Recently I got through watching season one of 'Supernatural' back to back on DVD. For those not in the know, this is something in the vein of previously successful shows like 'The X-Files', 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer' and 'Angel'.
The two protagonists, brothers, travel the backroads of America waging a personal war against various malevolent occult forces, ranging from restless spirits to full-blown demonic possession. Throughout the suspense and horror element is emphasised, with varying degrees of success from episode to episode. Some fall flat on their face ('Route 666') while others genuinely illicit the odd jump ('Providence').
It borrows heavily from Chris Carter's groundbreaking 'X-files' in terms of lighting and mood (I think parts of the show may even have been shot on the same Canadian locations) and also in adopting, for the most part, a sort of 'monster of the week' approach to storytelling which is very reminiscent of the early seasons. Standout episodes, for me, were the early 'Wendigo' and the later 'Scarecrow', which was a sort of homage to 'Children of the Corn' mixed in with pop-culture references to 'Jeepers Creepers' and others.
There are few plot twists or deviation from the basic premise of the show, with the result that at times ever episode call feel a little samey. The first half-dozen episodes in particular reminded me of watching 'The A-Team' at times. I could pretty much predict the plot of a show after the first five minutes. Sam and Dean roll into town and discover there is a mysterious evil force in residence. They meet someone whose family has a dark past or is tied up in events (usually they are a cute girl). Sam and Dean fight evil force and discover its weakness in the nick of time, usually involving some minor plot twist involving the true nature of the bad guy. Sprinkled throughout is a bit of angst from Sam and some mingled recklessness and level-headedness from Dean, establishing clearly which one is which.
Reading over that, it sounds a little harsh. But this was one of my major beefs with the first part of the season. Unlike 'Buffy' there was little attempt at developing the very compelling backstory until almost the last third of the season: Where was the Winchester brothers' father, and what was the nature of the "greater" threat that he was trying to preserve them from?
When the show did move beyond the 'monster of the week' mould into an ongoing story arc, things immediately took off. In 'Scarecrow', mentioned earlier, for example, we are introduced to hot chick hitcher Meg Masters. At first she seems no more than a love interest for Sam. The closing moments of the episode, however, reveal that Meg appears to be part of the Winchesters' opposite numbers ... She's a member of some sort of demonic group deeply steeped in evil. At last there is a sense that Sam and Dean may seriously be at risk, stumbling around in the dark with enemies arrayed against them who make them look extremely unprepared indeed.
The excellent two-part finale of the show introduces and kills off pretty much more interesting characters relevant to the backstory than we met in all the earlier episodes put together. The Winchester family, reuinted, irons out much of the stuff that led to Sam spouting a lot of 'Dawsons Creek' style monologues previously.
And the closing twist is an absolute cracker, reminscent of horror films with unremittingly grim endings, like 'The Omen'. The Winchesters, apparently in the clear and in the middle of yet another family chat, get plowed off the road by a a huge eighteen-wheeler truck. After the crash, the truckdriver is visible through the windscreen, his all-black eyes perfectly unblinking. The camera pans over the Winchesters one by one, and if you didn't know that Season Two had already been signed up, you'd be forgiven for thinking that it was one of the biggest 'bad guys win' ending ever filmed for a mainstream TV show.
Closing remarks: 'Supernatural' is far from perfect. In the main the Winchester brothers have a believable chemistry, and together they carry the buddy-buddy plot elements off. At times, though, it's hard not to think of Dean as vaguely like Joey Triviani (except as a demon-hunter), or some bloke from 'Melrose Place'. He has one of those soap-opera heads.
Despite all this, though, this has the potential to take off as an excellent series if they grab hold of it and run with season two in the form of linked episodes following an ongoing story arc. In this respect shows like 'Buffy' and 'Angel' showed the way for SF/Fantasy shows, and 'Battlestar Galactica' continues to push the boundaries even further. 'Supernatural' has the budget and potentially meaty source material to be very, very good, if they are willing to take some risks.
September 18th, 2006, 11:44 AM
I really liked most of this show, but since they killed off my favorite character (THE CAR) I don't think I'll be looking for this one. :)
Seriously though, I think this show could have been a lot better. The monsters of the week were weak, and they need to stop solving things so fast. The father had a note book full of things he hadn't killed off over years, and the boys manage to defeat something just about every week. The show needs story arcs across a couple of episodes...
September 18th, 2006, 07:45 PM
The move towards a big story arc which happened towards the end of the first season definitley invigorated it. I hope they maintain that format for the second season as opposed to going back to a 'monster of the week' format. Perhaps, like the better X-files seasons, they will manage to successfully meld the two approaches.
As for the car: Yes, surely the ideal cross-country ride. I wouldn't be surprised if it is miraculously restored for season two, however. 'Supernatural' wouldn't be the same without it.
Another trademark I forgot to mention is the classic rock soundtrack. Come on people, where else would you get a contemporary show with music from Kansas ('Carry on my wayward son'), Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Asia and others taking pride of place. :D
September 20th, 2006, 09:37 PM
I tried to get into this show, but it just seemed to "teenagery" for me.
