This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
At the time I began watching fantasy horror series Supernatural in 2005, I was a sprightly 24 year old. Today, I am a less-than-sprightly 35 year old. Before the twelfth season of Supernatural began earlier this year, there had been 141 episodes across eleven years, and I’ve seen every single one of them. Assuming each episode runs for approximately 42 minutes, that’s 5,922 minutes. Which equates to over 98 hours, or just over four days.
Supernatural is currently in its twelfth year, meaning there are at very likely more after that.
Four days of my life. And counting.
And the strangest thing of all is that, for me, Supernatural is… well, it’s okay. It’s fine. It hasn’t enlightened me or particularly entertained me. I’m not passionate about it, but neither do I dislike it. There are countless other television shows that better deserve four days of my life. Nobody I know watches Supernatural, so there’s not even anybody to talk to about it. It’s not some underappreciated gem that I can boast as something only the knowledgeable few have spent their time on, allowing me the thrill of feeling ahead of the curve.
You probably watch a show that’s been going for years which you’ve never quite given the chop. Maybe it’s a British soap or another glossy US show that’s been running for over a decade, something like Grey’s Anatomy or Criminal Minds. You can’t defend them as a notable addition to the golden age of television, but you can’t let them go either. So why still watch?
Undoubtedly, part of Supernatural’s appeal is its very inoffensiveness. The story of two clean-cut dreamboats named Sam and Dean who travel America, wasting demons and shooting monsters, all the while learning about the long history of ‘hunting’ and understanding they can never really have the happy family life they both yearn for, the show is neither controversial nor dramatically daring. Some episodes are so middle-of-the-road that you can practically see the white lines. In an age of anti-heroes and shock twists that send TV serials down ever darker paths, the enticing nature of two flawed but ultimately heroic protagonists saving the world from evil shouldn’t be underestimated. Stop the bad guys, save the world. Simple.
Perhaps that very middle-of-the-road nature keeps me watching. To take the example of another long-running show as a comparison, high-octane action drama 24 had such exceptional highs that its lows (such as when a nuclear device went off in downtown Los Angeles, only to be barely mentioned a few episodes later) were noticeably deeper. 24 felt like a show that had festered and was left to go bad. Supernatural has never been truly great, so you can’t ever be that disappointed by it.
Not that Supernatural hasn’t occasionally tried to break outside of its original blueprint. Episodes that tell a story from the unlikely viewpoint of the siblings’ Chevy Impala or those which reference real-life online fan fiction which sees the siblings begin an uncomfortable sexual relationship demonstrate a writing team interested in playing with the form. But that’s all it really is – playtime. Nothing to really get too excited about.
To their credit, Supernatural’s many showrunners have done much to keep the show fresh, weaving all kinds of new mythologies into the show’s narrative. Some of these have worked well, most notably show creator Eric Kripke’s decision to finally introduce angels into the series during his final season. Some have been less successful, the seventh season’s Leviathans reminiscent of the chomping teeth in low-rent Stephen King movie The Langoliers. By and large, though, things stay on an even keel, never plunging into ‘so bad it’s good’ depths or soaring to televisual nirvana.
Perhaps my continued affection for Supernatural is predicated on nostalgia? It might seem strange to suggest that the appeal of a show which is still being made is rooted in nostalgia, but Supernatural has been running for twelve years now. That’s a long time for anybody, and eleven years ago things were a lot simpler in my own life. I had fewer responsibilities, less awareness of the challenges life can throw your way, and fewer anxieties about the modern world.
Our younger years always seem more attractive once we’re not actually living them, and Supernatural affords me a link to those earlier days, giving me forty-five minutes of no-strings comfort eating in televisual form. Back then, I voraciously ate up any American genre television that I could get my clammy mitts on, whether Lost, Heroes or Alias. Supernatural was another to add to a long list, but whereas all those other shows have long since finished – some by design, others by merciful cancellation – the adventures of the Winchesters continue onwards, a small chunk of my twenties still alive and kicking in my mid-thirties.
But I think what sits at the heart of my continued insistence on watching a television show that I don’t have much passion for is to do with the very nature of the programme. Because, while Supernatural has made great efforts over the years to show how the apocalyptic events the Winchester brothers annually face have changed them irrevocably, the truth is that nothing changes. Not really. And the very notion of routine, of nothing ever changing, can be hugely comforting in a world where everything changes all the time.
Across the series, Satan gets freed from his eternal prison and Castiel the angel thinks he’s God and Sam starts drinking demon blood and Dean becomes a demon and the real God turns up and Dean ends up killing Death himself… but all these things never change the fact that, ultimately, Dean and Sam will continue fighting evil together, cracking wise and looking wistfully out of rainy car windows in equal measure.
Supernatural isn’t a show that’s going to one day pull the rug out from under the viewer’s feet and kill off one of the main characters. Even when they kill a secondary character, as with Jim Beaver’s fellow hunter Bobby, we know we’ll see him again (and we do). Tumultuous change is impossible, which might seem problematic for a show that effectively threatens to end the world every single year – but therein lies its appeal. Nothing will change Sam and Dean. Not death. Not Armageddon.
That’s hugely appealing to somebody like me, a person who can find change a touch unsettling and who is entirely susceptible to the hyperbolic doom-mongering of social media. To be told that the end of the world isn’t really the end is somewhat reassuring, even though logic dictates how silly that notion is.
I might well rave about those TV shows that wrongfoot me and hold up a mirror to the darker side of humanity, but those are programmes which appeal to my intellect. Supernatural appeals to my heart, to my simplistic desire for the comfort of the expected. It’s the show I can keep returning to, knowing that whilst I’ve been off engaging in existential malaise thanks to The Leftovers or witnessing the moral corruption of capitalist America with Mr. Robot, I can always return to Sam and Dean. They’ll still be there, ready with another magical quest and another impending cataclysm, letting me know it’ll all be fine in the end.
So I’ll watch Supernatural until it ends. Who knows how many more episodes that will be, but I’ll be there until Sam and Dean ride off into the sunset together to the sounds of classic rock. And will it all have been worth it?
Probably not. But that’s my head talking, not my heart.