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).