I was a 90’s kid. The movies and TV shows of that era hold a lot of nostalgia for me. But one show in particular was a fucking revelation: Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I can only think of it happening a few times. Being exposed to a piece of fiction that completely blows your mind. The giddy delight of “I have NEVER seen ANYTHING like this before and it’s fucking AWESOME!”.
One other time a piece of fiction completely changed my life was reading The Dark Knight Returns for the first time. I was 13 or 14 and this book was like something handed down from God himself. Reading scenes like Batman beating the Mutant leader, his final confrontation with The Joker, and of course watching a human being kick the ever loving shit out of Superman, those were all “Holy Fuck!” moments for me. When I was finished, my mind reeled. “What the fuck did I just read?” It changed Batman forever. It made me look at the world differently. Other people thought they knew Batman, but I fucking knew Batman! It was like reading scripture.
I think it was a few years before reading The Dark Knight Returns that one night on a whim, because nothing else was on, my brother and I watched an episode of what we thought was a silly sounding show called Buffy The Vampire Slayer. It was season 2, the episode was “Halloween” (one of my favorites). Like reading The Dark Knight Returns, watching Buffy for the first time was another pop culture come to Jesus moment for me. Holy Fuck! That fucking ruled!
Buffy is and was fucking SICK. It was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen. I loved the characters. The fact that they were only a few years older than me helped. The characters, not the actors, the actors were old as fuck. The mythology, the monsters, the drama. I couldn’t wait for Tuesday nights, my favorite night of the week because Buffy was on. There had truly NEVER been a show like this before. To say that it was groundbreaking is an understatement. It elevated genre entertainment and was one of the few stories where the hero saving the day was a badass girl. I also loved the spinoff Angel. Which was in many was superior to Buffy, but that’s a column for another day.
Besides Buffy, the other genre TV show that was huge and groundbreaking in the 90’s was The X-Files. I like The X-Files a lot, but I was never a super fan. I watched it sporadically, but particularly loved the standalone “Monster-of-the-Week” episodes. Like Buffy, the impact The X-Files had on genre TV was massive. Buffy and The X-Files paved the way for a lot of shows that would never had existed otherwise. One of those shows is Supernatural, one of my all time favorite shows and the show I’m going to talk about in this article.
I remember Supernatural premiered on The CW shortly after Angel had been cancelled (Buffy ended it’s 7 year run on it’s own terms the year before). Buffy and Angel had a very specific style of fighting monsters. They never, or very rarely for most characters, fought the bad guys with modern weapons. It was all swords and crossbows and axes. I got used to that. THAT was how you fought monsters and demons. I remember seeing the promo for Supernatural and seeing these two pretty boy leads using GUNS to fight monsters, “fucking amateur hour”. Or so I thought. I blew the show off as a pale imitation of the BuffyVerse (I was still mourning Angel’s cancellation), but one day The CW caught my attention by showing the first 5 minuets of the pilot for Supernatural. I didn’t know what I was watching at the time, but it caught my attention. Here it is:
They had my curiosity, but now they had my attention to paraphrase Calvin Candy (A horrible human being, but the man could turn a phrase). That’s a solid, horror, cold open. Not at all what I thought the show would be.
All right so what the hell is this show about? Supernatural follows two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester as they drive across the highways and back roads of America in their 67 Chevy Impala, hunting monsters, demons, ghosts, and any other kind of nightmarish thing you could think of, all set to a GREAT classic rock soundtrack. With the help old hunter and surrogate father Bobby Singer and fallen angel Castiel, the brothers have faced Heaven, Hell and everything in between.
(Sam and Dean on the road in the Impala)
I didn’t fully commit until season 3. I had seen a few “monster of the week” episodes and really liked them. So I bought the first 2 seasons on DVD as a Christmas present for my Dad and we ripped right through them. By the time season 3 premiered I was a full blown fan. Seasons 1 and 2 of Supernatural are solid and entertaining with a few excellent standouts. Nothing reinventing the wheel yet. The first 2 seasons serve best to let you get to know Sam and Dean very well and set up mythology that comes into play later in the series. You do not need to watch every episode in the first 2 seasons, I’ll have a list of the essential episodes of Seasons 1 and 2 at the end of the article. Season 3 is where Supernatural really comes into it’s own in a big way. Now that I’ve given you the set up, I’m going to tell you what makes this show great.
