Very few television series can say that they have gone on for more than a decade, especially not in the current TV climate. Those that do are usually police procedurals with acronyms for titles like CSI or NCIS. Those shows also generally go through extensive cast changes, writer changes and other such overhauls, and also generally tend to degrade in quality the longer they go on. One show, however, has proven the exception to this rule, and has managed to stay close to its roots for its entire 11 year run (so far). That show premiered in 2005 on the now defunct WB network, and had a very simple plot: Two brothers, Sam (Jared Padelecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) Winchester, travel across America in their dad’s Chevy Impala, hunting monsters, ghosts, demons and everything else that goes bump in the night. That show is called Supernatural, and no one thought it would last. Defying all odds, the show survived being moved to The CW, the 2007 TV writer’s strike and being scheduled in the Friday death time-slot and is still airing to this day. Much like its lead characters, Supernatural just won’t die and no one can accuse it of having passed its prime. Just recently, the show aired the fourth episode of its eleventh season, a very special episode that stripped away almost every part of the show except its core elements, and it was magnificent.
The episode in question, “Baby”, took place entirely inside the Impala (the title refers to the term of endearment Dean uses to describe the car) and showcased exactly how important the car has been to the show in the past 11 years. No matter how many times it got totaled, no matter how many of Sam and Deans friends and family members get killed off and no matter how many times the brothers fight and make up, that car has endured, and remains a constant presence in the show, almost as important to it as Sam and Dean. “Baby” brought Supernatural back to its roots, abandoned this season’s overarching plot and the many other characters that now inhabit the show’s universe and brought it back to the days of season 1 and 2 when it was just about two brothers following in their dad’s footsteps. Not only was the episode a technical marvel (just thinking about all the mechanics involved in shooting an entire episode of TV in one car is giving me a headache) it was also deeply nostalgic, and made you see just how far Sam and Dean have come since their humble beginnings.
At its core, Supernatural is about family, it’s about the relationships between fathers and sons and brothers, and it’s those core relationships that were at the heart of this episode as the brothers contemplated what their lives could be like if they gave up the family business and settled into a normal life. It’s certainly something the show has delved in before, but the fact that this topic was brought up in an episode centered on the car, the brothers’ true home, made it that much clearer that all the Winchesters have is each other and the Impala, the only thing their father left them. To further emphasis this point, the episode also featured the return of the boys’ father, John Winchester, as he appeared in one of Sam’s visions to deliver much-needed council to his son.
Demons, werewolves, vampires, angels and even dragons have all figured as part of the show’s vast mythology. Over the course of the series, the brothers have faced off against a wide range of “Big Bads” including Ancient Gods, Lucifer, and Death himself, teamed up with an assortment of colorful allies including Castiel (Misha Collins) an angel of The Lord, Crowley (Mark Sheppard) the snarky self-proclaimed king of Hell and Bobby (Jim Beaver) a fellow hunter and father figure to Sam and Dean. When Supernatural is not focused on its seasonal story arcs, it diverges into special original episodes that are often the show’s best. An example of this is a season 6 episode titled “The French Mistake” in which the brothers are transported into an alternate dimension where the show Supernatural exists and everyone there (including the brothers) are actors playing roles. The episode is pure farce, going as far as to show Misha Collins as well as the show’s creator, Eric Kripke, getting brutally killed, That episode still stands as the show’s creative peak, but other great one-offs include a LARPing episode, an episode in black and white like a classic Universal monster movie and even a Western episode. Let’s just not discuss the show’s take on the “found footage” format, which is widely considered as the show’s single worst outing.
What also makes Supernatural such a special show is that everyone involved in its creation has a deep respect and love for the fandom that made it the success it is. Anyone who has ever seen a Supernatural comic con panel knows that the writers and stars love interacting with fans, and celebrate all the odd little niches of the fandom, no matter how weird they may seem. In fact, the show goes as far as to include many of the various fan niches into the actual show. Case in point, the 200th episode, aptly titled “Fan Fiction”, features a group of high school girls putting on a musical play based on one of the girl’s fan fiction stories of Supernatural (in this case, the in-series books written about the brother’s adventures). With this bit of meta commentary, the writers were able to address such fan fantasies as “Wincest” (fan fiction in which the brothers have a romantic relationship with each other) and other slash fiction and fan theories (such as who the show’s version of God is). It was just about the perfect thing the show could have done to celebrate its illustrious milestone and was so very Supernatural.
It’s amazing that a show is able to go from being as comedic and farcical as an episode like “The French Mistake” to as dramatic and moving as “Baby”, but that’s Supernatural for you. Eleven seasons certainly is a daunting task for anyone who wants to catch up, but you’d be an idjit not giving it a chance. Even though some seasons haven’t been great (season 7 is weak when compared to the others), Supernatural has taken risks that most shows would never dream of, but most of all, the show never forgets where it came from, or about the fans that have watched for all these years. I don’t know how much longer Supernatural will go on for (the current head of The CW Mark Pedowitz has all but said he’s willing to keep it on as long as the actors and writers are willing), but one thing’s for sure, I have loved the road so far, and can’t imagine a future without the continued adventures of Sam, Dean and the Impala.
Supernatural is currently airing Wednesday nights at 9 PM on the CW.