On the Bubble: Supernatural

Posted on December 14, 2011

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Supernatural has been on the air so long (six seasons, with a seventh in-progress) that I can’t remember why we first watched it.

Maybe it was Jensen Ackles, who we watched on Dark Angel and Smallville (a show we dropped, btw). Maybe we just liked the premise – there are things that go bump in the night, and a pair of fraternal vigilantes hunt those things. We liked the Charlies Angels movie, and McG was producing the series.

I really don’t remember.

We Watch It

Sam Winchester has a nice, normal, life…until a demon pins his wife to the ceiling and sets her on fire. Enter Dean Winchester, Sam’s brother, and everything that Sam rejected about his childhood comes rushing back.

John Winchester raised his boys to hunt monsters and demons. Sam rejected that life, and hasn’t spoken to his father in a decade or more. Dean followed in Dad’s footsteps, and now tells Sam that dear old dad is missing. They have to work together to avenge Sam’s wife, stem the rising tide of monster sightings, and find John Winchester.

Now, that premise could go either way. What we got was a real taste of supernatural horror every week. In its first season, the show mostly focused on “monster-of-the-week” episodes, putting modern spins on creatures from European folklore. There was an overall story arc for the season, but mostly the writing focused on the scares. We bonded with the characters.

Let’s face it: In tough times, we all like seeing people struggle, and succeed, and Supernatural delivered success on a weekly basis.

Plus, the sense of humor cracked us up. We loved trying to figure out which rock band or TV show they referenced with each fake ID. We loved trying to place the episode title with the song from which they drew the lyric. And sometimes they just got goofy – to our delight.

On the Bubble

Then came Season Four (2008-2009). Although the show had always been strongly focused on Judaeo- Christian lore, Season Four made all that explicit with the arrival of the angel Castiel, and Lilith’s attempts to break “the 66 seals” and free Lucifer. The “war in Heaven” mythos took precedence over everything else, and runs through Season Six. We just got sick of it. The writing seemed to suffer (it’s worth noting that creator Eric Kripke made several statements indicating the show was supposed to end after five seasons). We got an extended relationship drama, with religious overtones, rather than our weekly terrors.

For us, it really came to a head with Hammer of the Gods, episode 19 in Season 5. A group of gods – including Kali, Ganesh, and Baldur – kidnap Sam and Dean to use as bargaining chips against the Apocalypse. For the first time in five years of the show we see explicit evidence of deities from other cultures. The writing showed no real understanding of or empathy for those deities.

There was a chance there to discuss how knowledge of the wider world shrank the deities’ spheres of influence, and how they lost power as people lost faith in them. They could have drawn a parallel between what these beings experienced and the gains and losses of human aging. There were so many terrific possibilities. Granted, they might have been too big for a single episode with so many deities in it, but the show still blew the opportunity.

To me, this seemed like a clever idea ruined in execution. It should have been done right, or not at all, because doing it partially just comes off as culturally insensitive.

WTF?

Which brings us to Season Seven (which is currently on winter hiatus, returning January 6th). Castiel started the season as the new God, but was torn apart by “leviathans.” Episode Two put a nice end to the theme of Lucifer trying to possess Sam. The leviathans are powerful, mysterious, and from a time pre-dating Judaeo-Christian mythology. The writers are having a great time with them. They’ve touched on werewolves, doppelgangers, psychics, and crossroad demons.

Suddenly, it’s the show we started watching in 2005, again.

Thoughts?

Has any other show jumped the shark (or, if you prefer, nuked the fridge), and recovered? Did you ever stop watching a show, only to catch a later episode and fall back into watching it?

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Posted in: television