(WB / CW) There is a tree in the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC that was planted by Yoko Ono. It's a conceptual art piece based on a temple she used to visit as a child in Japan: the idea is that visitors will write a wish on a small piece of paper and tie it to one of the tree's branches. People have written things like, “I wish for the peoples of the world to put aside their differences and live in peace,” and, “I wish that my father would know how much I love him.” On one of the slips of paper, someone has written, “I wish that Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles would stop pretending and just admit their love for each other.”
Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles are the two stars of Eric Kripke's beloved horror/comedy series, Supernatural. They play brothers Sam and Dean Winchester, whose mother was killed by a demon when they were young, and who spend their days as “hunters” — lonely souls with the self-created job of traveling the country slaying monsters and putting angry spirits to rest. If you're wondering why some wily jokester would want them to become involved in a homoerotic (and possibly incestuous, depending on whether you're talking about the actors or the characters) relationship, the answer is that Supernatural is the kind of cult show that inspires such forbidden desires in many of its fans. There's even an episode in season five where Sam and Dean attend a convention for fans of their fictional alter-egos and accidentally read some Sam and Dean slash fic.
Supernatural is the poster-child for a TV show that has no right to be as good as it is. Perhaps that's why it took ten years for Kripke to convince a network to give the series a chance. On paper, the show's setup sounds pretty iffy: two brothers fight monsters across the US while searching for the demon that killed their mom? There are so many ways that could be bad. And yet, Supernatural manages to avoid every single one of those ways and find previously unimagined ways to be really good. It's like Buffy the Vampire Slayer in that it takes a ridiculous premise and handles it so well that you can't help but be awed by the skill of everyone involved.
There are several main aspects that make Supernatural work. One is the aforementioned chemistry between Padalecki and Ackles, who seem like real brothers, whose bickering leads to some of the funniest moments, but who also give the show its emotional center. Another is the writers' genuine love of horror cinema that drips from every episode; they explore every possible horror movie trope with reverence and often with an imaginative new slant.
Then there's the soundtrack. You wouldn't expect music to play such a major role in this type of story, but Kripke had a vision for the series and reportedly threatened to quit unless the network did things his way. In addition to the instrumental score for each episode, the show features numerous classic rock songs by bands such as Blue Öyster Cult, Bad Company, Rush, and AC/DC. An episode about a werewolf? You'll surely hear Creedence Clearwater Revival's “Bad Moon Rising.” Of course, the series' unofficial theme song is “Carry On My Wayward Son” by Kansas. These songs capture the atmosphere of dark Americana on which Supernatural thrives. Many times, the thematic and tonal match is so perfect that you'll swear the song in question was written with the show in mind, when actually it's the other way around.
Supernatural knows when to be campy and when to be serious. The goofy family-comedy parts draw you in and endear you to the characters, so that when the dire self-questioning comes along, you find yourself unexpectedly moved. There are moments in the Winchester boys' journey that reach emotional depths untouched by many more “serious” dramas. Their relationship with their missing father (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Watchmen), and with their stand-in father, Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver, Deadwood), is psychologically realistic, replete with festering resentments and unexpressed love. One of the best parts of the show is Misha Collins as the wayward angel, Castiel, who inhabits the body of a pious man. Collins' face and manner are endlessly watchable, by turns noble and hilarious.
Like an ancient spirit kept alive by arcane magic, Supernatural is the show so good they wouldn't let it die. Kripke originally planned it for three seasons, but the show is currently heading into its seventh season, due to demand from both network and fans. It's a textbook example of how to make an engaging and innovative program — one that other shows should study well.
Why We Like It: imaginative takes on horror tropes, relentlessly funny, fantastic boundary-smashing writing, hugely charismatic stars