Supernatural has reigned for eight seasons as arguably the most underrated and consistently entertaining show on television. Keeping any fantasy/sci-fi/horror series on the air for more than a couple of years seems to take a minor miracle, but this one has been going on strong for nearly a decade with almost zero mainstream buzz, and it has seldom disappointed in that time. To put that in further perspective, I typically acknowledge Buffy the Vampire Slayer as the be-all-end-all of geek-flavored television series. Well, that one lasted for seven seasons and even the most hardcore of fans will acknowledge that the show was falling apart for the last two and needed to end.
A while back I was watching Defiance and this amazing piece of music came on. As the singer croaked out the melody, I recognized the whiskey and cigarette-ravaged voice as belonging to an aged-but-immortal Bob Dylan. What the hell does this have to do with Supernatural? Well, it put the idea in my head that while most artists run out of steam at some point, others just keep going on and on without losing a step. I realized I was a fool to have ignored the fact that Bob freaking Dylan had a new album out. About a week later I viewed the season 8 finale of Supernatural, which inspired this article. It not only provided one of the most insanely nerdy moments I’ve ever seen on television, but the final shot of the season was so utterly epic I was kicking myself for thinking this should be the last season and that they should quit while they’re ahead.
For at least the last four seasons, I’ve been expecting Supernatural to run out of ideas, to crash and burn, to get canceled, to go out in an epic blaze of glory, or to otherwise simply stop putting out the goods one way or another. There are only so many horror standards to go around, after all. But at the end of every single season, I always end up jazzed for the next as the show continues to adapt and evolve beyond its roots. It should fail at some point, but it just keeps on winning. It’s also a rare modern Western property to be adapted for the Japanese market as an anime. Geek cred doesn’t get much credier than that. Like Dylan, this show will not die, nor does it ever me a real reason to doubt it’s got plenty of creative gas left in the tank.
What started as a badass love letter to the horror genre consisting of two brothers in an Impala with a ton of classic rock tapes taking down monsters of the week along with the occasional familiar face -including the likes of Katherine Isabel, Amy Acker, and Linda Blair- has blossomed into a universe with an incredibly rich mythology to match the killer music, excellent sense of humor, soul-scorching drama, horrific violence, and some of the wildest and nerdiest episodes ever aired on television. There are times that Supernatural could teach Community a thing or two with its willingness to push the boundaries of metafiction and make fun of itself and its fans. Here are some of my favorite bits of geek insanity from one of my favorite shows of the last decade. There are going to be a few minor show spoilers, but nothing catastrophic.
1. “These aren’t vampires, man…. These are douchebags.”
During Season 6 episode Live Free or Twihard the Winchester brothers track a pack of vampires to a club where girls obsessed with the pop culture vampire romance craze gather to meet like-minded male vamp wannabes. Upon investigating the room of a girl who has been victimized, they find it full of posters, novels, PC wallpapers, and everything else featuring preening, sparkly vampires, prompting Dean to utter the tagline above, giving voice to the grievances of thousands of horror fans all over the world. Behold.
2. “What’s a slash fan?”
Season 4 was when Supernatural began toying with the concept of having Sam and Dean interact with the show’s fans via metafiction, specifically in The Monster at the End of this Book, in which the characters meet their first prophet. This prophet is tasked by God to chronicle the lives of the Winchesters in their quest to avert the apocalypse (all of them, actually) and gifted with visions of their adventures, which he has recorded in novel form and published.
The novels became a cult sensation with an internet following, and Sam and Dean are forced to confront the seedier side of Supernatural fandom when they uncover the horrors of fanfiction. Turns out there are Sam girls, there are Dean girls, and then there are the Sam/Dean girls who prefer a little wincest in their literary diet. Awkward moments ensue.
3. “You’re my Marnie, Moose.”
This line is from the aforementioned Season 8 finale, Sacrifice. There are actually two geek references contained in these four words, but I’m going to have to set the stage for this one. The demonic Crowley has been a primary antagonist on the show for a few years now and he is the perfect villain; that rare bad guy that you kind of like more than the heroes. He is a perfect blend of gravel-voiced British snark and charismatic, theatrical arrogance. He often taunts Sam and Dean by referring to them as “Moose and Squirrel”, respectively, a la Rocky and Bullwinkle which never gets old.
