Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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TV Fall ‘07 Season TV Blitz, Day 4: Reaper, House, Cane

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 27, 2007

They all have one word in their title, I guess

Reaper

(9-10 PM, Tuesday Night, CW)

Starring: Bret Harrison, Missy Peregrym, Tyler Labine, Ray Wise

Premise: Weird shit starts to happen to college dropout and Work Bench employee Sam Oliver (Harrison) on his 21st birthday–he’s attacked by a pack of wild dogs, he saves the life of his unrequited crush of a co-worker Andi (Peregrym) through telekinesis, and the devil (Wise) shows up as a backseat driver on his way home. Turns out his parents sold his soul to the devil before he was born in exchange for the recovery of his ailing father, thinking they would never have children, and now Sam has to act as Hell’s bounty hunter, capturing escaped souls with the help of his best friend Bert “Sock” Wysocki (Labine), his new superpowers, and a particularly powerful Dirt Devil.

Thoughts: As I discussed with IITS friends and colleagues Weber and Victor last night, it’s the whole Studio 60 / 30 Rock phenomenon all over again. Let’s see if you recognize this plot formula from a few nights ago: Nerdy post-collegiate fuckup is snapped out of a meaningless, sexless existence by mysterious forces that call on him to perform shocking and extraodrinary tasks for the good of humanity, all while keeping his shitty job at a fictional megastore for cover. That’s right–it’s the exact same plot as Gossip Girl.

It’s sort of hard to cast these feelings of deja vu aside, especially considering that Reaper not only shares its plot outline with Chuck, it also has many of the same strenghts–novel plot, decent action sequences, relatable protagonist–and nearly all the same weaknesses. Weak plot conceit and poor set-up? Check. Bland female lead? Check. Super-annoying and even nerdier best friend? Better fuckin’ believe that’s a check. Apparently Labine bonded with pilot director Kevin Smith over both being unfairly compared to Jack Black just because both are fat funny dudes–yeah dude, I’m sure those are the only reasons. I put the Over-Under at about four episodes before he breaks out the accoustic guitar and metal falsetto.

But honestly, while I know that it’s ridiculous to talk about matters of realism in a show that involves a soul-sucking vaccuum cleaner, the ridiculousness of this pilot seirously irked me. So after one day of weird occurences, Sam’s mom tearfully confesses to their demonic bargain, which they said they never would’ve made if their doc hadn’t been blackmailed by the devil into telling Dad that he was infertile, therefore no risk of having a first-born. But, I mean, once impregnated, if you knew your kid was gonna be destined to spend eternity serving in hell, wouldn’t an abortion be a pretty likely solution? And wouldn’t you want a doctor for a second opinion in a matter of such importance? The parents definitely gave up a little too quickly on that one.

Similarly bothersome is how OK Sam seems with the whole thing. Aside from some requisite “YOU SOLD MY SOUL TO THE DEVIL?!?!” and “NO I WON’T DO THIS YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO FIND SOMEBODY ELSE!!!” yelping, Sam doesn’t seem to really hold it against the devil or his parents. He absolves his mom of all guilt, telling her that he satisfied his deal with Satan and is now free (he isn’t), and he tells his friends he’s excited about his new responsibilites, because it makes him feel like an adult. Uh, guy? You’re going to hell. The worst place in the world, with devils and those caves and the ragged clothing, and the heat, my God, the heat. Super that you can accept responsbility now, but at the absolute most, you’re about eighty years away from an eternity of torture–now might not be the best time to be thrilled over your emotional maturation.

Ray Wise though? Totally awesome.

Hit Potential: This thing has Cult Favorite written all over it, from the appearance of former Cult mainstays Wise (Twin Peaks) and Peregrym (Heroes) to the involvement of cult idol Kevin Smith to the countless Buffy parallels. Maybe it can get beyond that, but frankly, if Veronica Mars couldn’t, what kind of odds does this have?

Worth Sticking With?: As with Chuck, I’m willing to give some Pilot exemptions here–once they move past this stuff and find a rhythm, I could see it being an enjoyable show, especially if it doesn’t fall into the Dead Like Me trap of trying too hard with the elaborate/ironic death sequences. And it’ll be interesting to see if hell gets defined any further than it already has been–sure, I’m sure Sam’ll mostly be taking on murderers and rapists and the like, but what about the homosexuals? Some Jews, maybe? Divorcees? How about dudes who were just too lazy to go to Church on Sunday mornings?

