Why Supernatural Is The Most Exasperating Show On Television

Supernatural drives me crazy, because it is a very, very dumb show with a very, very smart show hiding inside. I went in looking for something light to get hooked on over the summer, and, for awhile, it met my extremely low expectations, and I was reasonably entertained. And then, all of a sudden, at the end of the first season, a few brilliant hours of television came out of nowhere, and this really smart show poked its head out and was like, “Oh yeah, I’m here, and I can do that. I don’t usually, but I can.” So I got incredibly hooked, and then I started getting kind of disappointed, until I realized that it was because this was actually a dumb show that just happened to swallow a smart one somewhere along the line and had no idea what to do with it, and I was still expecting a smart one. Then the cycle repeated itself.

This has been going on for two weeks now. I’m losing my mind.

Because, come on, Supernatural is a show about two hot guys who run around killing monsters. I expected something along the lines of Smallville – attractive people punching other attractive people with enough science fiction to shut me up and lots of unnecessary closeups. And, no, I’m not going to defend Supernatural’s abuse of the closeup – because, seriously, there’s a time and a place, guys – but this is a show that deals with some pretty harsh and unforgiving morality, and comes to the logically harsh and unforgiving conclusions. It considers issues of spirituality, and loyalty, and duty, and isn’t afraid to take a stand or admit that the stand contradicts itself. It’ll sit there twiddling its thumbs for ten episodes and then burst out with two that put both the audience and the characters through hell and make it impossible to turn off.

Moreover, Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki can actually act, which is not something you really expect from the male leads on a CW show. But they can play emotion with the best, and it doesn’t hurt that they have an almost uncomfortable level of chemistry for people who are supposed to be playing brothers. They have an easy, natural rhythm with each other, and the characters they’re creating are, without argument, strong enough to build a television series around. I was totally ready to write them off as a couple of pretty boy blocks of wood, but then they pulled out this scary intensity and nuance, and before I knew it, the characters had become real.

And then there are some areas where it’s just plain, unhedgingly  good. Supernatural knows how to do sad – not just loud, everyone-I-love-is-dying-sad, but also quiet, sometimes-bad-things-happen-for-no-reason sad. It also knows how to do humor; one of the things that bugged me about the first season was that we never got to see the brothers shooting the breeze, arguing about things like whether Mickey Mouse could take Bugs Bunny in a fight, and so I was really pleased to see later seasons get into the humor that’s derived from being around someone you know really well. Most importantly, Supernatural is a show that knows its characters, knows how they would react in any given situation, and lets them act that way. I know a lot of shows, shows I like and respect way more than this one, that can’t manage that, and so even I’m a bit surprised to say that Supernatural has some of the most solid, consistent characterization I have ever seen anywhere.

All right, disclosure: I’m only on the third season. The show could get awesome, or it could get terrible, or, in the most likely scenario, it’ll get both. I’m working off less than a third of what exists. But it’s got me hooked, because I can’t get a handle on it, can’t figure out whether it’s a dumb show that’s accidentally smart, or whether it’s a smart show that sometimes likes to play dumb. Either way, it’s incredibly compelling television, and I can’t help but be impressed. I’m not  even just saying that because I find it impossible to resist anything with that good of a classic rock soundtrack (although, damn, “Carry On Wayward Son” will get you every time).

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19 responses to “Why Supernatural Is The Most Exasperating Show On Television

  1. What a terrific post! You’re so right about Supernatural. When it first began, I resisted it for quite awhile before it started drawing me in. In a way, it’s like Buffy; it looks so fluffy from the outside that it just seems like fun, and then it unexpectedly pulls you in.

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  2. Thanks for the complement! I love your blog, so that means a lot. =] I’m definitely on board with the Buffy comparison (and I particularly enjoy the steady stream of Buffy-alum guest stars). Ultimately, I think that what they both do is work as a fantastic defense of genre television – often, people are so quick to write it off as silly monster fighting, but these kinds of shows are able to get at themes and ideas few other forms of entertainment even consider going near. And, to make it even better, they actually have fun doing it – I mean, I love shows like Mad Men or The Wire, but dear God those shows can be a slog.

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  3. I know what you mean. I loved The Wire, but it sometimes felt like homework I had to do for a masters class. And I often feel the same way about Mad Men. Homework. Really, really *good* homework, though.

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  4. I really liked your article, I’m curious what you think of the series now. In my opinion seasons 4 & 5 were the absolute best of the series. I’m gonna check out some of your other blog posts now too.

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    • Thanks so much! I agree – 4 and 5 were some of the best the show ever did. I love the way they followed through – so many shows would have found some way to back out, but Supernatural is, as a rule, really good about going to the logical conclusion of the plot points it introduces. I have mixed feelings about season 6, and I’m actually struggling a bit to get through 7, though I will at some point. I might go back and write something else on the rest of the series once I finish.

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        • Like I said, I haven’t really gotten into season 7 yet. I think that, usually, they do a decent job of striking a balance between the funny and the serious episodes – I mean, “Changing Channels” was fantastic, but I don’t think I’d like it if it was like that all of the time. On the other hand, it’s nice to have a breather once in awhile.

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  5. See, the pilot got me (I started watching right after S2 had ended so I’m an “old timer” of sorts). The last line on the pilot, “Let’s go to work”, summarized the show for me. And you already know what “Supernatural” is – in your own words, it’s a smart show that sometimes likes to play dumb. Just like the Winchesters.

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  6. After watching this show for 7 years, I have come to the conclusion that it’s a dumb show that got incredibly lucky with its casting and sneezes out the occasional and purely unintentional flash of brilliance.

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    • Haha, that about sums it up, I think. But it’s still a lot of fun, though, and I would argue that it’s gotten better over the years at handling that tendency to be smarter than it should be.

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      • Oh yeah, it’s still fun which is why I still watch. But I no longer expect the awesomeness of parts of season 2 through 5. These past two seasons, I think the show actually started to take its press to heart and tried to be self-consciously clever. In doing so, it exposed its many writing weaknesses.

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          • Agreed. But they are bringing in a new showrunner, Jeremy Carver who used to write for the show before he went of to produce the US version of Being Human. He set up an intriguing cliffhanger at the end of season 7 so hopefully he can get the show back on track.

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          • By the way, I forgot to say that I really liked your review and will definitely check out the rest of your blog.

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  7. Pingback: “Supernatural” Spinoff: Backdoor Pilot To Premier In Season Nine | Population GO·

  8. This the best tv show after vampire diaries on cw.. This show has drama comedy and emotions too love ya moreover dean and sammy both are so cute ……….. Omg…!!!!!

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  9. I’m in the middle of season 4 now. Sometimes the show is so great and I get the hype but then another 50% of the time it’s so boring and cheesy and lame. I’m really trying to like it, and to enjoy it I love these kinds of shows, just can’t help but feel like Buffy and Angel did it better.

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  10. Pingback: Editorial | Six Reasons Supernatural is a Terrible Show [updated] | Therefore I Geek·

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