Supernatural’s success has been almost… well, supernatural. But, with the CW recently announcing that it has renewed the show for a gobsmacking 12th season, you have to wonder: is the series worthy of its longevity? Or has it outstayed its welcome? Jayne Nelson gives her view…
[Spoiler warning for UK-pace viewers: contains a vague reference to an event in the second half of season 10]
After debuting in 2005, Supernatural spent its first few years looking like it was going to be cancelled at the end of each season. Renewal announcements sometimes took so long to happen that fans bit their nails and (possibly) made deals with crossroad demons to ensure they wouldn’t lose the Winchester brothers for good.
How times change. Now, 11 seasons on, it seems that it’s going to live forever.
“Both Jared and Jensen are having a blast,” explained Mark Pedowitz, head of The CW, at the Television Critics Association winter press tour earlier this year. “As long as they’re having a blast, it’s a great thing. The show is performing better than it did last year, better than you could ever hope. I’m very hopeful that we’ll see it again.”
Pedowitz has often mentioned that he loves the series, and ratings are impressive for a genre show on a small channel. Stars Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles do still seem to be enjoying it, so there’s no itchy feet to worry about – and if there was they’d put all their colleagues out of work, so them deciding to quit is not a decision they’d take lightly. Don’t expect the Winchesters’ trusty Impala to be garaged just yet.
But how is it possible for a show to be doing so well after so long? And is it any good? Surely it’s just going through the motions now?
The answer is… well, yes and no, actually. There have undoubtedly been ups and downs along the way; taking the show’s ninth and tenth years as an example, they were always watchable, but weren’t anywhere near as fresh and inspiring as earlier seasons. And the ratio of good to not-so-good episodes was weighted more towards the latter: in season nine, for instance, we were afflicted with one of the worst stories the show’s ever done, “Bloodlines” – a pilot for a spin-off that thankfully never happened (though we’d still like one about Sheriff Jody Mills, please – anyone? Anyone?). Meanwhile, a controversial death plagued season ten – not so much that it happened, because everybody dies on this show, of course, but more that it wasn’t executed (no pun intended) well.
But something else happened in that tenth year: “Fan Fiction”, the show’s 200th episode, which was a glorious homage to everything that had gone before and a beautiful reminder that, while there have been wobbles, the journey so far has been worth it. And then, four episodes into its current season, the showrunners managed to top even that with the sublime “Baby”, a gritty, darkly amusing and defiantly gory story shot from the point of view of Baby herself. Yes, 11 years into Supernatural and we’ve finally had an episode from the perspective of their ’67 Chevy Impala – and the fact it’s one of the finest the series has ever produced and not just a gimmick episode says it all.
With the help of “Baby”, season 11 has been largely flawless so far, with only a clunky, over-familiar opening episode spoiling the run. The rest has been top-notch Supernatural fun, with some truly freaky concepts – a serial killer murdering children’s imaginary friends, for instance – and the swagger and pizzazz of early seasons perfectly recreated.
Perhaps that swagger has come from knowing the show is still finding new viewers as it goes along – remarkable for such an old series, and probably the result of fans on Tumblr spreading the word (if you took away all the Supernatural gifs on Tumblr, the entire site would probably crumble like a sandcastle when the tide comes in). Perhaps it comes from the fact that showrunner Jeremy Carver – who worked on Supernatural in the early days before leaving to work on Being Human and then came back again – has finally hit his stride after a couple of years at the helm. Or perhaps it’s simply because the people who work on Supernatural can’t quite believe they’re still able to make it despite all the uncertainty in the past, and their delight is right there on screen for us to watch? We’re probably romanticising it, but you never know.
Either way, it means that season 12 will be cheerfully embraced by fans in expectation of another great year of stories, rather than approached warily like a show long past its sell-by date. In fact, it increasingly looks like Supernatural has no natural expiration date; when it looks like it’s starting to decay, a bit of TLC from the writers seems to bring it bouncing back to life. At this rate, Supernatural could well be on our screens forever. Carry on, wayward sons.