Boxset Binge: Supernatural (Season 1) Review

Warning: Contains spoilers linked to the plot of Season One.

Halloween, the seasonal event celebrated to death (no pun intended) in Britain, is fast approaching. To commemorate this day, I decided to start watching a TV series that is still going strong with Season 13 in progress. I had heard good things about Supernatural so I gave it a go. Having binged on Season 1 in less than a week, I have mixed feelings on the show.

The show is at its very best when it focuses on the main narrative of the season; the brothers Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Sam (Jared Padalecki) Winchester looking for revenge on the demon that kidnapped first their mother, when the two were children, and then Sam’s girlfriend Jessica in the pilot episode. As far as kidnappings go these were effectively done, with the two bleeding from the ceiling before disappearing in fire. They then set off across America to rid the country of demonic entities that threaten the lives of innocents.

This is my biggest issue with Season 1 as a whole.

As a whole, the main narrative is very strong and is set up brilliantly well in the opening episode. There are a couple of episodes in the middle of the season that continues this arc and the last two episodes involve the demon who took away the brothers’ loved ones. Those are the only times the primary and secondary antagonists are involved and I feel like this is such a wasted opportunity.

Supernatural follows the traditionally American style of having way too many episodes in a season (here in Britain shows normally only go up to ten or twelve maximum). With twenty-two episodes and only five or six that deal with the central narrative, that leaves a lot of filler. I understand what the writers wanted to do with this anthology format, in a similar vein to the likes of The X-Files, but occasionally the series labours through an episode that isn’t the greatest. I would expect to see this in Season 6 or 7, when ideas have been used up. I don’t want to see that in Season 1.

Underwhelming filler episodes that I recommend skipping are: Phantom Traveller (fun but lightweight), Hook Man (like a bad 90s horror) and Route 666 (a haunted truck that crashes cars, yes really). Maybe the show should have started with around 16 episodes for the first season to test the waters with the audiences. From looking at future seasons, this anthology format goes away slightly as more prominent storylines arrive and I am glad of it.

Another negative that comes from this format is the lack of female guest stars that make an impression. It seems that in virtually every episode one of the brothers has a love interest and as they are only around for one episode, it is very hard to connect with them or even particularly like them. The secondary antagonist, initially being introduced as someone Sam connects with, turns out to be possessed by a demon. She is portrayed decently though even then doesn’t have much of an impact on me as a viewer.

In spite of the issues I have with the series, I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the fantasy horror genre. There are some genuine scares, most notably in the Asylum and the Bloody Mary episodes; it is clear that the writers have been inspired by recent trends in horror films and that can be seen in the way the scares are constructed, though there are quite a few lazy jump scares which feel more predictable than anything else.

The two leads act well and there is a genuine chemistry between them, which makes their bond as brothers all the more believable. For the majority of the episodes there are reveals of their personalities and characterisation, so the viewers get to know Dean and Sam as the season progresses. Unfortunately, as a result of the messy episode order, some character traits are built up in one episode but are only explored again several episodes later for the sake of that episode’s narrative.

Season 1 of Supernatural is a good watch overall, however I would recommend that anyone wanting to watch them does so gradually, as the filler episodes can get repetitive and tiresome on occasion. I hope to start Season 2 soon, so expect to see a review of that up in the next couple of months. It is not hard to see why the show has retained its popularity, as the potential of the format is teased in this solid, if long-winded opening season.

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