Saturday, May 2, 2009


Last week, Io9 editor Annalee Newitz wrote an article called Supernatural is Midwestern Gothic For The Google Generation. I'm a huge fan of the show, but I never really connected to the internet community. I also always assumed that the show was teetering on the brink of cancellation, being a limited-interest kinda story. I'm happy someone on such a large site is championing the show.

Having said that, there was a lot of the article I disagreed with. Chief among which is the notion that the show is purely Midwestern Gothic. First off, the term smacks of buzz word, especially if you add "the Google generation" afterward. While Sam and Dean's misadventures are primarily contained in what we elite coastal lefties arrogantly call "flyover land" I think the primary appeal of the show is the quintessentially American idea of rugged independence that Sam and Dean embody.

Newitz is right, the Winchester Bros. are not button down FBI agents or stodgy academics with endless resources. They aren't even particularly well equipped or backed by any monolithic support system. They are outsiders and outlaws, pursuing their quest on the wrong side of the law but guided by an unrelenting moral code. Swap that bitching muscle car for a couple of horses and you've got a Western.

Which is why I have a huge problem with the whole Heaven/Hell storyline.

The Winchester brothers, and the men and women who support their quest, are fiercely independent, down-to-earth people. Except for one or two glaring inconsistencies, they also don't make compromises or buddy up with the forces of darkness, BtVS-style. Their self-reliance is a huge part of the character's appeal. And they lose it every time the demons take center stage.

Okay, granted, there needed to be some kind of metaplot going on. And I liked the way they handled the mysteries of the first two seasons. But once the demons started showing up, all with the same smirking I-Know-Something-You-Don't shtick, they quickly became obnoxious. Suddenly the show revolves less and less around these two awesome characters and more about a factional conflict between two unpleasant groups.

Sure, as an atheist I appreciate the fact that the angels aren't any better than the demons. The show has been pretty good at keeping the supernatural hostile and terrifying. At the same time, the show becomes less and less about Sam and Dean and more about this big overwhelming metaplot batting them around around like a cat with a string.

I gripe, but I'll still take Supernatural over any other pop-geek TV show any day. The writing is really good, the characterization is incredible, the show has a strong sense of humor, and it can scare the pants off of you when the chips are down.

Most of the monsters in the show aren't particularly new. There are vampires and werewolves and cannibal hillbillies and ghosts and things like that. Most of these have been in different places, for better or worse, over and over again and they can easily be twisted into self-parody, but Supernatural makes them work. The creatures Sam and Dean face are genuinely fucking terrifying and the show's creators never apologize or neuter their creations. As a guy who has been burned by TV horror before, I can't tell you how refreshing that level of integrity is.

The heart and soul of the show is of course Sam and Dean Winchester. And I have come to adore these characters.

I got my own brother issues, believe me, and I relate pretty well to their occasionally troubled-occasionally sweet relationship. I tend to identify more with the sociable, burdened-with-responsibility Dean than the tormented, mopey Sam but either character makes a pretty good mirror for my life, if my life involved hunting monsters while looking like an A&F model. They're not superheroes, they're not boring police-types (you really gonna tell me there's a lot of difference between the cast of CSI, NCIS, and Law and Order?) and they aren't vacuous airheads. They fail, they get angry, they lie to each other, they break people's hearts, and they do the best they can in an impossible job.

I admire that.

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