An article from The Age.
Their so-called lives
By Brian Courtis
January 15, 2006
There are homicidal hitchhikers, legions of lost young souls, and miserable, short-tempered corpses out there. It's life, says Brian Courtis, but not as we know it.
It takes a very special scare to make you think of those years when television could send you – with teeth chattering, shivers of anticipation and a lifetime pledge never to ignore the cautionary, censorial voices of parental wisdom – to the lonely barricades of your childhood room. This week's new series, Supernatural (Monday 8.30pm, Channel Ten), has not one but two or three of these blood-chilling scares, moments likely to have you hitting the roof.
Not just yukky scenes, either. Not just gore. Not simply another parade of those now caught up in the bureaucracy at St Peter's door. We've been through that and, after all, once you've survived the macabre special-effects magic of alien bubs popping out of astronaut tummies, there really isn't a lot of nastiness left out there.
Supernatural is for that post-Dawson's Creek audience ready to move on from The O.C., Smallville and Gilmore Girls to the world of Veronica Mars and, perhaps, Threshold. So is 2006 to be the year of horrorvision? Are we heading towards more of the living dead? It has been a long time since you first realised it wasn't just a hangover that kept Angel frowning, not just insomnia that kept Buffy wandering around the cemeteries late at night.
Eric Kripke, Supernatural's 31-year-old writer and creator, has drawn on American B-movie cliches, ghost stories, sci-fi yarns and urban myths for his anxiety-provoking series. But it's all the more palatable for the peppering of dark, drive-in-movie humour within its scripts. Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it crosses genres without a fuss. It can be inexplicably funny one moment, bleak the next.
Two young and now-familiar Warner Bros. actors, Jensen Ackles (from Smallville) and Jared Padalecki (from Gilmore Girls), co-star in the show as brothers Dean and Sam Winchester, brought together by the disappearance of their widowed father and the diabolical mystery that took the life of their mother when they were kids.
It seems that the father, also searching for a solution to that earlier paranormal horror, often drifts off. Close to paranoiac, he brought his boys up to be warriors, hunters, always alert. Sam (Padalecki), with a cheerleader fiance and an east-coast law school awaiting, has had enough of the feral life, the hunting and living in the shadows of their nightmare youth. Dean (Ackles), however, has the scent, like his father. The brothers are at odds over whether to search or not. Then fate makes a decision for them and Supernatural becomes an episode-by-episode road movie.
We're heading on today's TV equivalent of Route 66, a trip on which their '67 Chevy Impala will take them through too many darknesses, over too many rivers, and across too many familiar covered bridges. Guiding them is their father's log book, packed with items about the forces of darkness.
There are many Jungian nightmare possibilities, the men-hating vamps prepared to lure the brothers to watery graves, and some haunted houses that not even Hot Property would want on its books.
Among the creatures to be stirred will be the Wendigo, not a small town in Victoria but part of the mythology of the Algonquin-speaking tribes of North America. It's a malevolent variation of the werewolf, a deformed giant with a heart of ice created from the souls of murderous cannibals. The Wendigo – well known to that writer of the supernatural, Algernon Blackwood – would seem the perfect sort of monster to draw Buffy back to the fray.
Some intriguing hands have played a part in Supernatural and it shows in the production. The first two episodes, for instance, were directed by David Nutter. His extensive credits include 21 Jump Street, The Commish, ER, Millennium, Roswell, Without a Trace, The West Wing, Band of Brothers, Smallville and an impressive run in X-Files. There are, sure enough, shadows and camera angles in the opener that make you expect Mulder or Scully to step through, or at least the Smoking Man.
There is something very likeable about Supernatural. It's partly the relationship of the brothers, given credibility with the rivalry and humour by Ackles and Padalecki. It's the potential of adventure in the scripts.
But it's also the familiarity of the scare tactics, something like the familiarity that comes from watching a conventional western. You almost know when you're about to be frightened but, corny or not, it somehow doesn't spoil things.
Like Roswell and others, Supernatural is set in rural America, where all the UFOs land, where aliens drop by to take their samples of earthlings, and where the only lights on the roads are provided by passing trucks or hovering flying saucers. It is not, TV's pop psychologists suggest, the only program feeding off death, darkness, aliens and insecurity. Television is feeding from the uncertainties of war. Death is not being granted its sting.
We've travelled through TV's medical miracle workers, its forensic analysts ready to explain everything with science and crime scene investigation technology. We've begun to distrust government and decided that vampires, hobgoblins and that old-time demonology has a point. And now, by delivering life after death, we're scurrying towards our own variations of immortality. There are shamans all around, madness in the marketplace … or are we simply distracting ourselves at hard times with this entertainment?
You want ghostly goths, psychics and things that go "excuse me" in the night? Well, television has them in all sizes right now. There is Medium, Threshold, Charmed and Surface (put like that, the titles start to sound like a range of kitchen designs). But that's not all. We also have aliens that bleep and glow, dead people who refuse to behave like the dearly departed. There are creatures who would make Stephen King's hair stand on end, as well as those whom even Steven Spielberg would find overly cute.
On the way to us is Invasion, gobbling up small planes in the Florida Everglades and creating goodness-knows-what problems for CSI's Horatio Caine.
Then, of course, there are the shows Waking the Dead and Afterlife, as well as Ghost Whisperer, in which Jennifer Love Hewitt's cleavage finds itself acting as legal adviser and bank teller for people who can't work out that they've carked it. Her new husband really needs to tell her to let Heaven sort itself out and to get a life of her own.
Still, the strange is becoming commonplace. Ghostbusters might be considered a useful investment today. But to survive, this latest touch of the supernatural just needs to keep shocking our senses.
Supernatural, Monday 8.30pm, Channel Ten
Source: The Age