Here in the UK we are currently in the midst of Supernatural Season 13 and Season 14 is in production. For a series that was due to last only 5 seasons to accrue 14 seasons of content is pretty impressive.
I must confess that Supernatural is my guilty pleasure. I didn’t watch it when it first aired in 2005. At the time it didn’t seem to be aimed at me and I gave it a wide berth. An old uni friend used to rave about it, she seemed to mostly focus the two leads, Jared Padelecki and Jensen Ackles (playing Sam and Dean Winchester) but assured me the story was good. I grabbed a cheap Season 1 box set and plunged in. The series was the first that I ever binge-watched and was soon consuming the back catalogue before reaching the most recent series in no time at all.
So what is that makes this series, one that didn’t air in the UK for many years and now occurs in the late evening on E4? Star Trek series, on the whole, set a bar for running to 7 seasons and Stargate ran for 10 seasons but these were exceptions rather than the norm, a show was and still is lucky to get more than 3 or 4 seasons.
I think to answer this we have to break it down to a few points. First of all is the cast. The show has been lucky to maintain its two leads throughout the series. Jared and Jensen seem to have immense fun making the series and it shows. Their dynamic as brother’s works on nearly every level, the one problem is that after 14 seasons they have been through so much that finding new ways to portray the dynamic is getting to be quite difficult. The brother set up is well handled and refreshing compared to the often used male-female combination used to illicit sexual tension. In fact whilst sexual attraction is a tool employed by Supernatural the show works better with fraternal interaction, drama instead is generated by familial links both genetic and the pseudo-family that the brothers gather around them over the years.
The supporting cast is also vital to a shows success and short-term characters like Castiel and Crowley have grown to be lead characters and have substantially added to the Supernatural story. Without these characters, we would be unable to contextualise some of the heroes actions and morals. They add flavour and set up new personal dynamics which the leads can play off.
Second is the style. At first, the show was episodic with a sub arc that ran through the first 5 seasons. This worked well with a simple monster of the week allowing the viewer to establish themselves in the world that had been created. This world runs parallel with ours but populated by monsters, ghosts, demons, demi-gods and gods. Magic exists and any long-term fan will have picked up the detailed lore related to these creatures. If it goes suddenly cold and you can see your breath in your room, you are quickly reaching for an iron bar and making a salt circle to ward off an errant ghost.
Once the Apocalypse is averted in Season 5 and the decision was made to keep going the show shifted to the Buffy/Angel style approach to individual episodes linked into a single story arc featuring a special ‘big bad’, usually thwarted at the end of each season.
The content of Supernatural is heavy, these guys have been through the mill, they have lost, gained and re-lost family; been tortured, killed, resurrected, spent time in hell, heaven and purgatory and this level of trauma could become oppressive if it were not for the light touch of the writers and the heavy injection of humour. Some episodes are downright funny and fun such as a cross-over episode with Scooby Doo whilst a central core of dry wit permeates most scenes of all episodes raising the doom and gloom to a bearable level without losing the dramatic weight of the episode.
Lastly, and linked to the humour, is the great eye for detail the show has. Its internal mythology is remarkably consistent. Time is taken to get the tone right and the show is supported by a great rock soundtrack and features a great car which is as iconic to the Winchesters as the Enterprise is to Kirk.
It is rumoured that Season 14 could be the last for Supernatural as the co-stars stated that 300 episodes might be a good number to stop on and that occurs 7 episodes into the series. This doesn’t mean that it will. The stars have also said that they will carry on as long as they have good stories and it shows no sign of letting up.
The harder question is not will Supernatural end with season 14 but should Supernatural end with Season 14. As much as I enjoy the show this is not a question I can easily answer. I like my shows to go out on a high with a strong resolution not fade away into cancellation with declining content. Either way, it’s been quite a ride.