September 23rd, 2006, 10:24 PM
I like the show and there are people from the X-Files involved that make this show seem dark and creepy like the early first couple of seasons before it got too popular. What gets old for me is they always seem to meet a babe somewhere but more that that they get away with impersonating many people and always happen to get to break in when convient. Now I've heard this may catch up to them this season. Premier is next week.
September 24th, 2006, 06:58 PM
Formulaic but still a fun show.
September 27th, 2006, 11:40 AM
What gets old for me is they always seem to meet a babe somewhere but more that that they get away with impersonating many people and always happen to get to break in when convient. Now I've heard this may catch up to them this season.
Yeah, that could be interesting. At the close of season 1 Dean has ended up in hospital with the rest of the family. Although he is officially 'dead', if someone were to figure out his identity, then it would be pretty serious: He was wanted for murder, after all.
September 29th, 2006, 04:38 PM
I really like the look of the show. It's so dark.
I Tivo it, and when I'm fast-forwarding the commercials, it's easy to tell when the show picks up again, because of the darkness. :)
But I like the rest of it as well. It's not high art but it doesn't try to be. The boys (I'm old enough to think of Sam and Dean as "boys") make the best of the material, and I believe in their characters. They feel real.
I like that the writers take things seriously. They don't poke fun or try to parody the episodes that were based on urban legends. No smirking. I like that.
January 9th, 2011, 01:17 AM
I am currently rewatching the show, and I actually liked the first season a lot more the second time around. I found it rather repetitive and underwhelming on the first watch, but this time I guess I paid more attention to the Winchesters' interraction, which is, of course, the main thing keeping this show together :)
Here's the review from my blog (http://rolandscodex.blogspot.com/2011/01/supernatural-season-1.html):
I wasn't a fan of Supernatural from the start. Even though I'd heard a lot about the show, it took a long time for me to give it a try, and by the time I finally did, Season 3 was nearly finished. However, I quickly found just how lucky this delay had been, considering the monstrous addictiveness of the Winchesters' adventures. Recently I've started a rewatch, and decided that's a good enough excuse for reviewing one of the best shows on the subject ever to appear on TV.
The story begins twenty two years ago, in Lawrence, Texas. One night Mary Winchester (Samantha Smith) enters the nursery of her six months old son Sam, to find a stranger over the baby's crib. Her scream draws her husband John (Watchmen's Jeffrey Dean Morgan) upstairs, but by the time he gets there, he can only witness in horror as his wife, pinned to the ceiling and bleeding, bursts into flames. John runs away with Sammy and his older son Dean, while their home and the life they knew burn behind them.
Twenty two years later the Winchester brothers have gone their separate ways. Dean (Jensen Ackles) and John have stayed together, going into the night to hunt the monsters, ghosts and demons that haunt the world, unseen by common people. In the mean time, Sam (Jared Padalecki) has opted for a normal life and is headed toward a bright future as a pre-law student in Stanford. Until one day Dean comes to tell him that their father has disappeared, and he needs his brother's help to find him. At first, Sam is reluctant to abandon his college life, but then tragedy strikes again, and the search for John Winchester begins.
Needless to say that in their travels, the brothers stumble upon a cornucopia of supernatural beasties - demons, monsters from fairy tales and urban legends, pagan gods, ghosts and mythical creatures. Most of Season 1 is actually comprised of stand-alone episodes, with the leads for the search spread thinly over the twenty two episodes. That is not to say that the main story-arc is non-existent, but it takes no more than five or six episodes, most of those - toward the end.
The first thing that separates Supernatural from shows like The X-Files or Buffy is the level of horror in the show. Despite the moderately light tone and the wisecracking (mostly courtesy of the insanely charming Dean, but I'll get there in a moment), there is a lot of blood, gore and terror in the cases that the brothers pursue. The body-count is impressive, and many episodes could easily stand toe to toe with an expensive horror movie. The nasties are often impressive, and apart from a few lapses, the CGI looks expensive.
Of course, monsters do not a TV show make, and Supernatural both excels and in a way also fails in the most important aspect - the casting. The Winchester brothers are spot on. Dean is charming, roguish smartass who always has something funny to say, and a quick smile to get himself into trouble with. He likes the ladies, and the ladies like him, but at the same time there is no one you'd want more by your side when it comes to dealing with the monster in your closet. Sam has the same training as his brother, having left after turning 18, but he could not be more different. Where Dean presents a happy-go-lucky facade, his younger bro is brooding, serious, studious and in possession of the biggest stick you could possibly stick up your butt. Or so it begins, as with the passing of seasons both main characters evolve a lot, roles get reversed more than once, and nobody is near to where they started.
However, in Season 1 the dynamic between the Winchesters is pure joy to behold. Sam and Dean's relationship is complicated but true, and with all the baggage and bad blood in the family, they are still each other's biggest support. Plus, the constant arguing, smartassery, pranks and snide remarks, combined with the touchy-feely stuff (as Dean dubs the emotional moments) make for one of the best TV couples of all time, and is the main reason to watch Supernatural.
