Thursday, January 16, 2014

Television in 2013, Part II - Supernatural

Every once in a while, a TV show affects me so deeply that it becomes an integral part of my life. Hell, it takes over my life until I’ve finished it. All my spare time goes to watching it, thinking about the characters, gnashing my teeth over recent plot developments, and wondering where the story might go from here.

While I love TV an awful lot, this sort of all-out immersion doesn’t happen too often. I live in keen anticipation of the next show that’ll sweep me off my feet.

At the start of 2013, it’d been a couple of years since I found one. I’d watched some great stuff, yeah, but nothing I loved anything like as much as I love VERONICA MARS, the last series that totally floored me. Two particular shows called to me, though. A few friends had recommended them, and they sounded totally up my alley.

So of course, neither one was readily available, given my resources. Bummer.

Then, last spring, the stars fell into place. Both shows came within my grasp. And grasp them I did, with the expected results.

I intended to cover them both in a single post, but things got, um, lengthy. Let’s talk about SUPERNATURAL this week, with my thoughts on AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER coming your computer screen next Thursday.

I’ll warn you: this is gonna be long and tangential and gushy. There’s liable to be gifs, too, starting with a flashing one right after the cut.

(Assuming there is a cut. There might not be, depending on how you're reading this. There's a flashing gif coming up right after this line, is what I'm saying. The others are less flashy, though there's still movement.)

Last week, I told y’all how often I watch a show’s pilot, like it, and forget to record subsequent episodes. I’ve had this problem for a long, long time, dating back to when SUPERNATURAL first hit the airwaves.

I enjoyed the pilot and the next couple of episodes of SPN, but I forgot to watch or tape anything after that1. Oops. A couple of weeks later, I read a professional review that cautioned me away from the series. "It’s pretty good," the reviewer said, "but it’s also a road trip show and road trip shows never last. Don’t get attached."

"Okay," I said. "I won’t."

SPN is now in its ninth season, so I think it would’ve been okay if I’d gotten attached.

Even though I didn’t watch SPN after those first couple of episodes, I heard about it often enough that it remained on my radar. I knew Amy of My Friend Amy loved the early seasons, and I pay super close attention to Amy's favourite TV shows. My friend Michelle, who doesn’t blog, went from thinking it was silly to loving it so much that she’d recap entire episodes for me2. And Lu of Regular Rumination, who knows well my love for BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, encouraged me to watch it as soon as I possibly could.

"It does sound like my thing," I said. "And this is stupid, but, um, there’s one major, seriously silly reason I want to see it."

"What’s that?" Lu asked.

"Have you seen GILMORE GIRLS?"

Lu laughed. She knew exactly what I was going to say.

GILMORE GIRLS was my super-awesome show before VERONICA MARS, and as a general rule I get entirely too excited about actor overlap. It’s even more of a thing when you add character name overlap to the mix. Jared Padalecki, one of the principal actors on SUPERNATURAL, played a character named Dean in the first few seasons of GILMORE GIRLS3, so it delighted me to learn that he played not-Dean on SPN4.

This was fully 15% of the reason I wanted to watch the show. I shit you not.

There were other reasons, of course. The endorsements from friends were a big one, while the fandommy activities I witnessed on sites like Tumblr led me to believe SPN fans had craploads of fun. (This is true. We do.) It soon became apparent, too, that lots of folks who were fans of both BtVS (my favouritest show ever) and SPN shipped Buffy and Dean.

I love the hell out of Buffy, so this led me to believe I’d also like Dean.

Eager though I was to dive in, there was one major problem: my library didn’t have the series. It never went on sale at any of my favourite DVD retailers. And Netflix Canada didn’t stream it5.

Basically, I was out of luck unless some local channel decided to marathon the entire series in order.

Thankfully, the library came through last spring. They bought multiple copies of each season, and I managed to be first on the requests list for each and every one. Whee!

But I've gone about this wrong. Maybe y’all don’t know about SUPERNATURAL. Maybe you’re totally confused.

Let’s squeeze a summary in here.

Sam Winchester wants a normal life. To that end, he breaks away from his abnormal family and heads to Stanford, where he gets himself a girlfriend, a degree, and a shot at law school. But when his estranged brother, Dean, pops back into the picture, Sam has to chuck it all away.

Because the Winchesters hunt ghosts, demons, and other things that go bump in the night. And their father hasn't come home from his last hunting trip.

You can probably guess that Sam doesn't make it to law school. Instead, he and Dean travel the country, killing monsters as they try to track down their dad and the demon he's hunting, who just so happens to be the bastard who killed their mother twenty-two years before.

At least at first. The show has been on for nearly a decade, and it’s explored a fair few storylines in that time.

It has its problems--oh, does it ever--but SUPERNATURAL is still hella addictive. By the end of S1, I was desperate to watch more. By the middle of S2, I knew it was my new VERONICA MARS. I fell hard for the characters, for the mythology, and for the blend of humour and drama.

During a recent(ish) Twitter conversation where a group of us attempted to draw another viewer into the fold, I told our target, "You’ll laugh, you’ll cry TEARS OF BLOOD, and you’ll worry about Sam and Dean all the frickin’ time."

