10 Reasons It's Still Worth Watching 'Supernatural' After 200 Episodes

10 Reasons It's Still Worth Watching 'Supernatural'

Familiarity breeds contempt, so they say. But the truth is, sometimes familiarity breeds affection.

Take "Supernatural," which recently began its 10th season and airs its 200th episode Tuesday. There aren't many shows I've watched for 200 episodes, but I've never been able to let go of the Winchester brothers. For a decade, I've stuck with their quest to carry on "the family business": hunting demons and other supernatural critters.

There have been so many epochs and eras on "Supernatural," so many highs and a number of lows. Seasons 2 through 5 were laudably ambitious, and those family-driven arcs often packed quite a cumulative punch. Then there were villains, eras and episodes that simply didn't work (and to its credit, "Supernatural" regularly draws attention to some of its own missteps). Through it all, I never gave up, even when my mid-episode grumbling made me sound like Dean Winchester denied access to pie and alcohol.

After reveling in the best moments and nearly quitting during some of the worst, I've come to terms with what "Supernatural" is now: an old friend I like to check in with once a week. It may not be as ambitious as it was, and it may be less thematically and structurally dense than it was at its heights, but the interplay among the characters is still entertaining on a fairly reliable basis.

It's a staple of "Supernatural" lore that 10 years after a person sells his or her soul, the demon who made the deal comes back to collect. Ten years into its demonic adventures, I hope "Supernatural" gets an extension or two on the deal it's made with the crossroads demons who run television. But I don't have many fears about its future: Given how bullish the CW is on the show, I imagine the Winchesters will be putting many more miles on their car.

That said, executive producer and showrunner Jeremy Carver acknowledged in a July interview that it is harder to craft mythology twists on a show heading into its 10th season. "I'm not going to lie and say it's become less difficult," Carver said. "One thing that has helped is that [creator] Eric [Kripke], [former showrunner] Sera [Gamble] and myself -- we all have slightly different perspectives. I think that has helped."

Even if many long-term "Supernatural" arcs feel familiar -- and these days, they usually do -- there are usually worthwhile aspects to whatever ongoing story the show is exploring. (For instance, Jensen Ackles is having a lot of fun with Dean's current incarnation as a murderous demon.) But there's no denying that there are a lot of miles on the Winchester's odometer, and the brothers and their friends and frenemies have endured many trips to heaven, hell, purgatory and every roadhouse in between. It's hard to find new places for the characters to go, and the ongoing mythology has accordingly receded into the background.

So have the scares: There are still regular stabbings and beheadings and the like, but they aren't the focus of the show (if they ever were). The original premise had the brothers investigating urban legends and carrying on the legacy of their father, John, a committed demon hunter, and one of the reassuring things about the show is that the packaging is familiar: The audience expects eviscerations in dark alleys and fisticuffs in shadowy warehouses. Every week, as the brothers traverse the country in their trusty '67 Impala, they come across barns, bars, stores and dimly lit kitchens where nothing good ever happens. In cheap apartments and low-rent motels, the Winchesters find the scariest things the world has to offer, and yet, when the show is working, the darkness is far from overwhelming.

In fact, my affection for this show resembles my love for long-running, well-crafted sitcoms like "NewsRadio," "Scrubs" and "Park and Recreation."

As is the case with my favorite character-driven comedies, I like hanging out with these people, and when it's done well, I enjoy the way the show plays around with its own in-jokes and home-grown tropes. "Supernatural" is comfortable with being both silly and serious, sometimes within the same scene, and that's not easy for any program to pull off. Sure, ambitious mythologies can be great (and the show's epic early years bear comparison to "Lost"), but I've made my peace with what "Supernatural" is as it heads into its second decade: It's a show about family, relationships, devotion, loyalty and men who wrestle with their feelings as often as they tussle with otherworldly creatures. And it's funny!

Like many long-running comedies, "Supernatural" has a strong sense of tone and place, and the things that happen within its storytelling borders make sense, as odd as they might seem on any other show. "Parks and Recreation" has Leslie Knope's office, "The Office" had the Dunder Mifflin branch, the Winchesters have their '67 Impala: each one is the centerpiece around which the whole enterprise rotates.

Given that the brothers are usually on the road, the world around the Winchesters isn't quite as built up as the Springfield of "The Simpsons" or the Pawnee of "Parks and Recreation," but Dean and Sam Winchester bring their world with them. No matter what town they're in, there will be beer, pie, burgers, budget motel rooms, acerbic quips, friendly locals (who may have terrible secrets) and devious evildoers (who may be amusing and smart). There will be an occasional sense of futility, a reminder that family is forever and often an episode-closing conversation in or near the Metallicar that is full of repressed emotion.

At this point, the show revolves around four people -- Sam, Dean, Crowley (Mark Sheppard) and Castiel (Misha Collins) -- whose lives are irrevocably connected. They all have long histories with each other and they aren't always on the best of terms or working toward the same goals. But often, their interests align, and for any number of reasons, they're stuck with each other. But their relationships are more or less voluntary, there's a fair amount of barbed affection and loyalty on display, and their repartee with each other is often quite amusing.

I am telling you, Season 10 is the year "Supernatural" finally morphed into "The Golden Girls."

