Two brothers. One badass car. On a quest to find their missing father and the answers to the mysterious death of their mother twenty years before. Getting pulled ever deeper into the family business, an underground professional niche who call themselves hunters. Oh hunters, you say? Whatevs. (I hate that dentist fuck too.) But these hunters specialize in the most exotic quarry, horrific creatures at the fringes of our mundane existence. Vampires, werewolves, ghosts, wendigos, demons, reapers and even angels, they’re all out there in the world of Supernatural, preying on us defenceless people-folk in our ignorant twilight. Over the course of an astonishing ten seasons and counting, Sam and Dean Winchester become the best kind of reluctant heroes, irresistibly drawn to fight the darkness and keep our world light. That they do it with a sly smile and some seriously kickass 70s classic rock makes it that much better.
I came to Supernatural several years late. Which was wonderful. I got to gorge on those first six seasons, my girlfriend and I pushing our Netflix bandwidth past our ISP’s monthly limit before we knew what hit us. It was easy to fall into. I’d wrapped up a serious The X-Files bender earlier that year and my hunger for some new uncanny programming was fierce. Where The X-Files was based on the believer/skeptic opposition of Mulder and Scully, there were no doubters on Supernatural. The Winchester brothers were born into the world of hunters. They knew what was out there, and they knew how to deal with it. The elder brother Dean (played with just the right amount of hammy swagger by Jensen Ackles) is a consummate hunter, eager to follow in his father John’s footsteps (a gruffly intense Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Jared Padelecki is equally effective as Dean’s younger bro, Sam, surprisingly tough and funny in his next big stint following a long-time recurring role on The Gilmore Girls. (Yes, the two brothers are Sam and Dean, one of countless musical in-jokes.) Sam wants to lead a normal life, go to college, and hang with his gorgeous girlfriend. Dean doesn’t approve of Sam shirking the family business. The devil’s always in the details, and suffice to say, somebody down there has other plans for these two.
The monster-of-the-week formula combined with the far-reaching character arc of the first five seasons is even better thought out than the labyrinthine conspiracies of The X-Files or the effervescent horror soap of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “No chick-flick moments,” Dean proclaims, a total lie to the series’ reliance on the push and pull of brotherly loyalty and frustration. But hey having its beefcake and eating it too (ahem) is part of Supernatural‘s weird charm. Series creator and show runner Eric Kripke knows exactly what he’s doing as he builds the show’s mythology and how Sam and Dean are part of a nefarious plot far larger than themselves. While it sweats hard to hit the highs of either of those other two series, the show is a meticulous thrill machine, charging like that black ’67 Chevy Impala down America’s haunted highways. Along the way we meet some superb characters, including fan faves Misha Collins as the angel Castiel, Jim Beaver as the curmudgeony whisky-swilling hunter Bobby Singer, and the supreme sarcasm of Mark Sheppard (Firefly, Battlestar Galactica) as the demon Crowley. These guys are all classic, and their back-and-forth with the Winchesters makes for some of the show’s best moments. Idjits.
Once the big arc wrapped up at the end of Season five, Kripke left the series. While it soldiers on, Supernatural has never quite gotten its hooks in as deep as those first seasons did. There are still standout episodes in the later seasons, including an excellent, surprisingly resonant musical episode in the most recent tenth season go-round. It just doesn’t have the joie de vivre of the initial mayhem and monster-slaying carnage. Apparently those things wear at the soul. Who knew?
Music is a big element of the series’ energy and verve. When I stumbled across Supernatural, I was mortally tired of the indie-folk revolution sweeping the alternative airwaves. The power of Dean’s tape collection is a Kripke masterstroke, with Bad Company, AC/DC, The Allman Brothers, Styx, Journey, Blue Oyster Cult, Boston, Kansas and Creedence Clearwater Revival just a few of the titanic rawk bands whose anthems fuel the brothers’ journey criss-crossing America. Fans always know the last episode of each season has arrived when the strains of “Carry on My Wayward Son” punctuate the “The Road So Far” montage of everything that’s happened before. It’s just so friggin’ great. Below’s the one from Season 1, and yes, it’s kinda spoileriffic.
The brothers are forever impersonating detectives and lawmen, making up goofball reference names for themselves like Agents Page and Plant, Dr. James Hetfield, and Father Simmons and Father Frehley. It’s silly but amusing, and clearly the hard rock love runs deep.
What else makes Supernatural a gas? Recurring comedic episodes like the Ghost Facers send-ups of ghost-hunter reality TV shows are hilarious spoofs of a genre richly deserving the scorn heaped upon it.
Supernatural does self-reflexivity brilliantly. The series creators know their horror-geek Comic Con fanbase well, and have even brought them directly into the story. At one point the brothers discover a series of Supernatural books detailing their adventures exactly. They meet the author and even end up attending a fan convention, where to their horror they discover there’s even fan fiction of the two brothers getting together called “Wincest”. (And yes, this is a real thing in the real fan world. There are images out there that are just unreal, but I leave it to you if you feel the need to google that weirdness.) And of course the show’s a meme generating monster:
It isn’t perfect. It’s waaaaay too long in the tooth now. The never-ending conflict between Dean and Sam has been retreaded so many times the rubber’s bare and the car’s swerving dangerously on the road. After all they’ve been through, it’s almost impossible to believe these guys could remotely tolerate each other anymore. Strong female characters are few and far between (though the few they’ve had are mostly great). They’ve run out of new monsters to chase and the pop culture references strain credulity these days. They keep giving Felicia Day work. The big-bad leviathan monsters of season seven were pretty awful. (Wow, it does get to be a long list.) But I keep watching. Cuz at this point I have to know if the Winchesters will defy the odds yet again, and ultimately come out on top. Blood’s thicker than water, and there’s been so much water under the bridge. And so much blood. And ectoplasm and demon goo and you get the idea. I know no matter how it ends, whoever’s dead or stuck in some underworld dimension for the umpteenth time, I’ve got those first five hell-raising seasons to come back to. And that’s just…