Like this:

SPN is funny, it’s sad, and it’s designed to give you ALL THE FEELS about its central characters’ emotional wellbeing. (It’s rather more cavalier with their physical wellbeing.)

So much of the show’s appeal depends on how the central characters fit together, and how deeply they care about one another. Their relationships aren’t always healthy, but they make for the sort of intense, must-have-more viewing I hope and pray for.

Sibling relationships are my favourite, so I love SPN most when it focuses on what Sam and Dean mean to one another. They have a heartwrenching bond, even though the writers do have a disturbing tendency to romanticize their codependence. I live for those rare, beautiful moments when Sam and Dean truly connect, and I get entirely too upset whenever they’re on the outs. Their periodic estrangement WOUNDS MY SOUL, as do the lies they tell each other.

Spoiler: my soul hurts an awful lot of the time because Dean, in particular, has a total problem with coming clean to his loved ones. Dammit, dude, you've gotta work on that.

SPN uses Sam and Dean’s rocky relationship as a jumping off point to explore what family means. As the series progresses, the brothers pick up a host of surrogate family members: Bobby, who’s basically their father; Ellen and Jo, who are sort of like their mother and sister (except for the bit where Jo and Dean kind of have a thing for each other); Castiel, the angel who rebels against heaven out of loyalty to the Winchesters; and, most recently, Charlie and Kevin, their surrogate sister and brother. Time and again, they remind us that family don’t end in blood, and the people you connect with later in life needn't be less important to you than those with whom you share biological connection.

This makes me ridiculously happy.

On the mythology front, the show starts out as a fairly standard ghosts-and-monsters deal but soon expands its focus to demons and, later, angels. Angels are one of those odd things I’ve somehow managed to learn quite a lot about, so I’m delighted with what SPN has done with Christian mythology. I should add, though, that the Christians among you may not agree with me. In Sam and Dean’s world, angels are usually dicks, Heaven is corrupt, and God is (probably) a bad writer who, on one memorable occasion, hits Sam in the head with a plunger.

So, you know. There’s lots of potential for people to take offense.

The offensive potential isn’t limited to the Christian angle. SPN is aggressively male in many respects. Female characters tend to die pretty soon after they come on screen, and Dean is way too free with the gendered insults. Despite the show’s reputation as a bisexual paradise, there’s a lot of homophobia and transphobia in both the dialogue and the series’ worldview. This has improved somewhat in recent seasons, particularly since the introduction of lesbian Charlie, but the writers still have a ways to go.

It ain’t perfect, is what I’m saying, but there’s hope for the future. The dodgy bits taint, but don’t erase, all the good things about the series.

Among these good things is SPN’s blend of humour, heart, and emotional peril. While I must confess that I find most episodes less creepy than the rest of the fandom6, they often manage to scare me on an emotional level as I fash over what all this might mean for the characters going forward. SPN isn’t always the best at acknowledging the impact its storylines have on its characters’ personal development, but when it does, it nails it. There are also plenty of FEELS and more funny bits than you could shake a stick at. It’s not unusual for me to gasp, laugh, and squeal in the space of a single episode.

They do all sorts of kooky spins on tropes and cultural zeitgeists, too. Every once in a while, we'll get a mocumentary episode, or a black and white monster movie episode, or an episode where the characters are suddenly transported to our world and are mistaken for the actors who play them on TV. There was a LARPing7 episode, and a Hollywood episode8, and a time loop episode where it was always Tuesday9. Sam and Dean have attended SUPERNATURAL conventions filled with cosplayers dressed just like them. They've traveled back in time on more than one occasion. And I know I'm not alone in hoping they'll someday get a musical episode.

At the end of the day, though, I’m in SPN for its characters. Early in S1, I turned to the fans on GetGlue and asked, "Am I about to become obsessed with Dean Winchester?"

"Yes," they replied en masse.

And they were right. Dean was on my (Highly Exclusive) List of Favourite TV Characters before the end of S2, and he probably should’ve been on there since the middle of S1. (I have a history of coming to loathe characters who initially seemed pretty great, so I'm conservative about these things.) He’s damaged and snarky and he has great taste in music. I love him ever so much, considerable flaws and all.

Flawed characters give viewers something to root for. Right?

It took me a little longer to fall for Sam, but he, too, eventually fought his way onto the List. I’m fiercely protective of Sam, ready to defend him against all comers even as I recognize that disliking him is a perfectly valid choice. He’s a bit like Willow of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER in that he makes absolutely terrible life choices10, but he’s genuinely sorry when he fucks up and he does try to be a better person. The writers don’t always let him develop as much as he perhaps should, but this doesn't diminish my love for him.

It probably doesn’t hurt that he grew up pretty, though I hasten to add that I loved him before his face started looking like that.

My biggest wish for Sam is that he’ll finally get to be happy11. Unfortunately, this means I’ve gotta either root for him to get out of the life, thereby ending the show, or to start enjoying his sorry-ass existence.

Oh, friends. This came out much gushier and considerably longer than I could have envisioned. I meant to say something along the lines of, "I loved SPN! There was a while there where I watched it instead of reading! I love Dean! I also love Sam! SO MANY FEELS AND ALSO LAUGHTER AND TEARS OF BLOOD!"

