Friday, December 25, 2009

Brimstone vs. Reaper

Today, I'd just like to take a trip down the proverbial memory lane of television land; just to gripe over the shows of yesteryear, which I thought were really worthwhile; in the sense that were both intelligent enough to be worthy of my coach potato watching time... (as well as my blogging time; otherwise I wouldn't be typing up an article on it, duh!) and were both prematurely canceled before their season finale time; hence my griping. And those two shows, which were awfully very similar, to the point where I could have sworn a potential lawsuit would arise somewhere, somehow just didn't make the cut of the fifteen second attention span that drives this country of ours altogether... sad to say. Of course, they both caught my eye; the latter of course being a near rip (no pun intended) of the first one. But then again, I'm not going to blast the series, for its producer is a favorite director of yours truly; (i.e. Kevin Smith of Clerks, MallRats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, etc. fame) and besides, it did have its moments as well, which made it work. So I'd probably go as far as saying that this show was actually made as a sort of love letter (nah, maybe that's too extreme... let's just say as a hats off, or a highly acknowledged nod) to the first show's creators/writers and what have you. The two shows in question of course (listed here chronologically for all of you youngsters out there that are highly lacking in history) are none other than Brimstone and Reaper.

Brimstone was ahead of its time when it first appeared on all of our cathode ray tubes in the fall of 1998. The series dealt mainly with the topic of the soul's redemption; and by that I mean the redemption of Thirtysomething's very own Peter Horton playing the main character Ezekiel Stone, a cop that was murdered in the line of duty, shortly after taking care of his wife's rapist. What follows next was a little case of temporary misplacement with a mild case of amnesia... or maybe the guy was just hammered out of his wits; who knows? But in the little space between being killed on the job and coming back to walk amongst the living once again fifteen years later, he makes a deal with the devil; playing by Gremlins 2: The New Batch's own Donald Trump parody brought to life and delivered perfectly; John Glover. This deal, of course, involves tracking down some escaped souls that just so happened to vacate their highly sulfuresque habitat while the devil was busy polishing up his pitchfork or something. Must have been on a Sunday... for chances are that he was probably watching a televised evangelical broadcast just counting the hours 'til those souls were his and simply got distracted! Who let the three headed dogs out?!? Who knows?

Brimstone Image
John Glover and Peter Horton
in Brimstone

Anyways, this very same plot device earned the series a highly reputable cult-following/loyal fan status/whatever-else-have-you type of worthwhile notoriety and some pretty nice petitions asking to bring the show back on the air, once it was canceled after just one mere season! However, the executive big wigs wouldn't have anything of it, and so the episodes were doomed to syndication (from time to time) on the Sci-Fi channel, which has now been renamed Sy Fy. Go figure! Idiocracy at its finest, I tells yah! Pretty soon, Fudd Ruckers will be Butt Fuckers, just like in the movie! Of course, never mind that pretty misanthropic tangent of mine, for I'm still on the subject of comparing one show to the other; only to realize that in so doing, I'm wasting my time since these two shows are almost exactly alike!

So after this cutting edge sci-fi drama was over and done with... we were all treated to the pretty tamer, teenybopper-friendly prime time offering of Reaper... which was almost like a mirror image of the former show in many respects, nearly almost a decade later! This time around, the devil was played by the very talented George Hamiltonesque tan-like figure (which was a little off white at times, depending on your tv's contrast/brightness adjustment) of Ray Wise, which some of you may remember as one of the henchmen in the original RoboCop, or as the sexpot senator with a suicide wish that came about as a result of many of his liaisons coming to light in the Sean Connery/Wesley Snipes flick Rising Sun. And all, while his loving on-screen wife was in a wheelchair, if I remember correctly... what a scumbag! Anyways, who better than to play a role such as this?

The thing about this devil, as compared to John Glover's is that he's more comedic, and over-the-top when it comes to toying with the show's main protagonist Sam Oliver, played by Bret Harrison... however, that may be an understatement since Glover's Brimstone interpretation of the devil was wickedly funny in its own right; take the "Lovers" episode for example; one of my favorites, since he offered Ezekiel a beat up car to drive him from point A to point B, whilst taking the long scenic route to point Z... just to spite him. And all the while of course, demanding that he pay him $36.27, which is the exact change that he carries around in his pocket all the time, since it was all the money that he had left on him at the time of his murder. So I guess, you can really take it with you if you have to come back, that is! Anyways, I don't want to spoil the episode for you all, but let's just say that souls don't necessarily have to be living entities like you and I. Enough said...

