Supernatural

Hot boys fight monsters for a decade and a half.

What’s The Show? Supernatural

What’s It All About, JG? Hot boys fighting monsters, which has somehow just begun its fourteenth season (and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down). So yes, monster fighting. Also, demons. Also, angels. Also, the King(s) of Hell. Also… well just about any mythological creature you care to shake a stick at. Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) Winchester are “hunters”, people who track down and kill the monsters that are real in our world. And then they kinda get dragged into the apocalypse and have to stop it. And then fight more monsters. And then battle the denizens of hell. And then fight more monsters. There’s the odd parallel universe to be visited. And then fight more monsters. A visit to hell? Sure! Guess what happens after that?

Also, there’s emoting. So. Much. Emoting. Sam and Dean are two brothers who will do anything for each other, and that often means sacrificing each other – indeed there’s an interesting play on the genre trope of fridging here. Every so often one of the brothers will die or sacrifice a bit of themselves for the “greater good” (Sam loses his soul, Dean gets condemned to hell, you know, that sort of thing), which evokes a large amount of manpain in the other, until finally something is done to restore the status quo. Then the situation reverses. They’ve both been fridged so often now it’s becoming almost a running joke. But the show at its best hits a great balance between action, emotion, humour (because this show can be very, very funny) and story.

Why Did You Give It A Go? Originally (and this is back when there were only three or four seasons) because my better half and I rented a cottage in the middle of nowhere, needed something to watch, and the DVD’s were on sale. And you know. Hot boys fight monsters.  

Is It Any Good? Sure. Anyone who watches Supernatural now, or indeed anyone who’s likely even heard of it, will tell you its glory days are long behind it. That’s true, but it’s not remotely close to being the whole story. The first five seasons form a coherent arc, which takes the Winchester boys from basic hunters and a monster-of-the-week structure (one very much indebted to The X-Files) through to developing proper story arcs, as gradually bits of the broader world get sketched in. That means meeting demons, angels, crossroads deals, a war in heaven, and the oncoming apocalypse which the boys need to stop with the help of their angel friend, Castiel (a scene-stealing star turn from Misha Collins, who becomes a semi-regular). There’s a revenge plot in there as Sam and Dean chase down the demon that killed their mother, there’s personal story and conflict between the two brothers, and lots and lots (and lots!) of monster killing. For those first five seasons the show strikes a successful balance between the mythological arcs leading up to the apocalypse, the emotional impact it has on the Winchesters, and engaging television. After that? Well, when you’ve ramped the stakes up to literally the apocalypse it can be hard to find a way forward that carries much of an impact, and the show spends a few seasons struggling to find that balance. Season 6 is particularly wretched, and Season 7 little better, but the show gradually rights itself and while some of the later season arcs sound ridiculous in abstract (sure, let’s meet God’s sister!) they more or less land. A rotating cast of side characters help a lot here (Bobby of course, Sheriff Jodie, Kevin Tran the Prophet, Charley and many more) and inject reasons to care about more than just which Big Bad the boys are going to face off against at the end of this season. So yes, the show’s best days probably are long behind them, but it’s also settled into a groove where it’s now producing consistent, entertaining and enjoyable TV on a regular basis. Plus, whose heart could be so hard as to resist the lure of a Scooby-Doo crossover that actually works? Not mine anyway.

How Many Episodes Did You Watch? With the possible exception of a couple of Season 1 clunkers, every single one. That’s getting up towards three hundred episodes at this point, and it’ll cross that threshold during the course of Season 14. That’s a lot of hot boys fighting monsters to be sure, but Supernatural, even at its lowest points, remains weirdly watchable. Never vital – it’s just not that kind of show – but rarely boring and almost always entertaining. And even when an episode isn’t all that great it’s almost always worth checking out for the performances.  

Would You Recommend It? It would be weird to say no after nearly three hundred episodes, wouldn’t it? So of course I won’t. Ackles (by far the better actor of the two leads) and Padalecki (still perfectly fine) are real troopers who just get stuck into whatever insanity gets flung at them and for them alone it’s worth watching. The show is very far from flawless, and a tendency to resist moving forward has often hampered storylines. That’s especially true in the aftermath of the apocalypse storyline, and the trope of “one of the boys keeps a secret from the other for no real reason with damaging consequences” gets incredibly wearisome after a point. But when things do shift we really get to see the benefits of being prepared to shake things up. The “Men Of Letters” arc hasn’t all been plain sailing, but the show is still wringing good material from some of the changes that arc introduced (not least of which is giving the boys a permanent base to work from – an apparently-small innovation that’s nevertheless made a huge difference to how Supernatural is structured and works). The show, in other words, has become adept at introducing arcs, seeing which bits of them work, then carrying those bits forward while discarding the remaining parts that were less successful. If it can keep doing that, well… who knows how long it will run for?

Scores On The Doors? 7/10

EDIT! That’s the problem with rhetorical questions. Almost the moment I typed “who knows how long it will run for?”, and just after this blog was originally posted, the annoucement came that Supernatural was, in fact, coming to an end. Thanks, guys. Thanks.

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