The Rolling Stones probably had it right in the song "Sympathy for the Devil," which begins, "Please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a man of wealth and taste."
After all, if the devil -- or Lucifer, Old Scratch, Satan, Beelzebub or whatever you want to call him -- were to show up all scaly and scary, stinking of brimstone and whipping his forked tail all over the place, everybody would run the other way.
On the other hand, if he were well-dressed, well-spoken, erudite, charming and had a great smile -- in other words, if he looked like actor Ray Wise -- he might be able to win a few converts to his cause, or at least sweet-talk them into handing over their immortal souls.
On Tuesday, Sept. 25, The CW premieres "Reaper," an action comedy that stars Wise as the devil, who seems to have a problem keeping evil souls locked up in hell. He appears one day into the life of Sam (Bret Harrison), a 21-year-old employee at a big-box home-improvement store whose parents (Allison Hossack, Andrew Airlie) allowed him to skate through life.
Sam is stunned to learn this is because they feel guilty for having sold his soul to the devil, who now shows up to get his due. Apparently Sam must go to work tracking down fugitives from satanic custody and consigning them again to the eternal flames of woe.
Sam eventually gets on board with his new life -- after all, catching evil souls sounds like a good thing -- and the cool powers and supernatural tools (including an evil-soul-sucking Dirt Devil hand vac) that come with it. Also psyched about Sam's mission as a sort of Devil Dog the Bounty Hunter is Sock (Tyler Labine), Sam's co-worker and slacker role model.
"Eventually," Harrison says, "after a couple of episodes ... the Reaper's going to find, 'Wait, I can do this. I can move that.' I think there's some enjoyment. You'd get a little excited if you could make something levitate in the air.
"I'm sure Spider-Man thought it was pretty cool when he got his web shooters."
Another co-worker, college student and minister's son Ben (Rick Gonzalez), also is willing to help, while realizing that any deal with the devil can rapidly go south.
Also starring are Valarie Rae Miller as Josie, Sock's ex-girlfriend and a paralegal; Donavon Stinson as Ted, Sam and Sock's boss; and Missy Peregrym as Andi, the co-worker Sam admires from afar.
Produced by ABC Studios, "Reaper" is the creation of Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters, who met while working as assistants on "The X-Files"; they are executive producers along with Mark Gordon, Deborah Spera and Tom Spezialy. Indie filmmaker Kevin Smith -- who covered similar theological territory in "Dogma" -- directed the series pilot.
"We looked high and low for the right devil, I have to say," Spera says. "And we spent a lot of time looking at many actors and their portrayal of the devil. Tom Spezialy came in and said, 'You know what I was thinking about? What about Ray Wise?' And we were like, 'Oh, my God. Perfect.'
"Ray walked in and smiled at us, and that was it."
Asked if it's disturbing that his smile makes people think of the devil, Wise says, "Yeah, that is disturbing. I don't quite get that, either. I've gotten the question, 'Do you think you're like the devil at all?' My only answer is when I walked into the room, they said I was."
As to whether he walks around wantonly tempting folks into sin and perdition, Wise says, "No, probably not. But I have very devilish thoughts from time to time. It's nice to admit it, too."
Regarding the devil, Wise says, "I really believe this: If, in fact, there is a devil, and he does operate in the way that we think of him operating, that he doesn't really see things in terms of good and evil, black and white. He sees them simply in terms of the human condition and the evil, the darkness that is in every soul.
"It's just that, with some people, it comes out much more than others. God operates in pretty much the same way, in that he allows terrible things to happen, as well as great, miraculous things to happen.
"I think the devil, in our show, 'Reaper,' finds it fascinating, watching these -- what he thinks are a lower class -- human beings, interacting with each other."
"One of my favorite parts about the pilot," Labine says, "is that the devil is basically this nice guy. That, to me, would be the most dangerous thing about meeting the devil, that you wouldn't know that he's the devil.
"He's not going to, straight up and down, threaten your existence. He's going to try to woo you into a sense of trust, be a father figure, a patriarch. He's telling you whatever the hell you want, as long as it fits into his agenda."
Fazekas agrees, saying, "The devil always has an agenda, I will say that. And anything he says could be a complete lie, and you should expect that."But even the devil has vulnerabilities.
"Does the devil have Kryptonite?" Wise says. "He's pretty all-powerful. He can only be trumped by one ... ." Wise points heavenward to illustrate whom he's talking about.
But, as Wise points out, "His interest in mankind [is his weakness], his fascination with all things human. He can't stop visiting and playing. I think he finds it utterly fascinating and can't resist, can't resist.
"And chicken-fried steak is something he's always wanted to try."