At the end of Reaper‘s first year, our heroes’ lives were, as usual, in a state of turmoil. Sam Oliver was targeted by the demon community and nearly buried alive along with his dad, who, it seems, has been hiding more than one secret from his son. Meanwhile, Ben Gonzalez was bemoaning the fact that his friends forgot to pick him up after he was released from serving an eight-day jail sentence for a sham marriage. As for Bert “Sock” Wysocki, well, he had the misfortune of falling for a female demon, or succubus, whose life-sucking kisses robbed him of a year of his life. When the show’s cast and crew eventually went back in front of the camera to start shooting season two, it was something that took Tyler Labine, who plays Sock, a little getting used to.
“Up to that point I’d been suffering from the one season of TV syndrome for a while,” jokes the actor. “I never actually had to come back and reprise a role for a second year of a show, so honestly, I think I tripped myself up a bit. I thought, ‘Oh, boy, what if I can’t do it. What if I don’t remember how to play Sock. I’m going to blow it,’ and all the other weird and wonderful actor neurosis that we have. Then, however, I got to work and was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I remember how to do this.’ And within a day you slip back into the dynamic quite easily, especially with guys like Bret Harrison [Sam], Rick Gonzalez [Ben], Missy Peregrym [Andi Prendergast], Donavon Stinson [Ted Gallagher], Ray Wise [The Devil] – the whole gang was back. It was like a family reunion as well as work.
“So everyone remembered fairly quickly how to do this, and then it was a question of, ‘OK, where do we start?’ We picked up right where we left off last year with The Devil and if he’s Sam’s father, and this season we’re still quite cryptic as to whether or not that’s true. I think, though, that it’s definitely implied more that he is his father, or at least they’re behaving like it is. We were all pretty happy with the overall concept of the season opener, but I personally felt like we maybe should have gone slightly deeper and more directly into the Satan/Sam/Father/Son thing. However, we have to fill out an entire season of TV, so you have to stretch your story out somewhat.”
In Reaper‘s second season opener Episode IV: A New Hope, Sam, Sock and Ben are homeless and jobless after returning from a road trip. They have no choice but to move back into Sock’s mother’s house, where they are looked after by Sock’s stepsister Kristen (Eriko Tamura), who Sock finds himself very attracted to. Sam is still on the outs with his girlfriend Andi, and The Devil assigns him the task of capturing 40 extremely violent Fight Club souls. When they run out of ideas on how to do this, the boys hold a “think tank,” which involves them sitting around the kitchen table drinking beer, eating pizza and horsing around.
“I have to say that the stepsister/lover storyline involving Sock was a real head-trip to pull off,” says Labine, “and in hindsight I think I was right in thinking, ‘Viewers are going to find this creepy.’ I was constantly trying to make sure that it was less creepy. I didn’t want people to focus so much on the fact that my character was trying to make out with his stepsister, and tried to make it [their relationship] a bit more cute, fun and innocent as opposed to being so doggish about it, do you know what I mean?
“The scenes with the Fight Club guys were a blast to shoot. We got to blow up a lot of stuff, which is always fun. As for the drinking of the beer and the brainstorming, the director set up the camera and for 10 minutes basically let us go. Everything that you saw on the screen just kind of naturally progressed. All of a sudden, Rick’s hair was going crazy, I was wearing a beer box on my head, and before I knew it I had my shirt off. The extended version is hilarious. They sent me a copy of it, which is on the second season blooper reel, so [on the upcoming DVD release] you’ll get to see almost eight minutes of us goofing off.”
When Reaper viewers first met Sock, he was a slacker who worked with Sam, Ben, Andi and their boss Ted at a home-repair store called the Work Bench. He soon became involved with Sam’s contractual obligation with The Devil to find and capture souls that have escaped from Hell. Despite his lackadaisical attitude to most things in life, particularly work and responsibility, Sock has proven to be a loyal friend and someone who Sam can count on when soul hunting. Although his character’s overall modus operandi has not changed much, Labine has had the chance in season two to reveal some new facets of Sock’s personality.
