You would be correct in thinking that a show like Supernatural would be right in my wheelhouse. And, you would be forgiven for wondering why I never watched the series until after it had been on the air for—what?—over thirteen years?
Yeah, the show premiered on the old WB network way back in September 2005. This would have been a little more than a year after I opened my last Target store here in central Arkansas, USA, as the executive team leader in charge of Logistics (fancy title, huh?) and I would have been up to my eyebrows (way above, actually) in work. I didn’t watch a lot of television back in those days, and wouldn’t until I began to play catch-up through Netflix. This was back when you just got those DVDs in the mail and streaming television was mostly still a dream.
Supernatural didn’t begin until after both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff Angel were off the air. In many ways, this show is their successor. I started to write “spiritual successor,” but that just sounds a little too cute. I didn’t even begin watching the Buffyverse programs until after they had completed their runs. This was through those little discs in the red envelopes from Netflix, of course. This means I was watching those series for a while after Supernatural was already on air. It is simply amazing that the series is still currently on the air as I begin to watch it.
As I began to watch this series, though, it wasn’t Buffy or Angel that it really reminded me of. It was The X-Files. This impression was strong even before I realized that Kim Manners, who had been a producer and frequent director on The X-Files, was also involved in this show. The structure and subject matter of each episode was almost identical, from the cold open onward. Also, many of the early settings were very similar, with a lot of forest work (without all the blue lighting effects, though). Probably the same shooting locations in Vancouver.
Instead of Mulder and Scully, however, we get the Winchester brothers, Dean and Sam. Neither are skeptics, like Scully, although if I were forced to make the correlation, I’d say that older brother Dean is, at least initially, more like the obsessive Mulder, and younger brother Sam is the more methodical and brainy Scully. That’s too reductive, though, and not completely accurate.
There’s even a similar backstory. Mulder’s sister was taken by aliens when he was younger. The Winchester boys’ mother was taken by a demon when they were children. Sam, in fact, was only six months old, and she was taken in flames on the ceiling of his nursery. Because of this incident, John Winchester—Dean and Sam’s father—becomes a full-time demon and ghost hunter, primarily to track down the demon that killed his wife. He also teaches this trade to his sons.
As the series begins, Dean Winchester is trying to get his brother Sam to join him in finding their father, who left on a hunting trip and never came back. Sam had turned his back on the hunting life and had immersed himself in academia. His relationship with their father has always been rocky. Older brother Dean was the dutiful son; Sam was the son who left home and family. By the end of the pilot episode, Sam’s girlfriend is also taken by the same demon who killed the Winchester mom, in an identical manner. This is the inciting incident that causes Sam to rejoin his brother in their weekly adventures.
And, that’s just what this series is, at first. In spite of the promising backstory and exciting pilot episode, many of the episodes which follow it are highly episodic monster-of-the-week stories. The mythology episodes that thread their way through The X-Files seem to be, sadly, missing. This does change towards the end of the season, however, with the return of John Winchester and the introduction of the magical demon-killing Colt revolver. At this point, we’re beginning to get some genuine worldbuilding, around the secret society of hunters of supernatural beings.
Around this time, the series does begin to remind me more of Buffy and, especially, Angel. The show even introduces its own special version of vampires, which have rows of teeth like sharks, are able to move about in sunlight, and have no real aversion to crucifixes. My wife happened to drop in while I was watching one of the vampire episodes and immediately dismissed it as “another vampire show” before dropping out again. Not her cup of tea. (That’s okay. I’m not really into shows about house-flipping dwarves or whatever it is she prefers, so we’re even.) Supernatural isn’t a vampire show, but I’m more than willing to have vampires exist in the universe they’re creating. It seems consistent.
There are even elements of Kolchak: The Night Stalker in this series, which makes sense because Kolchak is essentially the grandfather of all of these characters, in my opinion.
Sam begins to have visions that seem a lot like the ones Doyle used to have in the first season of Angel as well. I guess Cordelia used to have them, too, now that I think of it. I think this was a conscious homage to the Buffyverse. We should always honor everything that came before.
I’ve laid the groundwork for what the series is about. Let’s talk about the casting now.
John Winchester, the father, is played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Morgan is probably now best-known as playing Negan on The Walking Dead, but I was familiar with his work as The Comedian in the movie Watchmen and as the late husband of the pot-dealing soccer mom on Weeds. I understand he had a recurring role on Grey’s Anatomy as well, but that’s never been my jam. Morgan does an amazing job as John Winchester, but he doesn’t appear in that many first-season episodes, even though his character looms large in the plot throughout.
The role of Sam Winchester is played by Jared Padalecki, who I knew only as Dean from Gilmore Girls. Early on, this was confusing to me since his older brother in this series is also named Dean. Padalecki is much taller than everyone else on this series. Perhaps taller than everyone else in the world. But, he is great as the sensitive and bookish younger Winchester brother.
Dean Winchester is played by Jensen Ackles, who was a quasi-villain and rival suitor for the hand of Lana Lang in the series Smallville (another of those shows I never watched until it was off the air). He initially read for the role of Sam, but preferred Dean’s part. I think he was well-cast. Dean, at least in this first season, seems to be the earthier, darker Winchester brother, more caveman-like than Sam, and Ackles plays that part well. His portrayal is layered and believable. His love of rock music and for his black ’67 Impala is relatable.
There are other characters introduced in the first season, but this is the main cast around which everything else is centered. Meg Masters (Nicki Lynn Aycox) is a recurring character, and is revealed to be the host of a demon. In the final episode of the season, Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver) is introduced as another hunter and old family friend of the Winchesters. Bobby’s introduction hints at a much wider world and deeper backstory out there. Sam’s late girlfriend, Jessica Moore, was played by Adrianne Palicki, who is currently the first officer of The Orville, but will always be Bobbi Morse to me.
I know there are fans out there who’ve watched every season of Supernatural and are yelling at me because I’m way off base on some of my observations. Keep in mind that I’m a virgin to this fictional universe, and I’m purposefully keeping myself in the dark about future events on the show. Like every series, I’m sure the show keeps reinventing itself to keep it relevant and interesting.
By the time the first season ends, I’m highly interested in what’s going to happen next. As I usually do, I’ll probably immerse myself in whatever expanded universe materials are out there. I know there are novels that exist, at the very least. I don’t intend to read any of them until after I get a few seasons under my belt. Because of spoilers, you understand. There have also been comic books and an anime series. If I continue to like this series, I’m sure I’ll get around to them all. Know thyself, as Socrates once said.
The fact that I’m already considering the expanded universe stuff is the loudest ringing endorsement I can give this show. I like it. While the first season is an uneven ride at times, as most first seasons are, it ends strongly and promises much more to come.
Season 1 Report Card: A-minus