FEATURE FRIDAY: Supernatural - The Road So Far

Being a fan of a genre themed American network show not wholly familiar with UK audiences can be really tough. You have no idea whether the next season of your new favourite show will be renewed (nor do you have the power to help make that happen - Fringe was torture around renewal season) or even make it across the pond (unless of course it's a biggie like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or more recently, Game of Thrones). 

Supernatural is one such show, beginning its first season by airing over here on ITV2 as part of its new programming schedule to try and capture the teen audience. It never picked up the biggest audience though and ITV2 has now turned its tastes to such giddy heights as Celebrity Juice. Make of that what you will. Now, thankfully, Sky Living has stepped in and for the first time in the show's run, I will actually be able to watch this season, the eighth on television on a channel I can actually access and will be reviewing it for this very site. I wouldn't recommend jumping straight in if you've never seen it before because the show's history is rich and complex. Yet it is not a show to be missed and, as all seasons up to 7 are now available on DVD, here are few paragraphs as to why Supernatural is one to sit down to.

For those of you who may have missed it, Supernatural follows the Winchester brothers, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles), who are hunters, though not of the game variety, travelling across America fighting demons, ghosts and various other supernatural creatures. The series begins when Sam and Dean were very young children and their mother is killed by a demon; subsequently, their father John (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) trains them up to be hunters. Cut to a fair few years later, Sam is in college and has turned his back on his family with a lovely girlfriend and an interview for Stanford. That is until Dean comes back into his life to tell him that John has gone missing on a 'hunting trip' so Sam joins him to track their father down. However, they don't find him and return to find Sam's girlfriend killed by the same demon who killed their mother. Sam and Dean reunited, they set off to find John and hunt things along the way.

From there, the show only goes from strength to strength, particularly for the first five seasons, building a vast mythology that takes in angels, demons and everything in between. Initially, Supernatural was based around ghosts and urban legends which made for an interesting, low-fi X-Files take on American folk stories. Early episodes saw the Winchesters take on a wendigo, a Bloody Mary (not the drink) and the classic staple of campside horror stories, the hook man. The first season's format as such tends to get a little repetitive; the boys take on ghost after ghost with the odd creature thrown in whilst attempting to track down the elusive John Winchester. However, it lays in good foundations for future seasons and it was known early on that creator Eric Kripke had a five season plan (the show will begin airing the ninth season in the autumn). As such, there is always a constant progression, a wonderful array of returning characters and some very interesting episodes along the way.

At its heart though are the two brothers, Sam and Dean; Sam's the strait-laced, by the book nerdy type who researches and enjoys it, eats healthily and is generally a bit whiney. Dean, in contrast, drinks hard, plays hard, eats nothing that could be classed as good for him and enjoys a healthy amount of classic rock. He also owns possibly the sexiest car to grace the small screen with his black Chevy Impala, nicknamed the Metallicar by fans of the show. The soundtrack in particular made it stand out from the usual shiny, indie band fare peddled by other shows on the CW (Buffy was also not wholly immune from this) in favour of Creedence Clearwater Revival and Kansas.

The show's strength is the central relationship between the two brothers and the various people we meet along the way, including surrogate father and grouchy badass Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver). I'm aware that Sam has a large fanbase, but I don't understand these people as Dean is clearly the one to watch. Not only is Dean a classic rogue figure, he also has the most interesting character arc across the series, often finding himself in the position of being the only person who can save the world. Whereas in Buffy the Vampire Slayer for example, there was always a support group waiting, Dean very often finds himself isolated and does not cope with it well. It leads to heavy drinking, a reckless attitude and more quips than you can shake a stick at. Jensen Ackles is often the standout in most episodes and to re-watch the series, the changes Dean goes through are believable and sometimes heartbreaking.

And, as with all the best dramas, Supernatural is also capable of some hysterically funny episodes particularly when it messes with convention in order to highlight the absurdity of some of the scrapes the brother gets into. It has also some well-written metafictional moments which not only takes pot shots at the show itself, but also at the expense of its fans, especially those advocating 'Wincest' (yes, that's actually a thing). Not all of the episodes like this work, but it's always good to see a show that will take risks and mess with its usual formula. 

The last couple of seasons may have taken a bit of a downturn when the plots became a little messier, bad guys were a lot less than threatening and the boys spend too much time apart. However, when Supernatural gets it right, it is still one of the best shows around at the moment and well worth checking out if you're a fan of things that go bump in the night.

Supernatural starts on Sky Living on Wednesday 3rd July.

- Becky

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