An essay about Supernatural and its impressive 15-year longevity and its endearing legacy to fans like me.
It was 1986, when best-selling author and scribe of fantasy and mischief Neil Gaiman received a telephone call from Karen Berger — then editor of his Black Orchard series at Vertigo. She informed Gaiman of her concern with the novelty of both the characters Gaiman and artist Dave McKean were constructing, and the unfamiliarity readers might undergo when reading these comics from then-unknown creators like Gaiman and McKean. To solve this issue, she offered an avenue to raise his profile in the form of a monthly comic series, which eventually became The Sandman.
Since that time, Gaiman has discussed the concern he felt when presented with the option of writing a monthly comic. The inherit longevity and elasticity required to stretch one encompassing tale for months, maybe even years. To do so, he needed a tale that could travel anywhere he’d like. A story that could pivot its perspective, its tone without requiring greater changes that would alter the story into something entirely different — a landscape made of dreams was the one-size-fits-all solution.
For show-runner Eric Kripke, a similar dilemma arrived back in the early stages of manifesting the beloved series Supernatural. Originally a skeleton outline that Kripke chalked up to nothing more than a “terrible rip-off of Night Stalker.” Supernatural would long outlive its initial welcome for the best of reasons, a series maintaining a consistent rating range for more than 14 years.
In an interview with tv.com in the sobering year of 2008, when asked about the initial construction of the series, he said in an interview,
“At one point, I wanted to do an anthology show. Another time, I wanted to do a series about a reporter who works for a tabloid magazine, pretty much a rip-off of the original Kolchak: The Night Stalker. And then, finally, just through development with the studio, settled on this idea of telling these stories in the format of this Route 66: Great American Road Trip with these two brothers.”
Ultimately, following in the footsteps of creatures from a similar bloodline like Joss Wheadon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the late ’90s and Chris Carter’s X-Files before then. Supernatural is built within the same framework of an ever-expanding main narrative, stretched by the benefactor of the “monster of the week” episodes in which our two main characters spend their time venturing down the backroads of the American midwest hunting things and saving people — the family business as fans would understand it.
A series like this lives and dies by the penmanship of its screenwriting and the actors tasked with manifesting that vision, and Supernatural found itself similarly lucky like its predecessors with two gifted leads, Jensen Ackles as Dean Winchester and Jared Padalecki as his younger brother Sam. initially they auditioned oppositely, with Jared auditioning for Dean and Jensen for Sam. Even more fascinating, as the boys would tell it, they were the only actors to audition for the two lead roles. In one of the many fan cons for the series in which Jared and Jensen partake in engaging with their loyal fandom directly, a unique experience afforded to them by a dimmed notoriety which allows them to travel across the world and meet their fans without the shuffling and chaos of cons held for wider-known creations like The Avengers, they were asked about their initial auditions for the series
“usually, when you audition, it’s a horrifically, anxiety-inducing process. And usually, when you walk in, it’s all the guys who kinda look like you, you know, within five years of your age. A lot of them have a lot more experience, and they’re all talking about this role they just did. It’s a mortifying experience. So we get there, and I think every person who I’ve ever seen on a T.V. show or movie is gonna be there auditioning for this pilot because it was the big Warner Brothers pilot.”
“So, I show up, and Jensen walks in, and we start talking, ya know. ‘Hey, where you from?’ ‘Texas.’ Me too. ‘Whose your team?’ ‘Cowboys.’ Me too. ‘You listen to music?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘You like country?’ ‘Yeah.’ Me too.”
“Long story short, we got along, and we were the only people that showed up.”
Jensen would add,
“yeah, my question was, ‘where’s everybody else?’ you know. Where are the other ten actors fighting for this job? Fighting for this role? And no one ever showed up. They asked for the two of us to come back, we read together for the first time ever in front of the 30 executives and Warner Brothers, and the rest is history.”
From then on, the two of them began their long-lived tenure as the two brothers against the world, but fifteen years wasn’t the original game plan as one might suspect. Initially, Kripke envisioned a five-season arc, ultimately conceding in the beloved episode titled “Swan Song,” where Sam sacrificed himself to save his brother and stop the apocalypse. When it was revealed the series would continue, rather than continue the series as it was, Kripke handed the reigns to producer Sera Gamble, who some fresh ideas for the brothers.
Later in 2010, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Kirpkle would explain his departure, stating,
“We were reaching the end of this five-year storyline [so] I thought the timing was right. I knew that we were closing this chapter and opening a new one. It felt like it was the right time to take a step back and focus on new projects, but still, keep my grubby little mitts in the show. It was a lot about Sera and her enthusiasm and her ambition. I really think after five years of all of my crap, to have someone who has a fresh perspective and fresh energy on these characters and this universe is healthy for the show. Supernatural has always been a show about reinvention. We try really hard not to do the same thing. I thought that Sera’s increased involvement really helped guarantee that this season is going to feel a little different, a little fresher. She has a different sensibility.”
