Tuesday, January 13, 2015

First Impressions: Supernatural

I've quite enjoyed writing up "First Impressions" of all the new shows that aired in the autumn, which gives a nice base-line of what you got you watching a show in the first place, especially compared to a review of a full season. Most shows change and grow enormously in their first 10 episodes or so, and few come out of the gate well rounded or confident in what they want to be. Early episodes can be a scattershot blast of ideas as the writers and actors try to get a feel for what works and what doesn't, and that can often be lost as you look back knowing what the show became once it found it feet. This is a long way of saying that I'd like to more of them, especially as we try and catch up on shows that we've missed along the way. So next up is a show that is now hitting it's 10th series, but I've never seen a single episode of: Supernatural. 

I don't know why we've missed Supernatural, to be honest. I mean, its been a bit of lost orphan of the UK TV networks, but they've been good at pushing it out onto DVD and it's had a solid fanbase for a long time. It's also the sort of show that feels like the sort of thing we'd like - a procedural core with fantastical and horror trappings and a growing mythology - and would nicely slot into the "just before bed" TV slot we've got in the habit of slotting this sort of show into. So yeah, we've been slack on that front but we got there in the end. 

The pilot of Supernatural sets up the initial premise quite nicely, and establishes a pattern that the next 5 or 6 episodes seem keen to follow. Sam and Dean Winchester are brothers (Dean is the older) and their mother was supernaturally murdered when they were young, leading their Dad to raise them as demon/ghost/other-hunting bad-asses. At some point, Sam decides he wants a life, so goes to college and gets a hot girlfriend, but somewhat predictably it's not that easy. Dad vanishes, Hot girlfriend is supernaturally murdered, and the duo hit the road to fight monsters. 

In the early running, the show appears to an almost direct lift of the more horror-themed episodes of The X-Files (in the same way the Fringe owed a debt to the Mad Science themed ones). We get some sort of gruesome murder, and our heros turn up to solve the case in whatever way they can. The strength of the show then, rests of the presence of the leads and the quality of the cases themselves. To the latter first - actually, they're pretty cool. They wear their influences on their sleeves, for sure, but what works best is the horror touches, which don't shirk on going for some proper scares, and the implication that there are rules to all this. People dying in a certain way, for instance, leave echos that conform to archetypal vengeful spirits, and that can be fought in a "correct" way. So it feels like decent, horror-themed, detective work. 

On the character front, Sam and Dean are still settling into their dynamic. In some ways, the fact that start estranged is a smart move, as the characters feel for their roles just as the actors do. One is the "normal" guy, who can speak to people, and the other is the brooding, "expert" guy who can kill stuff, and that's a dynamic we're all familiar with. What lets the show down, in this early run, is that with Sam and Dean being the only recurring characters, all the women in the show end up either screaming victims or vengeful perpetrators. How much this annoys me will, I suspect, depend on how long they take to address is, although a show so mobile may always struggle with it. 

So, first impressions are largely decent. If this is it's core, its going to be passable, if ultimately light fare. However there is, apparently "show mythology" on the way, so we'll see how this changes it up. And if we like it, well, there's certainly enough of the show to watch!