Back in 2005, the WB network premiered the TV show Supernatura. It started out much like Buffy The Vampire Slayer did for the network, garnering a cult audience and a little bit of attention in print magazines, but many more discussions online by ardent fans. Again, like Buffy, that wouldn't have been enough to keep the show afloat on one of the majors, but for a smaller network that worked just fine. At least, it got Supernatural a second season renewal when the WB merged with UPN to become the (sure to be) perennial fifth network, the CW. Now the second season has been released on DVD; did it meet the fans' expectations, and was the show good enough to make it to yet another season?
The Winchester boys are still hunting. Evil, that is, for when they were just small children, a demon tore apart their happy family, killing their mother and sending their ex-Marine dad on a quest for vengeance. John Winchester (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) became a "hunter," learning everything he could about all the monsters, ghosts, demons and other dark things out there and ultimately - how to destroy them. He raised his two sons with this knowledge and taught them how to defend themselves with every available weapon and piece of ancient lore to be found, so as to send "every evil thing" right back to Hell. Oldest son Dean (Jensen Ackles) grew up to be the good soldier of the two, unquestionably following their father on the journey to kill the Yellow Eyed Demon. Sam (Jared Padalecki) became disillusioned with their way of life and left for college, but returned to the fold when ol' Yellow Eyes slaughtered his girlfriend just the same way he did to their mother twenty-odd years back. With Big Daddy Winchester missing, his sons crossed the country (in the baddest jet-black '67 Impala you'll ever see), following in their father's footsteps; they battled all the dark forces they came across while trying to find their dad, and hopefully getting a chance to confront the Yellow Eyed Demon. Well, the first season ended with one hell of a cliffhanger as the Winchesters got their showdown with the YED but ultimately failed to kill him. As they tried to escape, a 16-wheel semi rig (the driver having been possessed by one of the many Winchester-hating demons floating around and about) slammed into the Impala, leaving our heroes for dead.
Season 2 picks up seconds after the impact, as the boys and dad end up in the hospital; one of them is fighting for his life and trapped in an out-of-body limbo type situation as the other two fight to save him. Rest assured that tragedy (and the YED) strikes again, leaving Sam and Dean alone to face the darkness out there. Is there anyone they can trust, anyone who can help them? Will they learn why there seems to be a group of other children - all the same age as Sam and whose families were similarly attacked years ago, all of whom are developing strange new abilities - that the demon seems to have plans for? Does this mean that Sam figures into his horrible plan as well? Will they finally be able to go head to head with this monster who has taken so much away from them and theirs? And if they do, will they be able to defeat him?
If you're were a fan of the first season, you've probably already seen this second season. But if for some reason you missed it, here's your chance to catch up with the best, well, supernatural (sorry) program on the air right now, at least one dealing with fantasy or horror. The best in the last half decade, perhaps (or ever, for my money). Everything that was so great about the first year's shows has returned, along with some new wrinkles that bring this to a whole new level; more mythology regarding the overall arc of the story that fits in perfectly into the narrative without seeming at all superfluous, brand-new supporting characters for our boys to play off, and - most importantly - a fresh group of baddies to whip up on. We're talking evil clowns, demonic viruses that wipe out whole towns, America's first known serial killer H.H. Holmes, zombies, djinns, werewolves, and even the type of crossroad demon who can make you the deal of a lifetime. . .if you'll sell your soul. Not to mention more evil sons-of-bitches that I don't have time to go into right now. Again, like the previous year, the special makeup and prosthetics are pretty stellar by network TV standards (courtesy of Canada's finest FX wizards), and the CGI elements have even stepped it up a notch. The gore level is also the same - which is to say pretty bloody for the small screen - and is of course more than welcome. Most all of the crew has returned, first and foremost being series creator/producer Eric Kripke, with his continuing vision for the show kept (thankfully) intact and sound. Directors Phil Sgriccia, Robert Singer and - especially - Kim Manners are back to give the show its trademark style; dark, moody and blessed with a look that's more feature film than television. Staff writers John Shiban, Sera Gamble, and Raelle Tucker are back too, and each turn in some phenomenal scripts. New to the writing staff this year is Ben Edlund (who created The Tick and wrote a couple great eps of Firefly and The Venture Brothers) and he provides some good stuff, most notably the utterly hilarious ep "Hollywood Babylon."