House (4th Season)

(9-10 PM, Tuesday Night, FOX)

New Cast: n/a thusfar

Where We’re At Now: House, having lost his staff (Cameron, Chase and Foreman) for a variety of reasons at the end of the last season, refuses to have them replaced, much to the chagrin of Cuddy and Wilson. He’s forced to do a solo diagnosis for the first time, going so far as to bribe a janitor and randomly shout out questions in different wards of the hospital to avoid hiring a new team–which of course, by the end of the episode, he eventually realizes is something he has to do.

Thoughts: I’d say something about how it’s good to actually have some tension in House now that so much of the cast is gone, but who am I kidding? House is House is House is House. The show still begins and ends with Laurie, and though Carpenter, Epps and Spencer are all conspicuously absent for the whole premiere, you’ll barely even notice it while watching. Plus, you know after a few episodes–maybe some abortive replacement attempts, maybe after one of the three “coincidentally” gets transferred back to Princeton-Plainsboro–the gang’ll be back together soon enough.

I will say that as far as the Case-of-the-Week episoding goes, this was one of the best thusfar. House is generally a show you can set your watch to (the incorrect diagnoses, the scenes of the patients suddenly getting much worse after supposedly being cured, the final last minute twist), and the S4 premiere was no exception. However, the twist was actually a genuine surprise this time–who knows, maybe they all would be if I understood why “Oh, it’s hemothyrroglandulitis, not thermoangiocardosis!” is supposed to be revelatory, but this one was actually pretty cool. So, uh, they haven’t lost their touch, maybe.

Worth Sticking With?: House is like dining at Wendy’s–only the guest stars are ever surprising, and it doesn’t really matter ‘coz you know that as good or bad as it ever gets, it’s always just satisfactory enough.

Cane

(10-11 PM, Tuesday Nights, CBS)

Starring: Jimmy Smits, Hector Elizondo, Eddie Matos, Rita Morena, Nestor Carbonell, half a dozen others

Premise: Pancho Duque (Elizondo), family patriarch and CEO of the Duque rum and sugar business, is told by doctors that he has under a year to live. He decides to leave the family business to son-in-law Alex (Smits), rather than his less level-headed biological son Frank (Carbonell). The sugar part of the family business is under siege by the Samuels family, who want to buy the Duques out and who may have killed Pancho’s granddaughter some decades ago. Meanwhile, Alex’s son wants to skip MIT and go to the army, Frank gets in bed with one of the Samuelses, and someone from Alex’s past resurfaces as a threat to the family’s safety.

Thoughts: Two works keep coming up in reviews as reference points for Cane: Dallas and The Godfather. These accurate comparisons may seem like a strange mixture, but really what’s strange is that no one ever thought to mix them in the TV medium before. Sure, you had plenty of those warring-family soaps in the 80s, but they were all fairly campy, and mostly feminine in nature. To have such a show from a distinctly patriarchal perspective, and with a relatively straight face, is fairly new.

Well, that is, of course, except for another show, which should be providing the third reference point: The Sopranos. This was immediately apparent from when Alex shows up flashy and business-like at his kid’s little-league game a la Tony at Meadow’s soccer games in the Sops S1 and 2, but also in the episode’s constant “I do what I do to take care of my family” sentiment echoing, as well as the hit that takes place in the finale. Smits’ Alejandro has yet to prove himself a character on par with Tony, but he’s almost as commanding a presence, which is always a joy to watch.

There’s about 20 subplots crammed in to the Cane pilot, and I won’t go into them here. Suffice to say there’s a lot going on here, and even if it’s twice too lavish and four times too extravagant, I always respect overambition in TV over underambition (especially considering some of the shows that I’ve watched this week), and I gotta say, I’m liking this show so far. Don’t really understand why the reviews haven’t been better–the show currently scores an unexemplary 57 at aggregate review site MetaCritic.

Hit Potential?: Given the rest of their lineup of shitty procedurals and shittier sitcoms, Cane feels decidedly out of place on CBS, so I think it’ll be sort of a challenge to acclimate viewers to its far grander scope (or to get them to flip to CBS in the first place, something I’m not always brave enough to do myself). But it’s got the prestige (I count at least three Emmy winners in the cast so far) and the ambition to become a modern day TV dynasty (or at least a modern day TV Dynasty), so here’s hoping.

Worth Sticking With?: Yeah, more then any of the shows I’ve watched so far, I’m legitimately pretty curious to see where Cane is going from here. Give it a shot if you’ve been missing some grand TV drama in your life–there’s something here for just about everyone.

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One Response to “TV Fall ‘07 Season TV Blitz, Day 4: Reaper, House, Cane”

  1. […] Tom Coombe wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptSuper-annoying and even nerdier best friend? Better fuckin believe thatsa check. Apparently Labine bonded with pilot director Kevin Smith over both being unfairly compared to Jack Black just because both are fat funny dudesyeah dude, … […]

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