Clearly, I have trouble restraining myself around the stuff I love most.

Come back next week, when I’ll fail to restrain myself around AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER.

  1. This was back before the days of ubiquitous DVRs. Hell, it was back when VCRs were still a thing. My TV could set the VCR to record by means of a handy-dandy electronic thingy that fit over the sensor, but I still had to tell it to do so every week. Otherwise, no dice.

  2. This wasn’t as much of a spoiler risk as you might think. When Michelle gets excited about something, she gushes and laughs a lot, and when she gushes and laughs a lot, she’s sometimes difficult to make out. I came away with a vague sense that hell was somehow involved, and that there was maybe an angel in the mix. Not exactly hardcore spoiler territory.

  3. I hate Dean Forrester so, so much. He’s at the top of my itty bitty list of Least Favourite TV characters. GILMORE GIRLS-Dean seems sweet at first, but he’s actually a terrible, horrible human being who does a lot of disgusting, spoilery things which I shan’t elaborate on in case you still haven’t seen GILMORE GIRLS.

    I hate him, I hate him, I hate him. Going into SPN, I had to promise myself I wouldn’t hold Dean Forrester against Sam Winchester. Thankfully, my facial recognition skills are poor enough, and Jared Padelecki’s performance is good enough, that this wasn’t an issue.

    Sidebar: sometimes, when I have nothing better to do, I pause for a while and think about how much I hate Dean Forrester. Seriously. He pisses me off that much.

  4. Further sidebar: the GILMORE GIRLS cast seems to have done pretty well post-show. Jared Padelecki’s got nine years of SPN under his belt, Milo Ventimiglia had HEROES for quite a while, Lauren Graham’s got another show and a book out, and Melissa McCarthy has a solid film career as well as a hit sitcom. Good for you, GILMORE GIRLS alumni.

  5. This has since changed. Hurray!

  6. The only two episodes that have creeped me out based on their monsters, rather than the emotional peril in which the characters find themselves, are "Provenance" from S1, centred on a painting that comes to life, and "Family Remains" from S4, in which Sam and Dean set out to save a family from the girl who haunts their new home.

  7. I happened to watch the LARP episode immediately after I met some friendly LARPers at a convention. I told them they had awesome costumes, because they totally did.
  8. It's delightful, y'all. There's a GILMORE GIRLS reference and I'm sure pretty well everything else that happens is an in-joke of some sort.

  9. I thought the it's-always-Tuesday episode was going to be funny because the fandom is lousy with Tuesday jokes. Turns out, it was actually hella painful.

  10. Spoiler: Sam Winchester makes me feel better about my life. When I have a bad day, I say to myself, "Well, at least I didn't get high on demon blood and jumpstart the apocalypse." That puts me one up on Sammy.

  11. I also want him to get a dog and some deep relationships with people other than Dean. Are you listening, SPN writers???


  1. We started watching this, but then life got busy... One day we will finish.

    1. You need to finish it, Kelly! You need to become OBSESSED!

  2. Ooh I LOVE THIS. I LOVE DEAN. Supernatural feelings are the best feelings. I have such an intense emotional attachment to the characters in this show that they feel like family by now. Completely random but I remember someone describing Dean in some article as 'the luminously beautiful Jensen Ackles' and I haven't stopped cackling ever since then.

    1. Now I, too, will spend the next week cackling.

  3. This makes me so happy! Because yes! Supernatural has SO MANY PROBLEMS, but I love it to pieces anyway. There are times I really really miss season 5 and this season has felt particularly uneven, but the last episode gave me a lot of hope? It was good and set up a good arc for the rest of the season. I'm really hoping that Charlie gets back ASAP because I love her and I'm still in denial about Kevin.

    I watched Gilmore Girls after I watched Supernatural, so Dean on GG was always Samdean to me. I want more supernatural-y shows that aren't going to terrify me. I'll admit to being PRETTY scared of some of the early SPN episodes, though after American Horror Story they're probs a walk in the park.

    I'm so glad you got to watch Supernatural and I'm so glad you love it. I was terrified you would hate it before you started watching it (even though I didn't think you would! I'm just always afraid of this) but now I'm glad we can reblog supernatural gifs from each other's tumblrs for the rest of time.

    1. I still haven't properly mourned Kevin because I figure he HAS to stop being dead eventually. Right? Right?

      I also want Charlie back. If the spinoff isn't about Charlie, I'm not sure I'm interested.

      Now I'm trying to think of supernatural-y shows that aren't especially creepy... You already know I found S2 of AHS way creepier than S1, though that was more for the psychological stuff than for the supernatural elements. The aliens and the devil didn't freak me out as much as the wrongful incarcernation, the serial killer with mommy issues, or the Nazi scientist. Have you seen ANGEL yet? It's got lots of supernatural stuff, including ghosts and demons and vampires, but it's not usually too scary. Like, except in the emotional peril sense.

      I'm sooooo grateful to you for pushing me to watch SPN. It made my viewing year. <3

  4. One cannot gush enough about SPN.