Speaking of the humorous side, this show is regularly flat-out funny; even in episodes that are dead serious for the most part, there's at least a couple killer quips or looks passed between the brothers that leave me howling. And the episodes that are obviously meant to be more comedic give at least as many laughs as most sitcoms these days. Not that the suspenseful elements aren't there - the killer clown was chilling (perhaps that's residue from a childhood spent in terror of that fucking clown from Poltergeist or that bastard Pennywise) and there's a couple other villains that don't skimp on the scary; I'm thinking of the jailhouse ghost in "Folsom Prison Blues" or the little-seen but highly effective djinn in "What Is And What Should Never Be." Moving on, if those titles make you think of a couple famous tunes, rest assured it's by design, as the signature soundtrack of the show remains the best in classic rock, from returning faves AC/DC to artists such as (but nowhere near limited to) Cheap Trick, The Doors, James Gang, Boston, even Alice In Chains and - in the single greatest use of a tune in the show's history - "Renegade" by Styx. So if you dig the older stuff, you'll be tapping your foot or singing along at least once an episode for sure.
Finally, there's the pieces that truly make the show what it is - the characters and the actors who play them. Once again, Ackles and Padalecki carry the show without a hitch, as their effortless chemistry rivals any on-screen portrayal of brotherhood and family I've ever seen. By turns brooding, heroic, smart-assed, brutal, romantic, and determined, these two simply get it done. Each has what amounts to more or less a "highlight" ep where they're allowed to just go off ("Born Under A Bad Sign" for Padalecki and "What Is And What Should Never Be" for Ackles) and they do NOT disappoint. As Big Daddy Winchester, Jeffrey Dean Morgan manages to completely sell his character regardless of getting a lesser amount of screen time this season; he's outstanding. In smaller recurring roles, Samantha Ferris and Alona Tal (as Ellen and her daughter Jo, respectively) do great work, as does Chad Lindberg as the acerbic and mulleted genius Ash. There's also a rogue hunter, Gordon, who is essayed chillingly by Sterling K. Brown in a couple of eps - and is all the more frightening because of his unshakeable resolve in the knowledge that he's doing the right thing. Then there's Bobby (Jim Beaver, late of Deadwood), an old friend of the boys' dad, and undeniably the best ally they have; Beaver is just superb and I wouldn't mind seeing him pop up in every other episode for the rest of the show's run, it's just that good a character and Beaver plays him so well. All of this adds up to real characters operating in a decidedly unreal situation, which is what all the best horror does. We care about them and root for them; we hope against hope that they will stand tall against the forces amassed against them and that they will overcome the darkness in the name of all that is good and right. And that, in a nutshell, is the triumph of this show; if you get involved in the characters and the stories, then you truly are a part of it all - and you have just as strong a stake in the outcome as they do, for you care that much.
The DVD set by Warners' is as good as it was for the previous set, which is VERY good indeed. There's commentaries on three episodes, with turns by Ackles and Padalecki, directors Manners and Singer, and writers Kripke and Gamble - all of which are enjoyable and informative. There's deleted scenes on four of the episodes and like last year's cuts, are at the very least interesting to watch, if not good enough to have been included had there been time. Also like the previous set, there's an enjoyable gag reel where you get to watch the actors mess up their lines or simply mess around. A new feature for this go-around is called "The Devil's Road Map", which is an interactive map you can click certain locations and be brought to a mini-documentary about the monster, ghost, or urban legend the Winchesters battled in that area this year; this is where you'll also find the over 20-minute featurette "The Episode From Hell," which covers the making of the second part of the finale, "All Hell Breaks Loose," and it's a great look at how the ep came to be, from the writer's room to the effects used in filming. There's also three small "webisodes" covering the props used, the visual effects, and the writers; lastly, there's a look at Padalecki's original screen test for Sam.
All in all, it's a fine package for a fine show, presented in widescreen and 5.1 Surround, so the look and audio are top-notch. Of course, I couldn't be happier, as this is easily one of my favorite shows I've ever had the pleasure to watch, with great scares, laughs, and action - and a slam-bang finale that will kick your ass, all while perfectly setting up the story for the third season. A third season which, by the way, has already aired a few episodes and appears to reach the high level of quality set by the first two years. No way to tell for sure at this early date if it will surpass season 2 the way that it surpassed season one (with ease, seemingly), but here's hoping Supernatural continues to get better and better. As the inside slip-cover says (a quote by no less than master of horror Clive Barker), "Supernatural is first-rate horror storytelling." Couldn't put it any better myself, so I'll leave it at that.