Collins’ Crypt: SUPERNATURAL Is Still Pretty Damn Fun
I still remember waiting for a subway train in Boston, intrigued by a billboard for a show called Supernatural that was premiering soon on the WB. I vaguely recognized the two guys on the poster (one from Dawson's Creek and the other from House of Wax), and the name kind of gave away that it'd be a horror-driven show, so I made a note of the premiere date and (brace yourselves) set my VCR to record it. Having gotten used to genre programming usually never lasting more than a season (I still lament the loss of Haunted, a show I quite liked that never finished its first season. It starred Matthew Fox, whose next show was slightly more popular), I figured I'd give it a look and hopefully wouldn't get too sad when it inevitably got axed after its 13 initial episode order.
With that memory still so vivid, it's quite fun to sit down with the tenth season DVD of that very show, a season that not only celebrates its 200th episode (topping Haunted by about 190) but also cements its place in the record books as the longest running horror series in primetime history. Hell you can even include sci-fi in that list and it'll still come out on top, having just topped Smallville's record a few episodes back. That subway ride was in August or September of 2005, right before I moved to Los Angeles - I certainly never thought I'd be celebrating a decade of living here AND a decade of this seemingly unkillable show about two brothers driving around and hunting monsters.
Well, that's what it WAS about, back then. Now it's mostly about renegade angels and demons, with the Winchester boys only occasionally putting aside whatever end of the world plot the current season is showcasing to go back to their roots and hunt a werewolf or whatever. But you can't really fault the writers for switching gears - the show had a carefully planned out five year arc that would end with the two heroes, one working for God and the other for the Devil, fighting to the death. But the show was still popular and the CW (a network that rose from the ashes of WB and UPN) considered it one of their cornerstones, and so the show was surprisingly brought back for a 6th season. Admittedly, that one wasn't one of its strongest, but the show's fanbase remained loyal and the ratings didn't drop anywhere near enough for the network to cancel it just yet, and it remains one of the network's top draws. At this point - now having doubled its life expectancy - I suspect it'll be on just as long as The Simpsons.
I also suspect they will do an animated episode eventually*, or maybe one where they play a (Resident Evil-ish?) Supernatural video game. I believe it was in the fourth season that they first started poking fun at the show's history in a meta way with the introduction of Chuck, a prophet who was writing a series of books that mirrored their own adventures (with Chuck apologizing for the bad writing in a few "books", i.e. bad episodes like the first season's "Bugs"). Since then, such fourth wall breaking exploits have cropped up on the regular, with the Winchesters attending conventions (ones that look better than actual Supernatural conventions), having their lives turned into sitcoms, and even traveling to the set of the hit television show Supernatural, where the boys were forced to pretend to be actors Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles in order to finish off their current nemesis. This is a show that has earned the right to mock itself a bit, and they're always welcome diversions, even if the jokes about how silly the ongoing storylines are do tend to wear thin (that said, "Fan Fiction"'s joke about Adam, their forgotten half-brother, was nothing short of genius).
It's this sort of approach that I think has been key to the show's unending run. I doubt anyone would really mind reducing the Heaven/Hell war stuff (not Castiel, however) in favor of an increase of stripped down, "Monster of the Week" style of the show's earlier seasons, but if the show ever started taking itself too seriously there might be fan revolt. Seeing that they know when they've gone too far in the past makes it a lot easier to forgive any current transgressions, because we know they'll probably make fun of it in a future episode (if this season's subplot about Castiel's daughter trying to hire someone to kill Dean doesn't get raked over the coals someday, I will be offended). It lets the fanbase know that they're being heard, because I'm sure the showrunners thought a lot of these things were good ideas at the time, and that's also a big factor in the show's longevity. Perhaps the Metatron/Death/etc stuff has gone on a bit too long, but after 10 years they've kind of exhausted the usual monsters (and locations - there aren't many states they haven't visited yet), so the fact that the show remains narratively engaging - albeit not as much as it was in its heyday - is more than laudable.
But really the draw is Ackles and Padalecki, and their chemistry. Because it's been on so long the writers occasionally have to shake things up by putting them at odds and splitting them up for a few episodes, but it never lasts - they'll never go more than I think four episodes before having the two of them sitting in the Impala, being brotherly. And they seem to still be enjoying it too; the DVD's bonus features show plenty of goofing off on the set, ribbing each other in real life just as they do on the show. In an age where two stars of a show apparently can't even shoot a scene together, it's nice to see two dudes - who could conceivably be quite sick of one another after a decade - still getting along and infusing their show with their good-natured attitude toward one another.
This 10th season was a pretty good one, I think - I am not an uber fan and only watch each episode once, so my memories tend to fade, but as I re-read the episode descriptions on the DVD set nothing stood out as an "Oh god, THAT episode!" like they might in previous years (the racist truck, the awful "Bloodlines" would-be backdoor pilot, etc). I wasn't overly in love with Rowena, the all powerful witch who was also Crowley's mother, and they brought back Charlie (Felicia Day) a bit too often for my tastes, but in the former's case it allowed us to see another side of Crowley, and in the latter at least they finally got rid of her for good (well, presumably - Supernatural isn't exactly a show where death means a hell of a lot). I didn't care much for Castiel's daughter trying to kill Dean, as I mentioned, but otherwise it was fun to see him try to be a dad to her in the other episodes, and Misha Collins has been a secret weapon of the show for so long now that I honestly don't know if I could enjoy watching the first few seasons before his character was introduced. I still miss Bobby, but Sheriff Jody Mills has proven to be an amiable substitute as recurring parental figure (it's nice to have a female on the show who isn't a love interest or a villain), and I hope they continue to find ways to bring her back. Ackles and Padalecki are the only two actors to appear in even half of the episodes produced (Collins comes closest with 81 - barely over a third of them), but the show has established a pretty great supporting roster over the years, and never allowed any of them to wear out their welcome (well, maybe the Ghostchasers). Speaking of which, "Fan Fiction" seemed to suggest Chuck (Rob Benedict) was still alive, but that was his only appearance in the season - let's hope season 11 does something with this reveal.
The show's legacy is, fittingly, the focus of most of the DVD's bonus features. There's an in-depth look at the production of the 200 episodes, an HOUR devoted to the fanbase that has infused the creators with the energy to keep going, and a 30 minute retrospective that covers the show's meta episodes, the bad ones (creator Eric Kripke himself takes time to mock "Bugs", and also the Wendigo one that I didn't think was too bad), Castiel, etc. Some deleted scenes and commentaries are also included when appropriate, making it a fairly giant package that I personally couldn't get through before the new season starts next month. I've always wanted to go back and watch from the beginning (all ten seasons are in my home, mostly gifts to my Padalecki-loving wife), but the time has eluded me, so I decided I'll do it when the show ends (Supernatural Episode A Day?). But will that ever actually happen? In some ways, I kind of hope it doesn't - the show is comfort food at this point, and as far as I'm concerned still tops every other running genre show (Bates Motel, American Horror Story, The Strain... none of these are as enjoyable), so let's have another ten? Why the hell not?
*Not counting the anime. Which I haven't seen, and by most accounts I never should.