I want to address so much in this post that I will be breaking it up into several. SPOILER WARNING! IF YOU ARE READING THIS AND ARE NOT CAUGHT UP, IT'S NOT MY FAULT :) I think the first thing I want to discuss is something I see a lot of in fan discussions, the angel/demon story line and how it was not in early seasons. From day 1 there was demons, the whole Winchester tragedy is because of demons and season 3 we meet Castiel. So, there have always been demons. The other thing I want to point out is the other complaint I see that it's not just about the boys hunting the monster of the week anymore. Every single season there are several episodes where they are out doing a job. Is the overarching angel/demon plot mentioned? Sometimes yes, sometimes no, but they are still saving people , hunting things. Season 9 I would say the first four or five episodes were mostly about that and even as late as the last third of the season they had the episode with Sheriff Mills and the vampire nest, not a single demon or angel to be seen in that episode.
Now, with that out of the way I am going to get into the reasons for the title of this post and why I think writer, actors and network execs need to watch this show. I'll start with the writing, since that is what I do.
THE WRITING - Building plot, character development and multiple story lines. It's all here.
Supernatural was written by Eric Kripke as a five year story arc and that arc was flawless and perfect. The pilot is the perfect hook, action, drama, mystery and conflict all hit you within that pilot episode. The way we are introduced to the brothers with Dean breaking into Sam's apartment, fighting, reconnecting while already showing strains of family tension leaves you no room to breathe or lose connection with the characters. By the end of the episode we are given all the elements of the story and a tragic death that sets the course for Sam's character in a visually stunning and unique way. As the first season progresses we are introduced to a host of unique enemies for the brothers to fight while the family history is unwrapped bit by bit. Dark secrets, split loyalties, hidden jealousies and regrets are all presented to the viewer in natural, non expository ways. Kripke is masterful with dropping the breadcrumbs of the Winchester past and what that will mean for the future of the characters.
When the season 1 finale hits your heart stops, your mind fills with questions and you have become pulled into the emotional development of Sam and Dean. Kripke layers his characters with a deft touch and he also starts tacking on various story lines as well. One thing that I cannot stand, especially since I have started writing, is when I can predict how the show/episode/chapter will end. In the first five seasons I never once went "Saw that coming." Sure on small things here and there but as far as the development of the story, not so much. Now as the show has gone on a pattern has developed we know Sam or Dean will either be possessed and/or die at some point during the season but so far every path the writers have used to get them there has been different in some way or other. I give them some leeway on that because the main character makeup of this show is so small, Sam, Dean, Castiel and Crowley. These are the four that the entire world and stories are built upon so at some point there will be some repetition since they can't truly do away with these characters.
At any rate, back to plot development and layering. Kripke and his team pull off keeping the pace moving on the overarching story of Winchester v Yellow Eyed Demon while still giving us plenty of storyline b and c. They build recurring characters well even when those characters were originally only supposed to be in one or two episodes. We get whole backstories on minor characters that are weaved into the main story in subtle and interesting ways. The character of Bobby who, at first, appears to serve the primary function of library and task master; gets woven into Sam and Dean's lives as surrogate father and in many ways the brothers' emotional anchor and confidant. We also see the intensity of love that Bobby feels for Sam and Dean who he views as his own sons and chooses to fight for even after death. Quite often Kripke and his team use the b and c stories to further reveal information that directly relates to the main story and they do it in a way that doesn't bludgeon one over the head. Many times it's in the last 4-5 minutes of an episode that something is said or happens to link back to the main story line yet it still fits into the monster of the week story that was presented in that episode. This technique slips a bit in some of the episodes in season 9, but then I have never been fond of the Ghostfacer episodes. I don't despise them, they just tend to seem out of place for me compared to the body of work.
As we push on and to the end of Kripke's original arc we come to an ending that is the perfect resolution for the conflict that has been growing throughout the shows. Then they got renewed and as Jared put it, they had to find their footing again. Kripke's ending was truly a masterpiece and while they were thrilled with getting renewed they were in a quandary. Here is where Supernatural has truly excelled in my opinion. I know there are many critics of seasons 6-8 but I adore those seasons for several reasons. They pushed the boundaries, they didn't try to repeat what they had done in the first 5 seasons. Sera Gamble took the reins from Kripke who had felt that he had told his story and had to let someone else take over. Were there some odd episodes? Sure but Sera didn't flinch from her task. The concept of Soulless Sam, Dean in Purgatory, the Leviathans, Castiel's fall from grace, all of it required such out of the box thinking and a willingness to just go with it that was breathtaking to me. Yet in all of the boundary pushing we never, ever lost the core elements of Sam and Dean's decisions, struggles, monster of the week and playful, self effacing episodes that give a break from the dramatic momentum. This is one thing that Supernatural has continuously done well, emotional timing and crescendos both within a season and within an episode. Whether it be a completely campy and hysterical episode where the brothers are at the first ever Supernatural Convention or just a look on a character's face or snappy one liner. there is always humor. This is massively important. I love Arrow, but I have yet to really rewatch more than two or three episodes in the first two seasons at a time because there is no real break from the intensity of the show. I love it. I do, but the emotional drain is super intense and very prolonged. I hear season three is supposed to lighten up and I am looking forward to it As a viewer or a reader we need those breaks in intensity and Supernatural nailed that formula early and has never failed to deliver the right amount of snark at the right time.
The other thing that Sera and then Jeremy Carver who is now in charge of writing managed to keep was the concept of the over arcing story layered upon smaller parts. Season 6 is the journey of Soulless Sam which delves farther into esoteric concepts of what makes a human a human, pulls one further into the building conflict that Castiel has had face in heaven now that all the prophecies have been voided and deeper into the bowels of Crowley's machinations. I don't think many viewers understand the amount of courage I think Sera had to have when pursuing these concepts. She, in many ways, was and Supernatural still is; challenging, changing, bending and recreating so many myths and religious ideas in ways that could have horribly backfired on the show yet didn't. Kripke's original concept of the Apocalypse was close enough to as written that it only lightly challenged the standard beliefs but when we get to seasons 6-8 we see a much more broader interpretation of what it means to be an angel, a demon, good, evil and all the creatures and shades in between. Jared mentioned how he and Jensen both called Kripke when the first angel appeared in the show and made it a point to state that this was not to be a religious show and I have to give them much praise for that. The show handles so much more than religion, it truly address the archetypes of good, evil, trust, belief and the many masks of a hero in what I consider an epic (the original use of the word, not the watered down way we use it now :) ) way. Personally I think Supernatural should be sold as a visual companion to Joseph Campbell's book A Hero of Thousand Faces. Yet even through all this epic storytelling the writers still keep building smaller characters in with rich histories and interactions that make them all memorable and important to the development of Sam and Dean.
In my mind the only other writer I have seen that has pulled off such a depth of character development, number of characters and multiple story lines better is Joss Whedon. It's that good.
As an author who is doing my own retelling of the fall of Lucifer and the creation of man I know how challenging and scary it can be so I can only imagine what the writers and cast of the show have gone through with some of these concepts.
This is a general overview of the writing and structure of the show. Next part will get further into Character Development to be followed by the Acting. Hope you've enjoyed.