age of the nerd becoming the leading man rather than loveable sidekick, Chuck is another step toward the dream. One day, though no time soon I hope, the nerd will get the girl.

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