Sunday, 12 January 2014

Supernatural Season 1 (2005)

I review the first season of cult-favourite horror TV series Supernatural, starring Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki as Dean and Sam Winchester, created by Eric Kripke.  

I first discovered Supernatural towards the end of 2012 and the beginning of last year, and I was quickly hooked on the series despite its many flaws that the first season contains. It's fun, entertaining and one of those series that you can quite happily binge-watch as it follows a monster of the week storyline for the most part of Season 1.

The first season opens with a flashback, showing us the death of Mary Winchester at the hands of a demon. The CGI effect is kind of weak, but if you can put that aside then you're in for a hell of a ride. Following the death of Mary, John Winchester (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) manages to rescue his sons, Sam and Dean, from the burning building of their house. However, at nineteen, following an argument between him and his father, Sam leaves for Stamford University - leaving John and Dean, and a life of hunting supernatural creatures of all varieties, behind him in the attempt at finding a normal life. The pilot opens proper the weekend before Sam is applying for law school - having settled into life with his new friends and girlfriend Jessica. However, everything changes when Dean shows up at Sam's apartment, asking for help as their father has gone missing. Reluctantly, Sam accepts - and they start their first job since they were reunited, hunting a  Woman in White.

Dean and Sam, with Dean's first girlfriend, in "Route 666"

The overall plot of the first season simply revolves around Sam and Dean looking for their father. The show is treading waters with what supernatural creatures work and what don't during this episode, and for the most part of Season 1, it actually stays clear from the cliched Vampires and Werewolves that populate horror and urban fantasy stuff across all forms of media nowadays. Instead, Supernatural exposes us with takes on Wendigos, Shapeshifters, the Bloody Mary folklore as well as several other creatures that mostly fall into standard horror and demonic fare. We get a different horror-themed storyline each week with 19 standalone episodes and the last three serving as part of three-part episode that ends on a cliffhanger, setting the stage for Season 2. This allows for a variety of storylines to explore in Season 1 and whilst there are no standout episodes when you consider the quality of later seasons, Season 1 still does have a few highlights - The Pilot for example is easily one of the best episodes of Season 1. Asylum sees Sam and Dean head to Rockford, Illinois where they encounter ghosts in an abandoned Asylum in another one of the series highlights - Hell House, being a slightly more comedic episode is another, featuring a haunted house - and the three part finale is also incredibly strong.

There are no borderline unwatchable episodes like the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the decision to stick with the monster of the week format does mean that there are some episodes less interesting than others, like Route 666 - which doesn't work out as well as it should given that it explores part of Dean's past. There are also a few flaws in the series as a whole too - none of the episodes, aside from the pilot and the final three-part episode are really anything memorable. Also, you can pretty much guarantee that for most of the season, episodes will feature an attractive girl in need of rescuing (or out of their depth assisting Sam and Dean) which tends to get tiresome and there are rarely any ever well-developed or memorable female characters in the show's first season (this is a problem rectified in later seasons with characters like Jo and Ellen). The show does struggle with effects depending on the story of the week but for the most part they're pulled off quite well - however such episodes like The Phantom Traveler don't work as well as they should because of this.

Sam and Dean hunt the titular monster of "Wendigo"

The actors, Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles have strong chemistry between each other. As they are the show's only main cast your mileage may vary depending on how likeable they are to you - with Jensen Ackles playing a cocky, shoot-first-ask-questions later character in comparison to Padalecki's more level-headed and smarter Sam. The chemistry between the two isn't as good here as it is in later seasons when the actors are more familiar with their roles but there are some still some decent acting displays pulled off by the two. The show doesn't match the quality of others like Doctor Who or Orphan Black that I've reviewed for this site in its first season but it can be seen as some fun entertainment that doesn't take itself too seriously, with plenty of pop culture jokes, one-liners and witty banter coupled with a rock music soundtrack featuring the likes of AC/DC to help keep you entertained.

The gore content is quite graphic in this season and it's something that continues in later seasons. Skin, featuring a shapeshifter, is a particularly notable episode for its gore, so this show is probably not for the squeamish or easily scared. Early on in the season there are some genuine scary episodes in the form of the show's pilot and Bloody Mary - but as you get used to the show the episodes start to get less scarier over time. It also isn't helped by the fact that Sam and Dean, or the secondary cast, more often than not, tend to make stupid decisions in favour of plot advancement. The aforementioned episode Skin falls into this trap, having Sam and Dean split up when hunting a Shapeshifter so that you know almost inevitably that when one of them returns they will be replaced by one. Also, Sam and Dean almost will inevitably have moments where, quite often in the first season, one of them will argue whether the Monster of the Week is actually real or not - and for someone who has spent most of his time hunting Dean seems to be remarkably savy with his pop culture references, two elements of the show that require certain suspension of disbelief.

Overall, Supernatural Season 1 is a solid but flawed start to a show that is now nine seasons long with a spinoff in the works that will air following the backdoor pilot of Episode 20. I'm currently towards the end of Season 3 and can safely say that if you're not addicted by the end of Season 1, you will be by the end of Season 2 because the show certainly improves overtime.

VERDICT: 3.5/5

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