Season 8 of Supernatural finally reaches UK shores this week, and it’s already been renewed for another season. After a seriously lacklustre showing in Season 7, this is a real return to form for the show, so if you’re a lapsed fan I’d recommend tuning in to the new season. But for those of you who haven’t yet enjoyed the delights of the Winchester brothers’ family business, here’s why you should get yourself a box set and give it a go. Honest: it’s not just a show about two hot guys (though, of course, it is totally a show about two hot guys, if that’s what you’re into…)
It’s really, really funny
I would argue that when it’s on form, Supernatural has a level of snark that matches Whedon’s finest, taking the piss out of the standard tropes of the genre, packed with smart lines and laugh out loud moments. Based on the idea of two brothers who live as hunters, fighting the monsters the rest of us don’t know about, it’s taken a simple idea and done some fairly impressive things with it, both in terms of characterisation and iconography (the cool car, the rocking soundtrack, some corking visuals), but one of the things that makes you love it quite so much is just how much fun it can be. The show shifts deftly between comedy and drama, often in the same episode (see how the Groundhog Day inspired Mystery Spot goes from hilarious to heart breaking in a second) and uses high concept to great effect, chucking in everything from time travel to alternate universes and experimenting with different formats like spoof documentaries and unreliable narration. Many of these aren’t exactly new, of course, but Supernatural usually manages to put its own smart spin on them. Changing Channels, where they spoof well-known TV shows (including spot on parodies of Grey’s Anatomy and CSI: Miami) is one of the funniest episodes of any TV show, ever.
It’s also really, really gory
Seriously, I often wonder how they get away with this stuff on network TV – because sometimes Supernatural is properly scary, and it’s regularly fairly gruesome. From hands being minced in blenders to insane people trying to pick food out of a deep fat fryer with their fingers (ouch!), with all manner of decapitation, dismemberment and disembowelling in-between, over the years Supernatural has come up with any number of inventive ways for people to meet their doom. Special props has to go to the love struck couple who got carried away in a massive snogging session and ate one another. Nice!
Fourth wall? What fourth wall?
It’s often been said that Supernatural doesn’t so much as break the fourth wall as smash it into tiny pieces and dance on the remains, and though there isn’t much sign of that in the first few series, by the time the boys are trying to stop the Apocalypse (what can I say? This show goes big) it has some major meta moments. From the brothers discovering fan fiction to being sent to an alternative reality where they’re actors in a show called Supernatural (in the superlative The French Mistake), the show has more fun with its fans than almost any other, which is one of the reasons the fan base is one of the most committed around.
Okay, this might be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your perspective, but Supernatural likes to dole out the angst with a shovel. Take a concept that at its core is about family – both born and acquired – and how they both help and hurt you then throw in a ruthlessness towards killing off major characters that might make George RR Martin pause, and you have a show that will make you fall in love with it and then relish breaking your heart repeatedly. Don’t say I didn’t warn you going in…
Leads Jensen Ackles (Dean) and Jared Padalecki (Sam) often don’t get the credit they deserve, I think, because they are both so freaking hot, but both have done sterling work over the run of the show, and the main pair are surrounded by quality character actors such as Jim Beaver, Mark Sheppard, Mitch Pileggi, Mark Pellegrino, Felicia Day and even Jeffrey Dean Morgan, with a steady stream of fan pleasing appearances including Buffy alumni and well-known genre stars (step forward Tricia Helfer, Amanda Tapping, Linda Blair and Amber Benson, and Charisma Carpenter and James Marsters even got to be in the same episode! Though let’s gloss over the unfortunate Paris Hilton incident, shall we?). Misha Collins’ arrival as the angel Castiel in Season 4 brought a whole new chemistry into the mix, too, shaking up the show in a way that stopped it getting stale and becoming such a fan favourite that he became a (sort of) series regular, not to mention kick starting a whole wave of rather obsessive fan-fic with his achingly homoerotic relationship with Jensen Ackles’ Dean.
The Back Catalogue
Sold! But where to begin?
It’s an arc heavy show so I’d say go to the start, but expect it to change quite a lot from the early episodes. Most of Season 1 is very monster of the week, but the arc really starts to kick in by the next season and is fairly gripping – the odd stumble aside – until the end of Season 5. Season 6 starts slow – the result of new showrunners after creator Eric Kripke’s 5 season arc completed – but does pick up midway (and features the fantastic French Mistake, as well as a few other corking episodes) but Season 7, alas, is extremely hit or miss and best viewed as a way of just keeping up with the storyline until the back-on-form Season 8 starts. But even allowing that dry spell, Supernatural is, for my money, one of the best shows on TV. What are you waiting for?
Also – and yep, shameless plug – if you like Supernatural you’ll probably like my book, Dark Dates. Partly because there are lots of Supernatural jokes in it. Just sayin’.