Anyways, as I was saying before Ray Wise's version is more over the top, and just a tad bit more commercial friendly. Maybe it was just performed this way to attract a wider fan base, and not fall into the pit trap that its predecessor had succumbed to... a one season only treatment courtesy of sheep minded religious groups that probably protested and gave the show way too much unneeded flack. But c'est la vie with any program that's way too intelligent for the American television culture, that would probably prefer watching fake reality shows like "Who Wants to Dance with the World's Top Lawyer Collecting Alimony from the Next Millionaire Bachellor?" or something... Personally, I think that making the main character (i.e. the devil's bounty hunter, so to say) much younger, and in the company of friends whilst he was still alive and not undead was a nice revamp of the initial concept. There were some similarities still intact, such as the character's love interest not being able to know about his new vocation, (i.e. Brimstone's The Mourning After episode, and just about any of the first season's of Reaper episodes where Sam has to repeatedly put off getting into a relationship with his childhood sweetheart Andi, which oddly enough was cast twice; à la the likes of Eric Stoltz in Back to the Future, with Nikki Reed being eventually replaced by Missy Peregrym.

Reaper Image
Bret Harrison and Ray Wise
in Reaper

Another thing that is a constant are the show's side characters, that sometimes wind up stealing the show with their comedic running gags and whatnot. One such character in Brimstone is Lori Petty's quirky and zany character Max always reminding Stone of how out of sync he is with today's technology (i.e. the internet), which only begs the question of just how this show would fare in today's technologically advanced climate which includes just about any and all hi-fi gizmo under the sun out there... all of which can easily be traced by the government's secret surveillance agency; and yet no one was wise enough to figure out that Stone was in fact deceased. Well, except for his first sidekick, which was eventually phased out of the program (actually I think he was executed by one of hell's escapees, if I remember correctly) and replaced by Teri Polo's character Ash, who also wound up being one of the escaped miscreants. Oops! Sorry I forgot to say SPOILER ALERT! here folks... my bad! As a matter of fact, come to think of it, most of the show's characters eventually wound up being terminated by Stone's targets. Had it lasted longer than a year, who knows where it would've gone. Remember, there were only 113 souls that he had to bring back, since I can only guess that that's as many tattoos that the makeup department could successfully etch onto Peter Horton at any given time; whereas in Reaper there was no given number of souls to be brought back (at least not that I can remember off the top of my head) and their manner of execution didn't always rely heavily upon shooting, stabbing, or penetrating their ocular orbits, but rather using a vessel, which was basically an ongoing, random MacGuffin that would change from episode to episode, which would serve as the baddies' extermination device; which would leave both the audience and the main characters to guess as to how it would actually work when the time came to send one of the damned back on a one way trip, all expenses paid ticket back to hell.

What this show essentially would be a blend of was its predecessor Brimstone, with a touch of Ghostbusters, National Lampoon's Animal House (refer to the following line of reasoning for an explanation) and maybe a side of any tween based drama that The CW is notorious for shoving down our throats instead of concentrating on highly more enjoyable/grey matter stimulating wonderful programs such as these two. Another character worthy of an Emmy nod is none other than Tyler Lambine whose brother Bluto Blutarsky-like overtones embodied the character of Bert 'The Sock' Wysocki, which really helped carry the show for the most part with his off-the-wall zany college humor antics (i.e. the kind of dick and fart joke humor that Kevin Smith is notorious for). Rick Gonzales is also noteworthy as the more down to earth anchor for Sock's crass "burp in your face/don't really give a shit as long as I get a burger and a side of fries to go with it!" attitude.

In short, I just want to conclude by saying that comparing one show against the other is not really such a brilliant idea... as a matter of fact, it would be foolish, since both shows function as a whole on their own. Brimstone's just a little darker than the other, since its target audience was intended more for grown up night owls, whereas Reaper was more for the after school geeks. Furthermore, Brimstone came out first, which gives it a solitary reputation as being trey cutting-edge and pushing the envelope of the prime time television landscape at the time; of course don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Reaper didn't do that either, since it successfully combined comedy with live action, that anybody could easily watch and get hooked on in just the tiny scope of just the two seasons that it was on the air. Of course, this is all just another fine example of how one can easily tweak an idea up and repackage it in order to resell it again to the masses. Pretty clever in and of itself, but sometimes the crowd's a little wise to the ratings game and so it gets harder and harder to fool them with something new, when the result is a pretty close facsimile, and that my friends, is the pitfall of any and all instances of modern day entertainment. And yet I still find myself asking the question: why can't they make more shows like these two? Oh well... let's see what happens next, for last I heard they were in the talks of making Reaper a cartoon series. Hopefully it won't go the same route that Clerks: The Animated Series did. And why in the hell did they have to cancel that as well? I'll never know... Oh wait! I forgot, Family Guy didn't have enough momentum yet to challenge the boundaries of the censors yet. So maybe, it could've worked were it on several years after Brian got the shit pounded out of him by Stewie, during the Patriot Games episode, which was basically a nod to Rounders.

This has been P.S. Elliott (AKA: Dr. Gonzo XXVII) playing the part of Sickle and Robair at the TV Tube (AKA: The Gnoyze Guitar Mods & More Web Blog, in other words...)

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