Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Reaper Madness

The stitches are finally out, meaning I can type with two hands again -- a vast improvement over the one-finger, hunt-and-peck mode. Free-range typing is just too damned hard. Recovery has meant watching more television than usual, which will be reflected in the next few posts. Working or watching -- it's all below-the-line.

Ray Wise -- he's the Devil, all right.

"Laughter is the best medicine, other than being rich."
Garrison Keillor

Last week being dedicated to post-operative recovery (read: powerful prescription pain killers + alcohol = a soporific reptilian torpor resembling the much-desired False Sense of Well-Being), I eased my newly stitched and oh-so-tender corporeal presence onto the couch to bask in the healing glow of the Cathode Ray Gun. And what should pop onto the screen but CW’s semi-supernatural, quasi-romantic dramedy, “Reaper.” I’d caught the pilot episode many weeks ago, B.T.S. (Before The Strike) and enjoyed it – if not as must-see, howl-at-the-moon, gots-to-have-it viewing, then as a cute, funny, and diverting show. It’s not without flaws, often straining to fill those 44 minutes of screen time, but the show is so good-natured, you can’t help but forgive. “Reaper” reminds me of a dog some friends of mine used to have: an affable Golden Lab with a bad habit of peeing on the rug every now and then. Not a good thing, that, but the dog was so friendly -- I swear that mutt could actually smile -- that nobody could stay mad at her very long. “Reaper” is a bit like that – kind of clumsy and a bit goofy, but it makes me laugh, and sometimes that’s enough.

I know: this is Wrong. Rather than watch such fluff, I should be strapping on the hair-shirt of intellectual responsibility, using this precious time for educational purposes that will make me a better person, a Better American, and thus better equipped to help our country, our people -- our species -- meet the monumental challenges of our time. And truth be told, I love PBS as much as the next unemployed juicer. “Nova,” “Frontline,” “Bill Moyers Journal,” and “Now” consistently float to the top of my viewing list -- but sometimes a guy just isn’t in the mood to get beaten over the head with how grim and unfair and miserably hopeless things really are. I fully understand that the ice is melting, seas are rising, and the polar bears are drowning, even as the tight-lipped ideologues currently in power do their best to fatten the portfolios of their corporate pals while driving this shared cultural asylum of ours right off the cliff. I know that at any moment, we could all be morphed back into the stardust from whence we came under a billowing mushroom cloud triggered by some ululating religious fanatic desperate to kick down the doors of Paradise and claim his 72 virgins. But sometimes I just want to relax, lean back, and let somebody else do the heavy lifting, okay?
Ahem. That’s the chemical cocktail talking...

“Reaper” isn’t a great show, but unlike most of CW’s hopelessly lame offerings (“One Tree Hill” – now there’s a wet sack of reeking garbage), it has at least managed to avoid turning into a giant, steaming pile. With a lineup of attractive young people -- remember, this is CW -- leading the way (Brett Harrison, Tyler Labine, and the lovely Missy Peregrym), it’s a fun, lively, undeniably silly show.

And then Ray Wise enters the screen.

Perhaps you were one of the cult legions addicted to “Twin Peaks” back in the last century. Alas, I was not, remaining unmoved by the single episode I sat through. Whether I was blind to the True Beauty Within, too dumb to understand what was going on, or simply incapable of grasping the sheer, riddle-wrapped-in-a-mystery-inside-an-enigma genius of David Lynch, I just couldn’t drink from that particular kettle of Kool Aide. Those who did, though, will remember the name of Ray Wise, portraying the infamously devious Leland Palmer. As an actor, he dominates the screen – when Ray Wise is on camera, you can’t look away. His weathered face and tight, all-knowing grin take charge, and that’s it: you’re hooked.
In “Reaper,” Ray plays Satan – the Devil Himself -- who has come into possession of young Brett Harrison’s indentured soul. Each week, he appears out of the ether with an assignment for Brett to find and return another escaped soul back to Hell. And Sweet Jesus in Heaven, does Ray Wise play the hell out of this role. It’s a safe assumption that without the sleek, silver-haired gravitas of his mesmerizing performance, “Reaper” would have long since faded from the screen. The kids are fun and all, but Ray Wise IS the Devil – and he’s great.

Despite the peerless efforts of Ray, however, this episode was not so great. A weak “A” plot meandered in and around an even weaker “B” plot, and after twenty-five minutes I began to notice the commercials. I mute commercials religiously, of course, refusing to listen to their inane blather, but there’s no escaping the visuals -- and doubtless, the subliminal imprinting. Besides, after twenty years working on thousands of commercials, I like to see what they’re doing these days. It’s no secret that being deviously clever bastards, those ad agency types aim their spots at a particular demographic niche, which means the products being advertised on any given show tell you exactly who the network assumes – and desperately hopes -- is watching. Larded through “Reaper” were ads for the following:

Pantene hair care products
Trident gum
Dominoes Pizza
Some sort of home-baked frozen pizza
A nasal tissue supposedly softer than Kleenex
Pediasme” -- which sounds like a disease, but apparently is a drink for small children
Pantene hair care products, again
Trident gum, again -- “to keep teeth white and breath clean”
“America’s Top Model” and the odious “One Tree Hill” (CW shows, naturally)
Pantene hair care products, yet again
“The Pussycat Dolls Talent Search” and “Smallville(more CW offerings)
Pantene hair care products. I'm starting to wonder if CW owns Pantene...

All that and more was just in the last half hour – and then it hit me: I was watching a chick show, with ads aimed directly at the nurturing, care-for-the-family-and-still-look-sexy hot button of American women. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since most “guy” shows tend to be repetitive cop dramas, endless sports programming, or comedies featuring young men who belch, fart, punch each other, and stumble all over themselves in dim-witted attempts to attract the interest of young women. If “Reaper” is a chick show, so be it. There are worse things when all you want is a good laugh.

At least it’s got Ray Wise -- and you can’t beat the Devil Himself.


D said...

I've had the pleasure to work with Ray twice- once on a series about 15 years ago, and once on a really awful movie that's out now. He's a truly funny and friendly man. I actually fell asleep behind the dolly once during one of his closeups (after a particularly grueling week) and started snoring. I woke up to him saying something to the effect of "that's my opinion of this scene too." He was cool about it.

Unknown said...

You know you've been home too long when you start watching the judge shows. Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown, Judge Maria Lopez, etc etc etc.
Someone I know (not naming any names!) has been home too long, and he is watching the judge shows. If you think the commercials during "Reaper" are pandering, OMG, the judge show commercials are spot-on for the intended audience.

Michael Taylor said...

D -- great anecdote. I met Ray just before Xmas, while doing a full week of promos for ABC/Disney during which they ran most of their shows talent through the press junket meat-grinder. The "Reaper" cast was very nice -- Brett, Tyler, and Missy -- but Ray was The King. Amazing guy. What a voice, what a grin...

Moose -- I hear you. Those judge shows are truly scary.

AJ in Nashville said...

Funny thing...Ray Wise pretty much played the Devil in Twin Peaks too..