TV shows come and go. Some do a healthy number of seasons. Some are axed after just a couple of years. But there are very, very few shows lucky enough to last beyond ten seasons. The CW network’s Supernatural is one of them.The countdown has started – on October 7, Season 11 will open, to the feverish, impatient excitement of this show’s legendary fandom. (It should be telecast on AXN in India). The promo was released a few days ago: it’s dark and gory, but oh, so bloody good.
For those who have never watched the show, a little background. Supernatural, which premiered in 2005, essentially tells the story of two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, who travel across the American Midwest in a sexy black 1967 Chevrolet Impala, hunting demons and monsters. But that’s a ridiculously simple description – it’s a bit like saying that the TV show Lost is about a group of survivors of a plane wreck, stranded on a mysterious island.
Over a span of ten seasons, Supernatural has created a complex, spellbinding ‘other’ world peopled by angels, demons, werewolves, monsters, indeed all manner of supernatural creatures. It has introduced viewers to an assortment of formidable characters, villains and heroes -- from snarky demons, earnest angels to devious witches and conflicted vampires. It has built majestic mythical story arcs which straddle entire seasons, even as it churns out engrossing standalone episodes featuring the monster of the week.
I am a fan. Many Supernatural regulars moan about how the show has lost its spark, how it’s been patchy at best and a tired rehash at worst in recent years. But while I’m the first to admit that the quality of the show has been uneven (come on, there have been 200-plus episodes, it’s *got* to be uneven), the truth is that the show is addictive. And I know I will watch it as long as it airs – and I hope it goes on for many more seasons.
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Why *has* the show lasted for so long? What is the secret of its enviable longevity? Five reasons:
#1 The lead pair and family bonding
Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) Winchester are what *really* makes the show work. They are the sons of John Winchester (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who dies in Season 2. John is a “hunter,” part of a closely connected group of people who, well, hunt and exterminate nasty supernatural creatures. At the beginning of the show, Dean, the older son, has followed his father into the “family business,” though Sam wants out and is studying at Stanford. But when John mysteriously disappears, Dean seeks Sam’s help. John has ostensibly gone on a “hunting trip” -- but he’s also gone to search for the murderer of his wife (a disturbingly evil yellow-eyed demon called Azazeal).
Sam is the more low-key and calm of the two, while Dean is the daredevil, master of the throwaway, smart one-liner. They are perfect foils for each other. But their roles often get switched around. While we’re led to believe that Sam is the geeky one who does more of research and Dean is the one ever ready to pull out his demon-killing knife, the reverse is equally true. But what is amply clear is that both of them are dangerous, deadly hunters -- as demons often learn to their peril. But the interesting part is that though Sam and Dean are fighting the good fight, the lines between good and evil are often blurred, and both brothers have crossed over to the dark side every now and then. In season 6, Sam lost his soul and became an emotionless killing machine. In season 10, Dean turned into a taunting, sadistic demon and wreaked much havoc before he was cured.
And yes, it also helps that they are among the best-looking leads you’ll find on any TV show. Jensen Ackles is almost unrealistically handsome with his hazel-green eyes, chiseled features and faint cleft in the chin. Jared Padalecki has a different kind of charm – he’s tall and imposing-looking with long, floppy hair. The Supernatural fandom is divided into “Sam girls” and “Dean girls” though they’re probably all “Winchester girls.” (And since you asked, I’m partial to Dean – he’s much more fun than Sam who can be a bit prissy sometimes.)
The two men have probably been gif-ed more often than any other male TV star. As someone once said, tumblr seems to have been created solely for the purpose of accommodating Sam and Dean gifs.
Did I mention that the two leads were hot?
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#2 The angel and the demon
For such a long-running show, there is naturally a big cast of characters, and many of them are truly memorable. But after Sam and Dean, the clear fan favourites are the angel Castiel (Misha Collins) and Crowley, the king of hell (Mark Sheppard). In season 4, the Supernatural mythology introduced angels to the story arc. But Castiel is not your stereotypical cherub with curly hair and wings. He’s a tall, blue-eyed, good-looking man (what’s with this show’s obsession with handsome men – even John Winchester was singularly striking), always dressed in a beige trenchcoat, white shirt, blue tie and dark trousers. (Nobody seems to have given him a wardrobe change, but everyone is so used to seeing him thus that if he suddenly abandoned his signature trenchcoat, fans would probably go on a rampage!)
Over the course of the show, Castiel becomes the Winchesters’ powerful ally (except when he turns bad in season 7), and develops a particularly close bond with Dean. Since he’s an angel, Castiel is innocent of the ways of humans and this leads to many hilarious situations (and Dean loses no time in making unmerciful fun of him).
Crowley, the wicked king of hell, is one of the show’s prime antagonists. But he develops a kind of soft corner for Sam and Dean, who he calls Moose and Squirrel. Sometimes, the brothers reluctantly work alongside him. Sometimes he helps them. Mostly they’re baying for his blood. The three of them drift about in a strange, grey-zone relationship where each one’s position keeps shifting.
Crowley is a fan favourite because (a) he’s played with so much flair by Mark Sheppard and (b) he has some of the best lines on the show.
#3 The music, the car…
Supernatural has this thing about music. Dean is a classic rock guy and that’s the signature sound of the show. The wonderful Carry on my wayward son by rock group Kansas is the Supernatural theme song, often used in sensational season-opening montages. The show has used Jefferson Airplane’s White rabbit to sinister effect – it plays in the background as the build-up to a murder unfolds on screen. There’s Bob Dylan’s Knock knock knocking on heaven’s door in season 2. Credence Clearwater Revival songs play more than once. Then there’s The Animals’ House of the Rising Sun… you get the drift. The music is outstanding and always used fittingly, imaginatively.
I’m not a great one for cars, but even I feel a thrill when I see Dean’s black Impala drive off into the sunset in all its statement-making vintage glory. It’s a sight that gives collective goosebumps to the fandom. Which brings me to…
#4 The fandom
The huge Supernatural fandom is probably the craziest, most vocal, most obsessive fandom among all TV show fandoms. There are so many sites, blogs, discussion forums, tumblr posts, youtube videos, fan fiction sites etc that it’s like trawling through an ocean without end. The fandom wars are also legendary – Dean fans fight with Sam fans, Castiel supporters quarrel with Castiel non-supporters, there are battles over who was the best showrunner (Supernatural has been through three of them). And so on. But this passionate fandom has also kept the series alive for so many years. More power to them.
#5 The unique blend of fantasy-horror-emotion-comedy
Supernatural started out as a fantasy-horror show and some of the episodes (particularly the early ones) are quite spine-chilling. But then it became much more than that. The complicated sibling relationship and the recurrent motif of family values gave the series an emotional core that lifted it above a routine genre show. As viewers, we became invested in the characters and their conflicts, often deeply painful to watch. And when things got too heavy, Supernatural would throw in a zinger of an episode which would leave everyone chuckling. The show is especially adept at breaking the fourth wall and doing first-rate classic meta episodes which almost always go on to become fan favourites.
Yes, there is a downside. The show can get too dark and bleak at times. Season 7 was particularly a bit of a misery fest. And for reasons I cannot fathom, the show keeps killing off strong, much-loved characters. Sometimes, you wonder how Sam and Dean keep going, given the amount of tragedy, death and torture they’ve been through.
Go easy on the suffering and agony, Show. Drama doesn’t always mean gloom and despair.
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(PS Be warned: I will come back to Supernatural once season 11 begins !)
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