We're betting that at some point over the last few years, you've heard someone say: “I tried watching Supernatural when it started, but it just ripped off a horror movie every week and so I gave up.” Chances are you've even said it yourself.
Even some fans have pretty much disowned season one. If they’re trying to encourage new people to watch box sets of the show, you often hear them say, “You can skip season one… all the really good stuff started with season two…”
But enough! It's time these naysayers were dealt with!
Jayne Nelson assembles the SFX court to argue that while you may have written off the show based on a duff first season, it really wasn't that bad – and boy, have you been missing out on one helluva treat since...
Case for the defence: “Now let's get this straight before the court, your Honour and my learned friends. I'm working from the theory that the prosecution watched an episode or two of Supernatural when it first started in 2005 and didn't like it, right?”
Case for the prosecution: “That would be correct, yes. Although there are some in this court who haven't even done that – they were put off by other people telling them the show sucked.”
Case for the defence: “Oh dear, that's such a shame. Well, this means that we're talking about your first impressions of season one. Would you please explain to the court what was it about the show that you didn't like?”
Case for the prosecution: “Gee, let's see. How about the fact that it didn't have an original bone in its body? The pilot episode was a clichéd horror story that featured a female ghost who – surprise surprise – killed men after seducing them. Haven't seen that one before.”
Case for the defence: “Hmm, I'm not sure your sarcasm will work very well once the court stenographer has transcribed it...”
Case for the prosecution: “And it featured two bickering supermodel brothers who looked like they'd just walked out of an Abercrombie And Fitch catalogue (see Evidence 1). Ridiculous.”
Case for the defence: “Are you objecting to their looks or the fact you're male and straight and therefore had nothing to drool over? Would you have preferred two female supermodel sisters?”
Case for the prosecution: “I'd like to state on record that I'm not that shallow. Although having a female character would have helped ...”
Case for the defence: “Their '67 Chevy Impala is female. Just thought I'd mention that.”
Case for the prosecution: “Look, from what I could see, Supernatural was basically an episode of The X-Files with two men investigating a case who weren't FBI agents – they impersonated them instead. The X-Files had only finished a few years beforehand and the entire genre of ‘people investigating spooky crimes’ was pretty much done to death. Why should I care about another version of such an old format?”
Case for the defence: “Hey, popular culture is all about reinvention – just because one show is similar to another, you shouldn't judge it! The X-Files itself was an update of ’70s show – Kolchak ! A successful series shouldn't be judged by where it comes from; it should be judged by what it does that's new.”
Case for the prosecution: “As far as I could tell, the only thing new about Supernatural was the fact the soundtrack had a few classic rock songs. Makes a change from the usual emo-teen college rock nonsense American shows love so much. Everything else was by-the-numbers, X-Files -y horror.”
Case for the defence: “Okay, well, I'm going to go through your points one by one. First off, the fact you seem to be offended by the show's leads being two handsome men is the funniest thing I've heard all year. What's wrong with that? You sound jealous to me. Are you threatened by their good looks?”
Case for the prosecution: [Sputtering] “Objection, your Honour!”
Case for the defence: “I hereby retract my last statement, which implied that my learned colleague isn't as attractive as Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles.”
Case for the prosecution: “I should think so too! Wait... hang on, did you just insult me again?”
Case for the defence: “To complain about the stars of a TV show being too attractive is like complaining that the music is too music-y or the camerawork too camerawork-y. Casting actors – or actresses – that other people like to look at is the fundamental basis of entertainment and always has been! No show's going to go far with a cast of uglies, is it?”
Case for the prosecution: “Tell that to DIY SOS …”
Case for the defence: “Dean and Sam Winchester are attractive and this means they bring in the female audience (and some male ones too). That's what a show needs – an audience. The men have got the car and the gore to look at, plus a selection of female guest stars; the women get the two main characters. Complaining about it is silly.”
Case for the prosecution: “My argument is that they're so bloody attractive they undermine the show's reality. Nobody is that gorgeous in real life.”
Case for the defence: “What, really? Supernatural 's about ghosts, demons and monsters, so if you think handsomeness undermines its reality, you're a very strange person! And nobody is that gorgeous in real life? I beg to differ. I challenge you to spend a day riding around on the London Underground. I see people, male and female, as good-looking as the stars of Supernatural every day. I have lost count of the number of times I've fallen in love on the Bakerloo Line. The human race is filled with attractive people, and thus your argument is facetious and pointless.”
Case for the prosecution: “Hmm, I must start spending more time on the Underground.”
Case for the defence: “And so to your other argument, that the show isn't original...”
Case for the prosecution: “Ha! Argue your way out of this one! I watched enough of season one of Supernatural to notice that they ripped off a horror film every week! There was ‘Bloody Mary’, which copied Candyman ; ‘Hook Man’ (see Evidence 2), which also copied Candyman ; ‘Route 666’ which ripped off Christine ; ‘Bugs’ ripped off The Birds ... need I go on? And that's without all the X-Files episodes they stole from. ‘Wendigo’ is the episode ‘Detour’ but with a better monster, for instance. Or ‘Skin’ is the X-Files episode ‘Genderbender’. I'm amazed the show never got sued!”
Case for the defence: “There's a difference between a homage and a blatant steal.”
