Pop Rocks: You Really Should Be Watching Supernatural

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The CW is, by all generally accepted standards of measure, a horrible network. Just about every show is aimed at that unfortunate segment of the pre-adolescent population whose parents can't afford basic cable, so instead of several hundred channels of garbage programming, these poor kids are forced to to concentrate all their crappy television on one. It really is hell being poor.

There are three types of show on the CW: teen dramas starring an interchangeable assortment of former models and Ashlee Simpson lookalikes (not to mention the real Ashlee Simpson) -- these include network mainstays like Gossip Girl as well as the 90210 and Melrose Place reboots; reality shows featuring people even more vapid than usual (America's Next Top Model, High Society); and a triumvirate of genre shows. Of these, two are easily dismissed. Smallville (AKA That Show About Superman Where He Never Actually Becomes Superman) is basically Dawson's Krypton, and The Vampire Diaries proves some bloodsucker fiction is even more unbearable than the Twilight series.

But Supernatural is different, not because there's anything particularly groundbreaking about the plot -- brothers Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) Winchester are "hunters," following in their father's footsteps by tracking down and killing monsters -- or because Ackles and Padalecki somehow run counter to the CW's casting of good-looking young folk. Shit, I had to be convinced by a dozen or so unrelated people to give the series a chance, but I'm glad I did. Here's why.

The Purpose Driven Plot
Admittedly, Supernatural would be pretty boring if there wasn't an overarching story nudging things along, but creator Eric Kripke has set up each season to have a larger arc (Season 1 centered on the search for Sam and Dean's father, Season 4 found the brothers trying to keep Lucifer from escaping Hell). Internal consistency is also a strong point. Other shows of its ilk (*cough* The X-Files *cough*) have had problems introducing so many plot elements and red herrings, it becomes impossible to sort through what it and isn't important. Some may call it simplistic, I consider it tight storytelling.

Let There Be Rock
This has become less of a focus in recent seasons, but those early episodes did a good job sucking me in, as they were all about the rawk, both in the musical accompaniment as well as the names of individual episodes ("In My Time of Dying," "Hollywood Babylon"). Sam is more of a Bon Jovi guy, but the fact that the show doesn't rely on the latest Coldplay cut like every other prime time series out there is a ringing endorsement, in my opinion.

Kill 'Em All
The major networks still hold the high cards when it comes to onscreen gore. The C.S.I. variants and Criminal Minds are especially bloody. Supernatural, on the other hand, outdoes itself almost every episode: beheadings, immolation, death by beetle, mass murders...the list goes on. And that's not including the signature arterial blood spray that shows up at least once an episode. More than once (check out the Christmas episode), I've found myself marveling that a show this macabre is still running on network TV. Probably because no one's watching it.

Heaven's on Fire
I admit, I was less than thrilled when the show's focus shifted from "monsters of the week" to the impending War Between Heaven and Hell. Not being the most...spiritual person, I wasn't looking forward to three or four seasons of celestial BS, but Supernatural is more Preacher than Highway to Heaven: an absent God, demons with unclear agendas, and angels that are -- quite frankly -- dicks. Dean's been to Hell (where it's hinted he did some very bad things), and both have been to Heaven, yet neither destination seems all that great.

Character Issues
If your TV character sports a mullet or a trucker cap, chances are the portrayal isn't going to be very sympathetic. Fellow hunters Ash and Bobby are the exception, with the former a (now deceased yet still active) computer whiz who designs software to track demons and angels and the latter a sometimes character who's turned into Sam and Dean's de facto father figure. The two demonstrate Kripke's obvious affection for redneckery, but the entire series is filled with interesting (and annoying) personae. The X-Files boasted a mere handful of such recurring characters, Supernatural has dozens.

C'est d'Homage

There's Monster Movie: the Season 4 paean to classic Universal monster movies, Ghostfacers: a not-so-loving sendup of supernatural reality shows, and any number of shout-outs to `70s TV, C.S.I. Miami, and TV magicians (one of my personal favorite eps, "Criss Angel is a Douchebag"). And then there are the little things, like the brothers' law-enforcement aliases ("Agents Dorfman and Niedermeyer," among many others), Dean's eating habits, and Sam's appalling haircuts. Supernatural, more than any show currently airing, rewards its attentive and longtime viewers with these little treats.

The show is almost through with its fifth season, and a sixth has already been confirmed. That leaves you plenty of time to Netflix the first four. I don't go out of my to recommend TV shows, but I can't think of many in recent years that have been this thoroughly entertaining. Give it a shot and see if you don't find a new appreciation for Kansas' "Carry On My Wayward Son."

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