(Jeffery Dean Morgan as John Winchester)
When Sam was a baby and Dean was young boy, a demon came into their home one night and horribly murdered their mother. Their father John, a former marine, became obsessed with finding and hunting down the thing that killed his wife. I think John is definitely eligible for the ‘Terrible Fictional Father Award”, he basically raises his sons on the road, teaching them the same monster hunting skills he learned after his wife’s bizarre death. Going from town to town, living out of motels, constantly changing schools as their father goes off to hunt gods knows what that goes bump in the night. Get some fucking therapy and raise your goddamn kids! Don’t raise them in some horrible world of death and nightmares in your suicidal quest for revenge! Just become an alcoholic like a normal person!
(That’s a lot of fucking weapons there, John)
Anyway John is played by the excellent Jeffery Dean Morgan (he played The Comedian in Watchmen and Negan on The Walking Dead), he’s only on the show for the first 3 seasons and I always wished they brought him back for an episode or two. He always seemed open to it. *UPDATE! Jeffery Dean Morgan did indeed return to the series for the show’s 300th episode, the excellent and heartbreaking “Lebanon”. Sam and Dean are played by Jared Padelecki and Jensen Ackles respectively, who are like 7 years younger than Jeffery Dean Morgan in real life, which is kind of funny. In the first season, we find out that the younger brother Sam got out of this life. He left his father and brother behind, went to Stanford with the intention of going on to law school, and had a beautiful girlfriend. Until one night his brother Dean comes knocking on his door, not having seen Sam in years. He tells Sam that Dad went on a hunting trip and hasn’t been back in a few days. Basically John went missing chasing down a lead on the thing that killed his wife. So Dean drags a very reluctant Sam back into a life he thought he’d left behind in an attempt to find their missing father. But that’s just an excuse for the show get Sam and Dean on the road. Saving people, hunting things, the family business. The actors have great chemistry with each other, which I think is one of several reasons for the show’s longevity. Apparently they’re extremely close friends in real life (It would be very hard to do a successful show for almost a decade and a half if you fucking hated the guy you’re in almost every scene with). Sam and Dean are incredibly dangerous and gifted hunters even though they’re only in their 20’s when the show began. They were essentially raised to be hunters, their Dad taught them every trick in the book.
(Some of the show’s really creepy monsters)
John’s terrible parenting skills gives the show the opportunity to introduce fellow hunter Bobby Singer. Since the show takes place mostly on the road all over the country, the show isn’t much of an ensemble. But there are a few characters other than Sam and Dean that become integral to the story and are beloved by fans. One of them is Sam and Dean’s surrogate father and veteran hunter Bobby Singer. Bobby is the father Sam and Dean never had, the one they deserve. When they were kids John would often drop them off with Bobby, taking off for weeks at a time to hunt monsters or ghosts. Bobby views Sam and Dean as his surrogate sons and would do anything for them (he’s also a pretty badass hunter). As adults, Bobby is frequently off hunting with the boys. When Sam and Dean are in a tough spot, it’s often a clutch eleventh hour rescue from Bobby that saves the day. Since his introduction at the end of Season 1, Bobby has been a fan favorite.
(Dean, Sam, and Bobby out hunting)
First of all, I think Supernatural was a turning point for The CW. You can definitely see the “CW Formula” in the first season and a half. “The CW Formula” is basically getting really attractive young actors on genre shows that are pretty much soap operas with a large focus on romance. Supernatural really bucked this trend or subverted it at least. The show never had any major love interests for Sam and Dean (However, there are a few notable exceptions). The show is by far one of the darkest and bloodiest show on any non-cable network. This show is bleak as fuck at times, bloody as hell, and the story goes to some deeply dark places. Some of the episodes work as very creepy and effective mini horror movies. This approach results in some genuinely scary episodes.
One of the big standouts of the show is the music. From the first episode, Classic Rock is in the DNA of the show. AC/DC, Metallica, Boston, Kansas, Queen, Blue Oyster Cult, Bon Jovi, Styx, and many, many more. Music is an extremely effective tool in giving a film or TV and identity when used the right way and the show’s classic rock soundtrack is just one more thing that makes the show unique. Fun Fact: the favorite band of both the creators of the show and the character Dean Winchester is Led Zeppelin, but they could never get the rights to use their songs because the they’re too expensive.
