Quick: What's your favorite current TV show?
I don't mean the one you think is the best, necessarily, but the one you can just let go and enjoy most, whether that feeling comes from pulse-pounding action, total investment in the characters, or laugh-out-loud comedy — or all three.
You might've been expecting me to say Lost. I think that the acting on Lost is underrated, find the premise and plot intricacies often brilliant, and believe that even if it doesn't end well it will likely stand the test of time as both an example of what can be achieved in the realm of television narrative and in terms of multimedia or, if you will, metamedia exposure. But even though I can still be thrilled as a given episode unfolds, I think too much about Lost, and the imminence of the finale gives me agita.
With its gripping scripts, great performances, and gorgeous cinematography, Breaking Bad may be the most accomplished show on television, but it's almost too bleak to refer to as a show one "likes". Sure, I'm totally into it, but I can only watch it when I have something light to unwind with afterwards (not even then, right now; I've lost AMC to the digital-cable tier).
Supernatural is delightful, diverting storytelling. It debuted in 2005, airs at 9 p.m. Thursdays on The CW, and broadcast its 101st episode last week.
Promo image TM & © 2009 The CW Network LLC.
From third to fifth grade, having read the classics in Ms. Kerscher's room, I was plowing through every book on Greek mythology I could find. Pretty much every comics-loving kid does the same. In middle school, I'd quickly get into Narnia, Prydain, and other fantasy series, as well as some science-fiction stuff, but before that I exhausted my elementary school's small mythology section and then moved on down the aisle: After the Greco-Roman volumes — from the D'Aulaires to Bulfinch to Robert Graves — came Norse and Egyptian (also familiar from comics but less so), then young-reader "horror" anthologies with names like Gaelic Ghosts that retold spooky folk tales from around the world. Slavic vampires and Irish faerie tricksters and wronged spirits from the heartland of America — it's these stories, especially those native to the good ol' USA, that brothers Sam & Dean Winchester have explored for nearly five seasons of Supernatural.
The series has its own considerable mythology, rooted in Judeo-Christian lore but incorporating other world religions and legends — with, of course, interpretations and inventions specific to the show. And in what was intended to (but now won't) be its final season it has some wholly coincidental similarities to Lost. I'll touch upon those in a more comprehensive post, but the latest Supernatural prompted me to finally stop writing about the show and start publishing.
While it began as a ghost- and demon-oriented cousin of The X-Files and its predecessor Kolchak the Night Stalker, albeit with less investigation and more outright monster-hunting, Supernatural has slowly edged closer to Buffy the Vampire Slayer territory with the revelation of the Winchester boys' "chosen" status and the show's shift from done-in-one "creature of the week" episodes to the grand battle between the forces of Heaven and Hell — although it's still not quite as serialized as Buffy was at the end, nor, I hope, too wrapped up in its mythology to accommodate new viewers. Even amidst the actual Apocalypse, we've seen some relatively stand-alone episodes this season that, frankly, seem rather hard to swallow despite the fact that the brothers, separately and together, have had their periods of eschatological apathy.
I was late to the game on Supernatural, but all that meant was that I got to gorge myself on the first two seasons via DVD — enjoying the commentary from creator Eric Kripke and other special features so much that I've rented later discs just for the bonus material. The down side of such feasting is the famine that comes once one is caught up and has to wait a week or more between new episodes; sure, I could extend the famine until the next DVD release in favor of feasting again (as I have to do with, say, HBO series; I'm still waiting for the next batch of True Blood), but the third season was pivotal and the thrill ride of the series since then has been too powerful a lure. As soon as you have time in your television schedule, I heartily recommend the all-you-can-eat Supernatural buffet. In the meantime, however, if you don't mind jumping into an epic storyline as it barrels towards the climax and you do enjoy seeing figures from ancient mythology or allusions to Paradise Lost represented in contemporary popular fiction, then last week's episode is a nifty little treat.
"Hammer of the Gods" finds the Winchester boys at Elysian Fields, a much nicer layover than their usual roadside motels, to which it turns out they've been lured by a conclave of interdenominational deities. Offended and endangered by the destruction being wrought on Earth based on the Christian Book of Revelation, the Hindu goddess Kali and Norse god Baldur are presiding over a summit of celestials that runs the gamut from Mercury to Odin to Ganesha to Baron Samedi — sorry, Lost fans, no Taweret, but Lucifer's current human host is a very familiar face. You need to know that Sam and Dean are resisting their supposedly destined roles as vessels for Lucifer and the archangel Michael in those beings' final battle, and that a persistent thorn in the brothers' side was recently revealed to be the archangel Gabriel, although the other avatars believe him to be Loki. In case you're still not convinced, I offer some select snippets of dialogue.
Baldur: "Why are you here?"
Gabriel: "To talk about the elephant in the room. [to Ganesha] Not you."
Gabriel: [to Kali] "Screw this marble. Let's go check out Pandora."
Gabriel: [to Lucifer] "Play the victim all you want. But you and me? We know the truth. Dad loved you best — more than Michael; more than me. Then he brought the new baby home and you couldn't handle it. So all this is just a great, big temper tantrum."
Plus the episode has a promo for Ghostfacers, the parody of paranormal-investigator reality shows set within the world of Supernatural that's now its own Web series.
Humorous, serious, rewarding certain knowledge (of theology, of mythology, of horror films) without requiring it, Supernatural is grade-A entertainment. My only real complaint is that it tends towards the bloody, but then it is make-believe. If not, we're all in trouble.
Update: Thanks to more Blogger problems and my lack of regular computer access the past few days, this post is actually now about the episode before the most recent one, but "Hammer of the Gods" is still available to watch free at the CW site at this writing.