Things that go bump in the night are all the rage this fall, and the WB has fashioned a perfectly serviceable if not particularly inspired bumper in this spooky drama about two nightstalking brothers. “Supernatural” seems to have its demographic bases covered, likely possessing considerable femme allure thanks to hunky leads Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, while appealing to guys with ghostbusting action. The combination should scare up a respectable audience, assuming creative hobgoblins don’t spoil the fun.
That disclaimer is necessary with this kind of frothy horrorfest, which hinges on a “The Fugitive”-like quest to find the brothers’ missing father and unravel what fiery, unknown evil claimed their mother two decades earlier.
When the pilot opens, Sam (“Gilmore Girls’ ” Padalecki) has shunned that family legacy as he prepares to enter law school while enjoying the company of his comely girlfriend (Adrianne Palicki). Alas, Dean (Ackles, last seen on “Smallville”) abruptly appears to inform him that dad’s gone on a “hunting trip” from which he’s yet to return.
Grudgingly, Sam joins his older brother in a weekend excursion that, inevitably, will lead to a more open-ended partnership, as the two face off in the supersized premiere with a beautiful wraith (Sarah Shahi) that turns unsuspecting male motorists’ hitchhiking adventures into a bloody one-way trip.
It’s not the most original of threats, and the solution to this whatdunit (which somehow incorporates a cameo by Steve Railsback, always welcome in such fare) proves relatively simple.
Still, Ackles in particular brings an easygoing charm and engaging wise-ass personality to the absurd notion of traveling the country with a trunk full of wooden stakes and holy water. Pilot director David Nutter also is an accomplished veteran of this genre whose credits include “The X-Files,” the most recent touchstone for this latest outbreak of the creepy-crawlies.
Ultimately, “Supernatural” will only be as good as the quality of stories that series creator Eric Kripke (whose credits include the feature “Boogeyman”) and his fellow ghost hunters can regularly conjure up, avoiding the headless motorcycle-riding zombie and its ilk that eventually sank the original “Night Stalker” and lurk out there stalking ABC’s revival as well.
The WB enjoyed considerable success with the macabre “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” and fared pretty well with “Smallville” Tuesdays before planting “One Tree Hill” in the post-“Gilmore Girls” timeslot. With new series on ABC, NBC and UPN, the door would seem open if “Supernatural” — really the only new WB show that perfectly dovetails with the netlet’s traditional brand — can find the right mix of fright, humor and slowly unfolding mystery.
Judging on those criteria, the show’s debut represents a promising plunge into the darkness. Experienced monster hunters, however, can testify that’s only the first step in a rather challenging trek down an extremely treacherous path.