Don’t underestimate ‘Supernatural’

Drama doesn't receives many headlines, but still delivers

Fans of “Supernatural” tend to be fairly rabid about the show, to the point that others may wonder if they A) have been indoctrinated into a secretive cult involving mind-control or B) are actually watching a quality drama. Guess what? The answer is B, and here are just a few of the reasons the CW show’s audience tends to be so loyal.

It’s meaty but without being overly complicated. For a certain subset of ambitious dramas, having a Byzantine mythology is a point of pride. One of the pleasures of “Supernatural” is the way it constructs long-term stories without allowing the show’s mythology to become off-puttingly complex.

The biggest questions within each season are answered in a timely way, and it’s possible to sum up the show’s premise for newbies in a couple of sentences (“Two brothers hunt supernatural critters, and despite their best intentions, they accidentally started the Apocalypse. Whoops.”) Yet those who’ve watched the show for years appreciate the carefully constructed callbacks to Winchester family history, which is the emotional core of the show.

STRONG CAST
It has great acting. The cast of “Supernatural” is, week in and week out, doing outstanding work. Given their long workdays over the past five seasons, you almost couldn’t blame Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles for just phoning it in, yet they never do. They remain committed to showing the emotionally fraught journeys of two rootless boys trying to become men without parents to guide them.
Providing first-rate backup on a regular basis are the subtle and skilled Jim Beaver and Misha Collins, as well as an impressive roster of guest actors that includes Samantha Ferris, Richard Speight Jr., Titus Welliver, Mark Pellegrino, Katie Cassidy, Kurt Fuller, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Mark Sheppard, Alona Tal and Rob Benedict.

ORIGINALITY
It’s ambitious. One season-five episode had the Winchesters traveling through various TV-show formats, from a medical soap to a Japanese gameshow to a traditional sitcom. Then there’s the hack writer who is actually one of God’s prophets and uses his visions of the Winchesters’ adventures to write pulp novels.
A terrific season four episode was a loving, black-and-white tribute to classic horror movies of the ’30s. And there have been a series of comedic episodes (and an upcoming Web series) starring the “Ghostfacers,” a critter-hunting team whose attempts to emulate their rivals, the Winchesters, usually end up in hilarious mayhem.
It may not have the budget of higher-profile shows, but “Supernatural” has made up for that with impressive creativity, originality and a willingness to take chances.

LAFFS APLENTY
It’s funny. Every episode of “Supernatural” — even the heartbreaking ones — has its share of comic moments. No matter how dire things get, there’s always gallows humor, slapstick comedy or surreal goofiness to lighten the mood; barely a scene goes by without a zinger or a well-placed quip. The show even pokes fun at its own missteps from time to time via delightful metahumor.

BUT, SERIOUSLY
It’s serious. As the Winchesters have grown up, “Supernatural” has woven in stories about angels, fate, heaven, hell, Lucifer and God. This show is adamantly not “Touched by an Archangel.”

A show about brothers traveling the country in a ’67 Impala to hunt zombies and demons is not exactly going to have cloying sentiment in its DNA (thankfully). Nevertheless, “Supernatural” has taken seriously ideas about belief, free will and destiny.

Maureen Ryan is the TV critic for the Chicago Tribune.

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