I'm fine with that, because innovation and ambition are wonderful things, and I would hope "Supernatural," which has displayed an adventurous spirit from time to time, is always willing to try new things. But sometimes what you want is the comfort that can come from knowing a show's world and characters well. You want the Golden Girls to bicker, you want Leslie Knope to do something overly ambitious, you want Michael Scott to haplessly display his neediness. You want to watch the show do the thing that it does -- ideally not in a repetitive way. But creative familiarity that displays a loving attention to craft and detail -- well, that isn't such a bad thing, is it?

It's fitting then that according to Carver, Tuesday's 200th episode, "Fan Fiction," which features a production of "Supernatural: The Musical," is intended as a big platter of comfort food for fans.

"It's going to be one of our meta episodes," he noted. "It's going to be fun, and it's going to be, I think, poignant. There will be some chills. There will be song. As potentially saccharine as it sounds, it's a love letter to the fans. All the fans. It's trying to acknowledge, in its way, that we understand that it's a big, messy fandom out there and there are all kinds of fans, and we're all under this one umbrella. We celebrate that."

Carry on, wayward sons.

And speaking of celebration, without further ado, here are 10 more reasons I still watch "Supernatural." It's not an exhaustive list, but it'll have to do until Episode 300 rolls around:

  1. The leads. I've written a lot of Mo-nifestos about the show, when it was making me happy and when it was not. But in just about every post, I've singled out the show's two leads for praise. There's no way "Supernatural" would have lasted as long as it has without the versatility and dedication of Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles. They do their level best with the iffy and downright bad episodes, they consistently elevate the good material they're given and they're both deft with the show's black-edged humor. All in all, without their obvious camaraderie and energy, this crazy venture just would not work.

  • Castiel. Since his arrival in Season 4, Castiel has fulfilled so many functions within the "Supernatural" saga: He's been an ally, an enemy, a villain, a thorn in the Winchesters' sides and a goad and an obstacle to all manner of ambitious humans, angels and demons. Structurally, he's an incredibly important character, but none of that would have worked if Misha Collins had not been able to infuse the angel with such humor, heart, confusion and earnestness. I can't imagine "Supernatural" without him: Long may the king of the battered trench coat reign.
  • Crowley. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to insist on being played by Mark Sheppard. Okay, so Crowley is merely the King of Hell, not Lucifer himself, but who cares about semantics? The fact is, no other actor could have attacked this role with more devilish glee. Years after he was introduced as an occasional foil, Crowley and his nefarious plans have become an integral part of the "Supernatural" universe, and Sheppard's accomplishment has been making Crowley much more than just a one-trick pony. The demon is not what you'd call good, but his pragmatism, his intelligence and his weird loyalty to the Winchesters -- not to mention the emergence of his more human side -- has made the character into a endlessly enjoyable frenemy. I can't imagine "Supernatural" without him either: Long may the King of Hell launch withering barbs at the boys.
  • The supporting actors. I've said it before: "Supernatural" has often gone wrong by eliminating or cutting back on its best recurring characters (he's not the only character whose exit was handled badly but I'm still mad about Rufus' pointless death). Death is part of this world -- as Dean would say, I get it. But the Winchesters need other good guys and bad guys to bounce off of; if they don't encounter reasonably entertaining allies and villains on a regular basis, their world can get airless and suffocating in a hurry. That's why the show's roster of guest actors -- who are often extremely well cast -- is so important. There are just too many worthwhile recurring actors to name here, but suffice it to say, "Supernatural" without dependably capable familiar faces is like "Cheers" without barflies. It's just wrong.
  • The grudges. All "Supernatural" fans have complained, at one time or another, about disappointing elements of the show, and far be it from me to suggest that there aren't any. Some plots simply are tired rehashes. Some rank-and-file angels and demons are just dumber than a box of rocks. From time to time, some characterizations of lead and supporting characters have been way off. Episodes with bleh monsters of the week can be a chore. Some "jokes" are not funny and are in fact juvenile and tiresome, and occasionally the show has relied on intensely problematic ideas, cliches and tropes. I'm glad the fandom is as lively and passionate as it is, and I'm glad I'm not the only one who's spent time obsessing on how the show could do certain things better. These are among the most important things that unite us as "Supernatural" fans -- not just the need to voice our concerns, but the sincere desire to see the show scale the heights that we know it's capable of.
  • The Metallicar. You could say that it's a rolling container for the conflicting emotions experienced by two brothers exploring evolving notions of masculinity, loyalty and love. Or you could just say it's badass.
  • The dialogue. Once again, there are too many wonderful examples to list here, but the show's way with pop-culture references, cutting remarks and sarcastic asides is a lot of the reason I've stuck with it. If you want to make me laugh, just say, "You're my Marnie, moose!"
  • Sam's hair. Seriously, how many hairstyles has he had? A lot! Who can say what the future holds for Sam's coiffure. Anything is possible!
  • The rock. When "Supernatural" does a really great rock 'n' roll montage, especially at the start or end of a season, you can feel it in your bones.
  • The ambitious episodes. If I could only choose one season for a TV time capsule, it'd be Season 4 (with Season 2 a close second). But most seasons contain at least one or two episodes that rise above the rest and contain a laudable and successful mixture of ambition, excitement and emotional resonance. Those very special episodes are one of the reasons I could never quit the Winchesters.
  • Ryan McGee and I talked about "Supernatural," as well as "Sleepy Hollow," "Doctor Who," "Jane the Virgin" and "The Comeback," in the latest edition of the Talking TV podcast, which is here, on iTunes and below.

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