Supernatural is very strong when it comes handling it’s mythology. Unlike a show like The X-Files that felt like it was just throwing stuff at the wall to see what stuck, the mythology of Supernatural always builds on itself and ads up to something. The Winchesters have come against ghosts, vampires, werewolves, shape shifters, hell hounds, and literally hundreds of other creatures and spirits. But the show really excels in it’s use of Biblical lore and putting their own spin on it. In Season 4 the stakes are raised in a huge way, when Sam and Dean find themselves smack dab in the middle of The Biblical Apocalypse. This is where the show becomes much more serialized. Demons are attempting to set Lucifer free from his cage in Hell and when that happens, either God’s Archangels will attempt to kill Lucifer and level most of the planet in the process or Lucifer wins and it’s literally Hell on Earth. Anyway you slice it, humanity is fucked in this situation. This is the storyline where Supernatural went from very good to excellent. Demons are bad enough, but Angels haven’t walked the Earth in thousands of years. The Angels are portrayed as alien and terrifyingly powerful celestial beings who are more of less indifferent to mankind’s survival in a fight that they believe to be preordained by God. I won’t spoil why, but they’re very interested in Sam and Dean and not for anything good. Demons and Angels aren’t physical beings on this show, so they need to possess a human “vessel” or “Meatbag” (as a Demon would say) to manifest physically on Earth. The writers didn’t necessarily intend for the show to go in that direction, but they retroactively took seemingly small details, characters, and events from the first few season and made them the building blocks of The Apocalypse storyline. It gives the impression that the show has been building towards this story from the very beginning.
(One of the first times we see Castiel. Not exactly a being with a harp and a halo)
This is also where the show introduces another one of it’s most important and beloved characters, the Angel Castiel. Castiel was an angel assigned to “help” Sam and Dean avert the Apocalypse. Their relationship started out very antagonistic with Castiel blindly following heavens orders. But over time the bond he developed with Dean in particular and his eventual realization that what the angels are doing is really fucked up. His character arc is one of the shows best, he goes from a zealot blindly following order from high above his celestial pay grade to a loyal ally fighting on behalf of humanity. He’s the friend who’s always there for the brothers. Even turning his back on his own kind. Like Bobby, Sam and Dean consider Castiel to be family and like Bobby he would die to protect them both.
Supernatural has a passionate fan base and the show goes very meta in certain episodes. It’s not a show that’s afraid to make fun of itself. There are a lot of fun examples of this, like in the episode “The French Mistake” Sam and Dean are thrown into an alternate reality where they’re actors Jared Padelecki and Jensen Akles starring in a TV show called Supernatural where they play Sam and Dean Winchester. Another episode finds the brothers stumbling upon a copy of a series of books again called Supernatural, with each book chronicling one of their cases. This is during the Apocalypse storyline and author of the books turns out to be a Prophet who gets visions from Heaven to write about Sam and Dean because they’re so central to the fight between Lucifer and his demons and the angels of heaven. They’re fun episodes that display the desire of the creators to tell unconventional stories.
It’s a huge accomplishment for a show to last as long as Supernatural has (Season 13 begins in October), but the standard of quality the series has maintained is truly impressive. Don’t get me wrong, the series definitely has its highs and lows. The series never quite repeats the heights of Seasons 3-5, but Season 11 was one the show’s best. The cast and creators never feel like they’re phoning it in, which would be easy to do after so many seasons. One more key to the show’s continued popularity is it’s ability to be innovative and put out unique episodes. For example, Season 11’s Episode “Baby” is told entirely from the point of view of Chevy Impala that the guys drive around in. They tell an entire episode where the camera never leaves the car and it’s very effective. Since they’ve spent most of their lives on the road, the Impala feels like a character on the show and one of the only “homes” Sam and Dean have ever had. “Baby” stands out as one of the best episodes of the entire series. They never seem to run out material and there is no indication that Season 13 will be the show’s last. Apparently they’re even doing a Supernatural/Scooby-Doo crossover this coming season which should be appropriately insane.
(More crazy fucking monsters)
The heart and soul of the show is the relationship between Sam and Dean and how they’ll do anything to protect each other. No matter how many seasons they end up doing, the show is always about family. They will literally go to hell and back for each other. It may not always be the healthiest relationship, but these guys had a pretty fucked up childhood. The show is at it’s best when it emphasizes the bond between Sam and Dean. Hunting monsters is really cool, but you don’t keep coming back to a show for 13 seasons without having great characters that you’re deeply invested in.
There’s so much more to this show that I could get into (12 fucking seasons and counting is a lot of fucking story), so check it out for yourselves. The entire series is available on Netflix. Below I’ll leave a list of the must watch episodes from the first 2 seasons, after that watch every episode. The Season 5 finale could really serve as a series finale because it wraps up most of the overarching story that had been building since the first episode. Season 7 is probably the weakest, but the show is never less than entertaining. The show becomes excellent again in Seasons 11 and 12, and Season 13 premieres on 10/12 at 8pm on The CW. As always, thanks for reading and let me know what you think if you check out Supernatural.
*UPDATE: Supernatural will officially come to an end with it’s record breaking 15th Season. At the time of this update the series is in the middle of Season 14.
Dead Man’s Blood
In My Time Of Dying
Houses of the Holy
What Is and What Should Never Be
All Hell Breaks Loose Parts 1 & 2