In 2012, in a conference call with entertainment journalists, when asked about the future of the series, Kripke said,
“I made a mistake very early in my career on Supernatural. I had a plan that ended the show after five years. After five years, Bob, Sera Gamble and I had the really difficult task of rebooting the show off the storyline that I had basically been wrapping up in season 5. I think we really learned our lesson from that point forward. We created more durable mythology that would end if we needed to end and would keep going if we wanted to keep going. I know Jared and Jensen are on board and doing great. I think our feeling is that we’re happy to keep going as long as the network will have us. I think we’re designed to really keep going and keep exploring.”
Like Sandman’s dream-setting, that mythology provided a road for the brothers to travel for another ten years. They hunted everything from monsters to ancient beasts locked away in purgatory to more intimate, emotional demons that dwelled between the brothers seen in the closing the gates of hell for the life of Sam Winchester, or the premise of saving Dean Winchester from the curse that twisted him into a monster. The show moved forward, and the lore grew denser, leading to the introductions of alternate worlds, Nephelums, cosmic entities, the darkness, and God himself.
Of course, Supernatural, like any other long-running series, benefits mosts from its narrative structure. The boys’ issues are personal, intimate, and obviously extended past the point of belief on occasion — why wouldn’t Sam just tell Dean about this? Or vice-versa. More importantly, the series has wisely added to its roster over time with the addition of densely written characters such as Castiel (Misha Collins), Crowley (Mark Sheppard), and other fan-favorites like Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver/ironically named after the series’ long-time director Robert Singer), and Jody Mills (Kim Rhodes).
Like Morpheus’s family, each of these characters provides different relationships for the boys. The complicated allyship with Crowley provides for narrative arcs and outright avenues for the boys to travel down. Castiel is a member of the family far more than Crowley is, sharing an intimate relationship with Dean as the angel that rescued him from perdition. On the other hand, Bobby provides a lending hand and an evolution of the boys’ mythos. Answering how they continuously convince local municipalities of their forged federal identities, not to mention the obvious usage for exposition that he provides as the boys’ mentor and father-figure. Jody is more maternal, a sheriff of Sioux Fall who becomes an ally like Bobby.
Which lends to the real-reason the series has maintained its ability to tell stories about the two brothers from Lebanon, Kansas — family. No series that I can remember, nor been introduced to, relies on its dense thematic crux of family more than Supernatural. For more than fifteen years, Dean and Sam have taught us the importance of not being alone when battling Wendigos in Black Water Ridge, or vampires like Gordon Walker, or werewolves like Garth, or archangels like Lucifer and Michael, or demons like yellow eyes and Crowley, or ancient beasts like Leviathans, or other powerful entities like Metatron, or the mark of Cain, or death, or destiny, or the gods themselves.
Every season owes it’s birth to the death of a mother of two boys at the hands of a yellow-eyed demon, the thing that killed Jess (Adrianne Palicki). A drunk and grief-ridden father whose tough love spawned a thick-skinned and self-loathing hero in Dean Winchester and a younger, occasionally brighter, and self-less hero in Sam Winchester. Throughout the years, the series ultimately lends itself to the small scope of a family that was wrecked by unforeseen darkness. A bloodline of hunters, and two boys who spend their nights driving a beat-up ’67 Impala — endearingly referred to as Baby — as they confront the misfortunes and revelations of the road between then and now.
Family has always been the anchor, not just for Sam and Dean’s either. The series has also bred another family into being: the fans. It’s a series that has rewarded them for their devotion by traveling across the world to meet them, spend time with them, and has leaned into their far-reaching fan theories, subtextual fiction, and never let them down.
Few series have glorified and lauded its audience than Supernatural. Even more rare is a cast as thankful of and aware of its audience. Going even further, in March of 2015, in response to those brave enough to share their emotional health issues helped by the series’ view on the brothers’ emotional turmoil, Jared launched the Always Keep Fighting campaign. The proceeds of which were donated exclusively to the charities of To Write Love On Her Arms, The Wounded Warrior Project, and A.I.R. Attitudes In Reverse — Student Suicide Prevention — Mental Health.
More uniquely, Jared, as many fans know, met his wife, Genevieve, amidst the original final outing of Season 5. It’s entertainingly referenced in Season 6 when the boys find themselves inhabiting the bodies of Jared and Jensen on the set of a T.V. series called Supernatural. Now, both the father of three kids, Jared and Jensen, have spent their careers playing two brothers while also becoming as close as brothers.
The show is occasionally worse off for its longevity, filling space between the pages with seasons that lack the panache and dramatic splendor of Supernatural’s better days. These seasons often lack the ability to bring something new to the table or struggle to follow-up with something as well-executed as the season before. But when the show is at its best, few can compete with its history, fan base, lore, and family. Seasons that deal with the costs of becoming the very thing you’ve spent your life killing, the emotional complexity of two brothers who have watched the ones they love most die for them. The poignancy of two heroes whose will to win outmatches that of any angel, any demon, any monster.
Two brothers in search of finding peace from the cross they’ve been burdened with bearing. In hopes of eventually laying down their weary heads to rest, to never cry once more. But they’ve carried on, two wayward sons amidst the noise and confusion, never giving up and always fighting.