Super-Supernatural

4 Nov

The US TV series Supernatural (2005-) follows two brothers who were brought up in a rather unusual family business. Now a small screen stalwart, the show has also had international success that has earned it year after year of season pick-ups. For those who don’t know, Sam and Dean Winchester are monster-hunting brothers who drive around the back-roads of America in search of the things that go bump in the night. They’ve encountered everything from vampires and werewolves to pagan gods and shapeshifters, who they regularly dispatch with help from their father’s journal and fellow hunter Bobby Singer. Their father, John Winchester, taught them what it took to be hunters from childhood after the murder of their mother at the hands of a powerful demon, who the brothers finally caught up with and killed at the end of season two. For seven years the series has stayed strong, balancing the personal stories of Sam and Dean versus the increasingly ambitious narrative of evil messing with humanity on Earth. After several seasons of summoning every kind of spook, spectre, monster and angel to throw at the unlikely pair of demon hunters, the Supernatural writers finally played the literal God card at the end of series six, potentially making the Almighty himself the season villain. As ever on Supernatural, however, things did not quite turn out to be the way they at first seemed.

The show grew out of creator Eric Kripke’s childhood fascination with scary urban legends. Kripke always conceived it, at its heart, as a road-trip series, because he felt that this was a uniquely American take on the horror genre. If viewers sometimes feel that they’re watching a modern-day Western, this is entirely intentional – even the brothers’ surname of Winchester was chosen to evoke the gunslingers of the Old West. The first episode, and the start of the Winchester brothers’ journey, was set in Lawrence, Kansas due to its closeness to Stull Cemetery, a location famous for its urban legends. At its best Supernatural is an edgy, high-octane, kick-ass show, not to mention scary as hell, and over the course of seven years has only grown better and better. With a perfect mix of mythology-arc and stand-alone episodes the show is satisfying both for long-term viewers and newcomers. Both well-acted and superbly written, you can expect frights and laughs in equal measure from a show that consistently surprises and thrills viewers. This more than anything has earned Supernatural one of the most dedicated fanbases on TV. The Winchester brothers have faced off against all manner of spine-tingling demons, mythical creatures and the odd Casper the Unfriendly Ghost on the road across America. They have even taken on key roles (not always on the same side) in a celestial war between angels and demons that has all too often seen them caught slap-bang in the middle. As a show that features death and destruction as a facet of daily life, few characters have lasted for very long in the world of Supernatural. In the course of its seven-year existence, however, the show has acquired a few stalwarts.

The younger of the two Winchester siblings, Sam (played by Jared Padalecki) was reluctantly dragged back into life as a hunter after the love of his life, Jessica, was killed in the show’s pilot by the same demon that killed his mother and father. The more sensitive and intellectual of the two brothers, Sam struggled to adjust to life on the road at first, often taking the moral high road when Dean refused and continually hoping for some sort of normal life. Sam, however, has a dark side, which sees him making some very questionable choices as the series progresses. This is one of the most interesting aspects of Supernatural – the fact that characters are never one-dimensional but constantly grow, evolve and surprise the viewer. The character of Dean Winchester is a reflection of Kripke’s interests growing up – he purposely infused Dean with the devil-may-care swagger of Star Wars’ Han Solo and gave him a distinctive ’67 Impala in homage to the shows he loved as a child, such as Knight Rider and The Dukes of Hazzard, which similarly featured a signature vehicle. While known primarily for his often-times crude sense of humour and rebel-with-a-cause attitude, Dean values the safety of his family above anything else. Unfortunately, a series of betrayals by close friends and even family members makes Dean progressively more ruthless and untrusting – the fate, it seems, of any hunter according to the series’ grim mythology.

Supernatural is full of other interesting characters – most notably the fallen angel Castiel, who dresses like an insurance salesman and has a sense of humour to match, and the Winchester boys’ loveable but irascible father-figure Bobby Singer – but the real stars of the show are the monsters. Featuring cutting edge special effects which compare favourably to big screen horror films, Supernatural seems to take its cue, script and humour-wise, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its look and feel from The X-Files. The tone of Supernatural also appears heavily influenced by films such as Poltergeist – having the horror mostly happen in familiar urban settings rather than remote locations – and An American Werewolf in London – having bits of comedy mixed in. The series has seen its stars go up against just about everything and the creative team behind it have often admitted that it is increasingly challenging to churn out fresh, quality storylines and antagonists. Yet the writers have always come back to construct a new year of dire adventures and consequences for the Winchesters. This is illustrated by the fact that even series creator Eric Kripke only expected Supernatural to last maybe (fingers crossed) five years, and accordingly planned the overall series arc to last only for that long. It has, however, recently been renewed for an eighth season and, after that, who knows how much longer it may go on for? And since the Winchesters have fought everything else on (and under) the earth, perhaps their next ‘big bad’ series villain will be something entirely unearthly – aliens perhaps?

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6 Responses to “Super-Supernatural”

  1. The Paranormalist - Renae Rude November 4, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

    I caught a few episodes when it first came on, but sort of drifted away. Reading this makes me think I ought to see if it’s available via Netflix or Hulu.

    • Brad C. Hodson November 4, 2012 at 9:27 pm #

      You definitely should go back to it. It’s a phenomenal show. Season 5 is one of the best television seasons I’ve ever seen. After 5, it goes downhill quite a bit. It’s still fun and some episodes are still frightening, but it’s lost its sense of purpose and overall darkness. The season 1 to 5 story arc is amazing, though.

      • anilbalan November 5, 2012 at 8:09 am #

        Ditto!

      • The Paranormalist - Renae Rude November 6, 2012 at 3:31 am #

        That’s an intriguing endorsement. All right, I’ll look into it. (But I have no idea how I’m going to get around to seeing all the fantastic horror-related stuff that I need to see.)

        ‘Not a bad problem though, all things considered.

      • Brad C. Hodson November 6, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

        Haha! Indeed. It could definitely be worse…

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