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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Reaper: "The Devil And Sam Oliver"

Illustration for article titled Reaper: "The Devil And Sam Oliver"
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Illustration for article titled Reaper: "The Devil And Sam Oliver"

The Sam/Devil dynamic has been so low-key this season that it's easy to forget these two aren't friends. Every week, the Devil pops in, acts charming and vaguely malevolent in that patented Ray Wise way (if nothing else, watching this show has made me realize how much I need to get around to finishing Twin Peaks), Sam mopes, and it's all in good fun. While "The Devil And Sam Oliver" doesn't exactly deepen that relationship, it's nice to be reminded of exactly what our hero is dealing with here. In the episode's transportation scene, the Devil has same dress up like a monkey and dance. That's not really a friend thing. (Okay, maybe if we were really drunk and I owed somebody money…)

"Sam Oliver" isn't quite what we were hoping for in a season (and maybe series) finale. At least, it's not what I was hoping for. It was roughly as solid as the last few weeks of the show have been, which is good, but I wanted more. More clarity, more focus, more impact—the slacker thing has yielded up some great laughs, but after this many episodes, it's gotten old. I wanted either a sharp increase in craziness or stronger plotting, and what I got instead was a pretty good A-story, an amusing B-story, and some hints at developments down the road that, if things go the way they seem to be headed, won't ever be realized.

While I don't think any of us thought Sam would be successful in getting out of his contract with the Devil, at least he got screwed in a way I didn't see coming. At the start of tonight's ep, Sam's trying desperately to contact Tony to have him translate the scroll Nina brought back from Hell. Turns out Tony's vacationing with little Stevie, but luckily, the original Steve is around, putting in some time on the lower rungs of the celestial ladder by serving as guardian angel for the perpetually chipper (and repeatedly endangered) new Work Bench greeter, Mary Pat. Sam shows Steve the scroll, and Steve explains it's an incantation for calling up ole Satan and binding him to a game of skill. All Sam has to do is repeat the words as written, and he'll get his match up.

But what should that match up be? For the first time, Sam realizes that it might actually be, y'know, difficult to beat the Devil at anything. His fourth grade flute skills aren't going to cut it, and the sad fact is, much as we like him, our hero really isn't what you'd call an over-achiever at anything. That's always been one of the show's running gags—that the Devil would put this much time into a guy who seems to content to keep working at the same retail store and doing shots with his friends for the rest of his life. Nothing wrong with that, exactly, but it does present some challenges when you've finally got to be really, really good at something.

Although maybe all those shots weren't wasted time after all. Sam realizes he has a gift for quarters (for those of you non-drinkers: you bounce a quarter off a hard surface and try and land it in a shot glass. Every time you miss, you do a shot, so like most drinking games, once you start losing, you've lost.), and hey, that's as good a way to save his soul as anything else. Again, I find myself questioning Sam's complete lack of perspective here. He makes the challenge, and gets all five hits perfectly, but when it comes time for the Devil to repeat the procedure, the Devil doesn't miss. What did Sam think was going to happen? That an immortal would have poor hand-eye coordination?

While Sam licks his wounds and tries to think of some way to get a re-match, Ben and Nina struggle with the return of Ben's overly-judgmental grandmother. This time around, Grandma wants a priest to exorcise the evil out of our favorite demonness. For once, Ben shows some backbone and refuses, but this leads to him being kicked out of the family. So Nina agrees to go along with the exorcism; she tells Ben that it won't cause any problems, but she's lying for his sake, a fact Sock finds out when he reads a private note Nina leaves for Ben before the big event. So it's up to Sock to save the day, which he does, despite the handicapped by a toad-roofie.

It's cute, and I was a little worried for Nina, but for the most part whenever we were watching the eternal struggle of good vs. meddling, I was impatient to get back to Sam and Andi. For once, we actually get something risked here, because in order to get the Devil to agree to a quarters rematch (this time with some helpful hints from Gladys to level the playing field), somebody's gotta offer Big Red something he wants. Andi meets with him privately and offers her soul; she's been having some second thoughts of late about her relationship with Sam, and she's willing to risk everything to help him out.

That puts an extra spin on things. Even better is that when Sam appears set to win everything, Steve shows up and breaks his hand. So Sam loses the contest, and Andi is now just as damned as he is—and it's all based off orders straight from Heaven. Cold comfort, no question, but Sam and Andi are back together again, and neither of them are that worried about the future. And seeing hundreds angels flying across the sky has to be good, right?

All in all, this could've been better, but it could've been worse. After months expecting the Devil to finally bust out some big double-cross, it's disappointing to find out that, by and large, he's exactly what he appears to be; fairly clever, not very nice, but probably not lulling Sam into a sense of false security while he puts together some massive, John Doe-in-Seven style horror. You can say the same thing about Reaper as a whole. It's a fitfully amusing show with likeable characters and one killer bit of casting, and that's about it. Sometimes it threatens greatness, but mostly, it's just content to hang-out, maybe drink the last beer in the fridge, and kill time until something better comes along.

Grade: B

  • The Devil: "Sam, I need my Jimbo fix. I want you to dance like a monkey."
  • Oh, hey, there was a soul this week; a drug dealer who had a big ole frog tongue.
  • So, if this does somehow live to see another season, what would you guys like to see in Reaper, phase 3?