“We’ve gotten to know a little more about Sock in the sense that you see his gentler, more nurturing side because of his relationship with Kristen,” notes the actor. “My character starts off by lusting after her and then gets to a point where he gains some morals and for the first time realizes that it’s probably a bad idea to sleep with his stepsister. Sock explores other options like chemical castration and whatnot to quell his desires for her. He subsequently discovers that he has a real connection with Kristen and tries to prove to her dad, Morris [Hiro Kanagawa], that he’s a good guy for her. But, you know, he ends up sleeping with her anyway. I hope, though, that it came across as more of a falling in love thing as opposed to Sock just out there for a [sexual] conquest.
“I don’t think we ever really saw that [emotional] range from him until this year, and then, of course, after Eriko left the show, my character went right back to being a sort of jackass again,” he laughs. “The stuff between Sock and Kristen was interesting to play, and it just goes to show that there’s never a dull moment on Reaper. Our writers are constantly throwing curveballs at us insofar as the things we [as actors] have to do. It’s not an easy show to be on; it probably appears to be because we’re having so much fun, but they definitely give us some acting challengers, which we all love.”
The actor chuckles when talking about Sock’s relationship with the other main characters on the program and how they have further grown and developed during season two. “The writers have decided this year to make Sock and Ben ‘a couple,’” says Labine. “They’ve started doing things like going grocery shopping with one another and picking out each other’s clothes. And because Sock and Ben are so not gay, the writers have been able to throw as much sort of ‘homoerotic’ material at us as they want and it’s been funny without ever actually crossing the line. I thought it was terrific because Rick and I got to have more scenes together than we ever did in season one.
“With Sam and Sock, it’s business as usual, even though Bret’s character has a lot more on his plate this season. Not only is Sam having to deal with his [demon] parents and whether or not The Devil is actually his dad, but he’s also trying to deal with Andi breaking up with him again. Despite all that, Sock is, per usual, always there to give him crap, but at the same time also be supportive and help Sam when he needs it with a dose of honesty.
“When it comes to Sam and Andi, who knows what’s going on with them,” continues the actor. “Those guys are on and off, on and off – I can’t keep up with what they’re trying to do with those two characters. Sam and Andi are the couple that could, if only there wasn’t all this other stuff in the way, and like most women, Andi is understandably worried about having a relationship with a guy who might be The Devil’s son. Then there’s Ben and Nina, who is masterfully played by Jenny Wade, and who, I think, is a great addition to the show. They’re dating, so that takes them off into their own little world, too, and sometimes it just ends up being Sock with nobody. Because of that, the writers have to come up with crazy things for him to do. In a recent episode [The Home Stretch], Sock crashed a funeral and tried to make out with some chick he met there by pretending to know her dead professor.
“So the writers have definitely tried to round out the characters slightly more this year with relationships and how much more Sock and the others relate to one another and fit into each other’s lives.”
As Labine previously mentioned, Sock’s relationship with his stepsister Kristen culminates with the two sleeping together in Underbelly, and in the following episode, The Good Soil, she packs her bags and returns to Japan. “There’s a funny scene in Underbelly where Sock and Kristen are in the hotel room and he throws the cot out the window and she calls him on it,” recalls the actor. “It was a well-acted scene, but for five minutes I felt like we were watching a very different program. I sensed the limitations of that relationship and where it could go. I don’t think anyone wanted to see Sock and Kristen get serious. It was a fun episode to do, but when I watched it all I could think was, ‘We’ve got to move away from this story line. It’s not working,’ and like I said before, it was making me feel creepy.
“Fortunately, we have very smart writers, and I think they saw that and decided, ‘OK, we can’t have this.’ Then came The Good Soil, which was another episode I enjoyed doing, especially the scenes with Sock and Kristen’s dad at the lake. When we first read that script and I saw that that was probably going to be the end of Kristen on the show I was disappointed. I would have liked to have seen Eriko stay. I just wanted the writers to change the dynamic of the relationship between her character and Sock, but I have a feeling that they were stumped and chose to wrap things up and send her back to Japan. I thought the way the two characters said goodbye was touching, and now Kristen and Sock are pen pals.”
In the season two Reaper story To Sprong, With Love, which the actor describes as “a freakin’ riot,” Sam, Sock and Andi have an unexpected reunion with someone from their past. “Michael McDonald from MAD TV was our guest-star for that episode,” says Labine. “He’s a comic genius and awesome to work with. He couldn’t be a nicer fellow, either. Michael played Mr. Sprong, an old high school biology teacher of Sam’s, Sock’s and Andi’s and a notorious hard-nosed jerk that no one liked. We think he’s the soul that we’re supposed to capture, but, in fact, there’s a soul named Jordy Boone [Charlie Weber] that’s after Mr. Sprong. Obviously nothing can go smoothly for Team Reaper, so everything is a challange and Jordy is not making it easy for us to capture him.