Case for the prosecution: “Hair-splitter!”
Case for the defence: “Sorry. I don’t recall that episode… Look, many of the stories on Supernatural came from famous American urban legends that those films in question had simply adapted first. Candyman , for instance, was based on the story of Bloody Mary – an urban legend very well known in the USA, but not known well over here. The show just did its own version of the Bloody Mary myth and it happened to look like Candyman to us. Also, at no point when it was starting out did Supernatural ever claim to be original, or that it had created its own mythology – it worked with what was already there. The newer stuff came later, and the show has done a great job with it.
“Also, just because we're familiar with urban legends and the tropes of horror doesn't mean they should be left alone. Their very familiarity makes them perfect for a new retelling! Hell, isn't that just what Scream did for the horror film, or Cabin In The Woods just a few months ago? And Buffy did it too, among others. Supernatural does the same thing, but with its own style: a cool one, with wisecracking ghost-hunters instead of FBI agents, and a shedload of gore.”
Case for the prosecution: “I will allow that the gore on Supernatural is pretty good.”
Case for the defence: “Don't strain yourself.”
Case for the prosecution: “I still think that stealing from other horror films is wrong, though.”
Case for the defence: “Oh, pish. It's part and parcel of popular culture. Everything steals from everything else. And it's not as though the show pretends it isn't doing it. Just a few months ago, creator Eric Kripke mentioned it in an interview with SFX . Talking about the episode ‘Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things’, he said: ‘Dean has the line, “C'mon, didn't you see Pet Sematary ?” because if we're gonna make an homage to another horror flick, we have the good manners to overtly reference it in the dialogue.’”
Case for the prosecution: “But come on . This show's in its eighth season now. How much ripping off can one show do?”
Case for the defence: “If you'd carried on watching it instead of writing it off as a bad idea from the start, you'd know that while Supernatural does still homage the odd classic, it's grown so much as a show that it's established its own mythology. It has a voice entirely its own today. You'd never have guessed from season one's self-contained ‘monster of the week’ stories that one day the show would feature a gigantic, apocalyptic arc-plot featuring Lucifer and the heavenly host of angels! The seeds of this were sown towards the end of season one, when the Winchesters' father turns up and demons start getting involved in the story.”
Case for the prosecution: “So Supernatural brought in an arc plot? Whoop-de-doo. Name me a show that hasn't.”
Case for the defence: “You're a right miseryguts, aren't you? My point is that it was a good arc plot, and one that gripped the audience – those who'd stayed till the end of the first season, at least, unlike you.”
Case for the prosecution: “Your entire argument seems to boil down to the fact that I didn't watch enough episodes to make a proper judgement on it. But sometimes you don't have to – sometimes you watch a few episodes and just know/ the show will suck forever!”
Case for the defence: “Which is a horribly narrow-minded to way to look at all television shows, not just this one. After all, the series that begin on top form are few and far between, aren't they? All writers need time to work on their characters and ideas, and sometimes things don't quite gel until a good 10 or even 20 episodes have gone by. Crews have to get to know each other; chemistry has to form between the actors; the writers have to figure out what they're doing, now the shock of actually getting a series is over with. The shows that are fantastic from the start – the Games Of Thrones es or Battlestars – are rarities. You have to give a programme a chance to find its feet because to do otherwise is very unfair. And Supernatural not only found its feet, it found everybody else's feet as well, and stomps around on them with gusto!”
Case for the prosecution: “Yes, because it stole them. Ha!”
Case for the defence: “Oh, let it go.”
Case for the prosecution: “But you do seem to be arguing somewhat that Supernatural improved. That is not the issue here. It may well have done, but we’re looking specifically at season one. Let me posit this scenario: season one is condensed into a 90-minute pilot to explain all you need to know about the set-up and mythology from season two onwards. Would you miss the other 20-odd episodes-worth of filler?”
Case for the defence: “Well, frankly, yes. All the episodes in season one have something going for them, whether it's a great FX shot or brilliantly witty dialogue. But it's not really until episode ten, ‘Home’, that the show starts kicking into gear, and it really starts to work from episode 14, ‘Nightmare’ (see Evidence 3). Sure, episodes like ‘Bugs’ or ‘Hook Man’ aren't great, but they're watchable, and they're just the entrees before the cracking run of episodes up to the finale.
“Also, too many shows arrive on our screens these days front loaded with mysteries, and arc plots. Supernatural season one had the wisdom to establish the format before playing around with it.
“And don't stop there: once you're into season two, Supernatural really hits its stride – by then you'll be dying to know what the Winchesters are doing next, what creature they'll be fighting this week and which bad guy has it in for them. Season three is great too, as is season four... in fact, I'm jealous you will get to experience them all for the first time, something I can never do again.”
Case for the prosecution: “Eight seasons is a lot to catch up on. I'm not sure I can be arsed.”
Case for the defence: “If you can't even be arsed to sit down on a comfy sofa, stare ahead at a box of light in the corner of your lounge and be entertained without moving a single muscle, then you are honestly the laziest person I've ever met. There's no hope for you. Your Honour, the defence rests its case... and respectfully asks that the prosecution receives a swift kick to the buttocks.”
Case for the prosecution: “I suppose I do like the car...”
Case for the defence: “Oh, shut up.”
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