Unfortunately, they are basically the only characters in the first twenty two episodes of the show. If there is a lesson everyone working in TV needs to learn from Joss Whedon, it is that longer mediums need their support cast. They need an ensemble. And even though Supernatural gets there, eventually, this happens slowly throughout the seasons, and it never reaches the richness of shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Battlestar Galactica for example. Apart from the brothers, there are only three other recurring characters (every one of which would be a spoiler to name, so I won't do it), and they appear in less than four episodes each. Even the longest surviving member of the cast - Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver) doesn't make his entrance until the very last episode of Season 1. And even beyond that, he appears rarely enough - he has only 35 episodes to his name (while the entire show has reached 126 up to this point).
There is another problem with the opening season of Supernatural - its episodes are way too predictable. Basically, all the stand-alones follow a single pattern - gruesome supernatural killing occurs; the brothers find out about it, go to investigate; investigation galore; they find out what the deal is; they kill the thing; the end. There is also a hot chick involved somewhere in the process, usually for Dean to flirt with, but of course, none of them are recurring characters. Season 2 already breaks the patterns and begins introducing more original stories, but the first one could occasionally get tedious.
Still, those are not problems that would prevent you from enjoying the show. It compensates with its great main characters, smart and witty dialogue (although, of course, nowhere near Whedon standards) and the high production values, giving real life to the supernatural. And even in Season 1 there are a few episodes original enough to warrant special attention, like Asylum, with its brilliant madhouse atmosphere and the role reversal of ghosts and victims; or the brilliant comedic Hell Hous, where a local urban legend keeps changing, altering the evil ghost in a haunted house with it. This episode also introduces two awesome characters who reappear in later seasons - the "Ghost hunters" Harry Spangler (Travis Wester) and Ed Zeddmore (A.J. Buckley) - and also have a spin-off web show of their own, called Ghostfacers.
And if you stick with it, Season 1 of Supernatural treats you to an awesome showdown and one of the most nail-biting cliffhangers in TV's recent history. My advice is to give it a try and do stick with it. This is a show that gets better and better with each season, the stakes getting higher and higher, and characters getting deeper and deeper. And even if Season 1 is a bit uncertain in moments, and lacks the punch to herald a truly special TV show, it is still better than most anything on the subject you're likely to find.
January 18th, 2011, 12:03 AM
Review of Season 2 (http://rolandscodex.blogspot.com/2011/01/supernatural-season-2.html)
After the shocking cliff-hanger of Season 1, the Winchester family is put into a hospital, with Dean's life hanging by a thread. He pulls through, but at a terrible price, and the Yellow-eyed demon is once again on the loose. Only this time he also has the Colt. Sam and Dean have to find him, while at the same time they both battle their own battles - Sam with the doubts about what his powers mean and what the demon's plans for him and the others like him are; and Dean with the guilt and despair of what hunting has cost their family.
Season 2 of Supernatural goes way further than Season 1 ever did. Although the main story-arc is more central than before, there is still time for a lot of stand-alone episodes, and it is there that the evolution becomes obvious. Gone are the formulaic plots, and this time around almost none of the stories is truly predictable. Both the rhythm and twists are original and fresh, and there are no two episodes that feel alike.
Sadly, the main story-line is a lot more convoluted and... well, angsty than the previous season. The brothers' personal demons tend to get a little tedious, showing for the first time a major flaw in the show - apart from a few awesome exceptions, Supernatural doesn't do very convincing drama. Sure, it doesn't fall entirely flat either, but unlike shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which it imitates in some ways), there is no actual character development throughout the season. Instead, the issues tend to just either be pushed aside, or resolve themselves behind the camera.
That said, Season 2 is still a lot better than the first one in many aspects. To compensate for the loss of... freshness... of the Winchesters, we now have Bobby who makes multiple appearances throughout the season, as well as Ellen (Samantha Ferris) - the owner of the Roadhouse, where Hunters gather - and her daughter Jo (Alona Tal), both of whom are really awesome, and it's a crime that they show up in so few episodes.
There are a few really memorable episodes in this season, such as the opener In My Time of Dying, and the last stand-alone, What Is And What Should Never Be - both of which are basically Dean-centered, and show off his coolness in two drastically different ways. Another great story is Tall Tales, which deals with a homicidal ghost, alien abduction and alligators in the sewers (yes, exactly!), as well as the absolutely hilarious POVs of the Winchesters when they are pissed at each other and tell Bobby different versions of what's been going on. The two-part finale, All Hell Breaks Loose, finally reveals the Yellow-eyed demon's master plan, and puts an end to that story-arc. Sadly, the whole deal with the superpowered kids is ultimately rather underwhelming, but the ending is still epic as hell (see what I did there?).
Season 2 of Supernatural is in some ways less enjoyable to watch than Season 1, but it establishes a lot more of the world, raises the stakes a lot higher for the next seasons, and gets a lot deeper into the brothers' convoluted relationship. It is also a lot smarter, which is also part of why it's a little less enjoyable, but in the end, it's just as much worth seeing as the first season, and I'd even say more, since it closes a big chapter in the Winchester story. The hunt has ended. Now the war is starting.