“In this episode, Sock decides to take on the role of Mr. Wrenchy Bench, the Work Bench’s new mascot, and I dressed up in a big foam suit shaped like a wrench. My character ends up getting into a fight with the Bargain Bench’s mascot, Brandon the Bargain Bench’s mascot, Brandon the Bargain Hammer [Doreen Ramus], and Sock ultimately realizes that he got carried away with himself and the attention he was getting. All of us, Sam, Andi, Ben and Sock are going through some heavy reflection, and at the end of the episode I have this great scene in a bar where Sock praises all of them for what they bring to the table.
“The funny thing is, although I was doing the scene in-character, I was also getting the chance to tell my fellow actors how much I thought of them and just how awesome I think they are. I got to sort of paraphrase and ab-lib quite a bit, so I tried to throw in as many little personal things as I could about the characters I was talking about. I was able to get pretty emotional and give a big shout-out to all my friends as well as the characters in the show. This stands out for me as one of my favorite scenes this season. Another one is when Sock is in a compromising position with Jenny Wade’s character during a dream sequence [in No Reaper Left Behind] when Nina is dressed in her skivvies and she shoves her hand through Sock’s chest and pulls his heart out.”
In next week’s (May 26th) episode and Reaper‘s season finale, The Devil and Sam Oliver, Sam challenges The Devil to a game that could possibly change his and his friends’ lives forever. Pending a decision by the CW Network, this could also be the series finale as well. The latter was very much in the backs of the minds of all those who work on the show as they shot this episode.
“There’s always a certain amount of emotion that comes with what could be the end of something that you’ve put so much work into and where you enjoy the people you work with as much as we do,” muses Labine. “So it got a little emotional around the set during the final days of filming this story. I don’t want to give away any details of the finale, but I can say that it won’t leave you frustrated if we don’t come back. It should leave you feeling like you could go off and imagine what the rest of Sam’s life would be like. I thought that was really clever because when they wrote this episode, the writers weren’t sure if they were writing the end of the show or the end of the season. So I thought it was a good move on their part.
“Of course, it’ll also be a good thing if we do come back because it will take Reaper into a whole other arena of storytelling.”
Along with the second season of Reaper, Labine has a lead role in the upcoming feature film A Good Old Fashioned Orgy, currently in post-production. The actor also has several new movie projects pending, the starting dates of which are dependent on his involvement in a new TV pilot he shot, Sons of Tucson, which has been picked up by the Fox Network.
“This would be a first for me as I’d be the lead of a show, which is incredibly exciting,” enthuses Labine. “I worked my buns off on that pilot and gave it everything I had, so I’m hoping it turned out well, which it sounds like it has. The director, Todd Holland, has worked on lots of shows including Malcolm in the Middle, which the producers and writers were involved in as well, and they’re all amazing. I’ve noticed a bit of a trend lately where people are once again coming up with well-written, clever and ‘clean’ comedies. With Sons of Tucson we’re not doing pee-pee-poop-poo jokes. It’s a funny, heartfelt comedy, so we’ll see what happens.”
There has been some recent Internet buzz that if Reaper is not picked up by the CW for a third year, that the show might continue in first-run syndication. If, however, this is the end of the line for Sock and his buddies, Labine will take with him many fond memories from his time on the series.
“I can’t say enough how lucky I feel to have been involved with the show,” he says. “The best thing about Reaper for me was the chemistry among the cast, and when you go off to film something else, you sometimes forget how fortunate you were to be working with people who you can genuinely connect with. That’s rarer than you might think. I know every cast says, ‘Oh, our cast is the best,’ and it probably is for them, but this for me has been the best working experience I’ve had with a cast and crew that I can ever hope for in my career.”
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Tags: Bret Harrison, Donavon Stinson, Entertainment, Eriko Tamura, Jenny Wade, Michael McDonald, Missy Peregrym, Ray Wise, Reaper, Rick Gonzalez, Sons of Tucson, The CW Network, The Fox Network, Tyler Labine