NBC's "Chuck" is a perfect example of a show that did that between its first and second seasons. "Reaper" (7 p.m. Tuesday, WGN-Ch. 9; two stars), on the other hand, seems determined to repeat many of the mistakes that it made in Season 1. If it's often more frustrating than your typical CW drama, that's because "Reaper" has more untapped potential.
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Those who were expecting a thorough reboot in Season 2, think again. A few key changes appear to be on the way, but some core problems linger.
"Reaper" tells the story of Sam (Bret Harrison), a big-box store employee who finds himself working a second job. The Devil (who may or may not be Sam's dad, and who is sublimely played by Ray Wise) forces Sam to capture souls that have escaped from hell and return them there.
It's not a bad premise for a comedic action-drama, and "Reaper's" Season 1 pilot was a highly enjoyable romp. Since then, there have been flashes of what the show could have been, but also many reminders that it's never come close to consistently fulfilling the promise of that first hour.
The smartest thing "Reaper" could have done in its second season would have been to get rid of the character of Andi (Missy Peregrym), Sam's co-worker and girlfriend. His dilemmas can seem dispiriting enough without a shrieky, joyless relationship.
But what happens in the first and third episodes of Season 2? We get to see lots of Sam and Andi's annoying relationship. Sigh.
If this couple is supposed to get us to invest in the show's emotional bonds, here's a message for the writers: It's doing the opposite. When every scene between them is grating, and when Andi is written one-dimensionally and played by an actress without much range, the whole thing just becomes an annoying dead weight the show would be much better off without.
Another problem is Sam himself. In the first episode of the season, in the course of one of his tasks for the Devil he does something so colossally dumb that I nearly turned the TV off then and there. And apparently, somewhere along the way, the rules changed on how Sam goes about capturing souls: Usually he engages in a big battle to get them to go back to Hell, but in one episode he just chats up the fearsome guy he's supposed to catch.
It's hard to invest much in Sam when his behavior is contradictory or gullible and when he seems downtrodden much of the time. True, the Devil does seem to have him continually trapped between a rock and a hot place, but (and here's the good news) that dynamic shows signs of changing this season.
Season 1's demon-rebellion story line appears to move forward a little in Season 2, which is another good thing. And according to CW media materials, Sam will soon encounter a character who will complicate his relationship to the Devil, which is another development that sounds promising (there's more on that front below, but be aware, the material at the end of this post contains spoilers).
A more independent, scheming and rebellious Sam is what "Reaper" needs, and there are hints that we may be getting that. But if we get a bunch of predictable "escaped-soul-of-the-week" stories, that would kill off the remaining (and quickly disappearing) shreds of goodwill I have for this show.
There's more on the second season of "Reaper" below. Spoilers ahoy.
March 3, "Episode IV: A New Hope": Sam (Bret Harrison) returns from a road trip with Sock (Tyler Labine) and Ben (Rick Gonzalez) hoping to make things right with Andi (Missy Peregrym). However, when the guys return they discover they've been fired from the Work Bench and evicted from their apartment. With nowhere else to go, they head to Sock's house only to find a strange girl (Eriko Tamura) living there. Meanwhile, Andi refuses to talk to Sam and The Devil (Ray Wise) is back with a new assignment. Stephen Cragg directed the episode written by Craig DiGregorio.
March 10, "Dirty Sexy Mongol": Sam's (Bret Harrison) been given a new assignment from the Devil (Ray Wise) but all he can focus on is finding out how Alan (guest star Sean Patrick Thomas) got of his deal with the Devil. However, after Sam and Alan are attacked by two demons sent by the Devil, Alan refuses to talk to him anymore and disappears. One of the demons takes a surprising interest in Ben (Rick Gonzalez). Tyler Labine, Missy Peregrym, Eriko Tamura and Jenny Wade also star. Ron Underwood directed the episode written by Kevin Etten.
Overall Season 2 information:
Season 2 finds Sam wrestling with the recent discovery that he may be the son of the Devil. But Sam quickly learns that getting groomed to take over the "family business" comes with a whole new litany of headaches. The demon rebellion he once collaborated with is now out to kill him - a conflict further complicated when Ben starts dating the demon assassin (Jenny Wade, "Feast," "No Reservations") tasked with the job Sam also finds he's not the Devil's only son and that one in particular (Armie Hammer, "Billy," "Veronica Mars") is Hell-bent on taking Sam's place at the Devil's side.
Plus, Sam must decide whether to reveal any of this news to his girlfriend Andi (Missy Perergrym, "Heroes") who's already wary of his extracurricular activities for Hell. But a chance encounter with an elusive soul (Sean Patrick Thomas, "Save the Last Dance," "A Raisin in the Sun") who claims to have gotten out of his own deal with the Devil, offers Sam a glimmer of hope that he may not be stuck working for the Devil forever. Getting him to reveal exactly how he did it, however, will be easier said than done.