Well, in this episode, Sam has discovered a way to potentially turn a demonic soul twisted by centuries in Hell back into its former human self, and sets to work on the big bad himself as Crowley mocks him by singing Bowie’s Changes. “Time may change me, but you can’t trace time…” As Crowley’s chatter becomes more frantic, he suddenly starts rambling about how he feels he’s become close to the brothers after all they’ve been through together, referencing Band of Brothers.
Upset that Sam appears to have no idea what he’s talking about, the demon gets even more agitated and raves that at some point the brothers must have watched HBO before suddenly switching gears entirely and breaking into tearful praises for Girls, likening himself to Hanna as somebody who just wants to be loved. And Sam is his Marnie. Achievement unlocked: Broken Demon. It was a moment that was hilarious, touching, and 100% batshit all at the same time, but somehow it WORKED. How many shows ever pull off anything like that?
4. “LARP and the Real Girl”
So this is an entire season 8 episode that revolves around a Live Action Role-Playing community, whose fantasy-loving members are being killed by real black magic, which draws in the brothers Winchester to investigate. And who should be the queen of this kingdom? Why, it’s geek sweetheart Felicia Day, whose character’s hacking skills had helped bring the previous season’s badness to a close. Oh, and she claims to have Slave Leia riding a ten-sided die tattooed on her somewhere. I often pass hours in my head trying to imagine exactly where.
Having an entire episode take place in the geekiest of all possible geek communities is more than enough to warrant a spot on this list. But the geekiest moment of all? I’m going to have to go with the seldom-geeky Sam and Dean, having eliminated the real-world threat, taking up arms on the queen’s behalf and going full Braveheart, leading the charge for the glory of the realm.
5. ”Something called a Jared Padalecki.”
In one of the more insanely metafictional ideas for an episode, season six bequeathed unto us The French Mistake, where our heroes find themselves transported to an alternate universe where their adventures are nothing but a TV show filmed by actors, with their parts being played by Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, if you can imagine. The brothers are more than a little confused.
The result is an unusual instance of the characters from a show meeting the real life cast and an amusing commentary from the show’s creators on the actors’ images and fan perceptions of what goes on behind the scenes of the show. Very funny.
6. “Eye of the Tiger”
This one comes from an alternate take in season four episode Yellow Fever that was so awesome they played it in its entirety at the end of the show because some things just need to be shared with the world. In this scene, Sam walked up to Dean and found him rocking out to Survivor’s legendary hit song. In one take, the producers neglected to have Jared Padalecki interrupt Jensen Ackles ‘ performance and Ackles rose to the occasion, delivering improvised comedy gold.
7. “Changing Channels”
Supernatural is not by any means a comedy show, what with the gruesome deaths, brooding heroes, sadistic villains, and end of the world drama, but on occasion they really do put actual comedies to shame when they decide to go for it. In this season five episode, Sam and Dean investigate a murder where a witness swears that a green Lou Ferrigno killed her husband.
A trickster god with a love for pop culture is responsible, and he is altering reality to reflect his favorite television shows, sending heroes and audience on a hilarious satire of TV standards including (among others) a sex-obsessed medical drama complete with girly soundtrack, a police procedural featuring nocturnal sunglass-donning with Who-ish musical accompaniment, and even a Japanese quiz show where failure to perform results in a shot to the nuts. And the boys have to play their assigned roles if they ever want to get out. The gag even carried over into the commercial breaks, with Sam being forced to look into the camera and say something nobody should have to say out loud. So much win. Here’s a very small taste.
8. “Ghost Facers”
A parody of the fake paranormal investigation shows out there, the Ghost Facers are a pair of dorks who first appeared in the inaugural season of Supernatural for an episode entitled Hell House where they were horrified to discover that the fake urban legend they created and disseminated on their website manifested itself in reality. They returned in seasons three and four for more hijinks and eventually earned their own spin-off webseries.
The characters names are Harry Spangler and Ed Zeddmore, which are, of course, references to the horror-comedy classic Ghostbusters, their brand of nerdy arrogance makes them extremely entertaining, and the lame reality show angle is pure gold.
9. “I’m Batman!”
Season three, Bad Day at Black Rock; everybody’s favorite monster hunters come across a rabbit’s foot that brings unbelievable good luck to the person who finds it. The catch is that once the foot is lost (and it always gets lost) the person who had it last will die within a week. Naturally, Dean ends up with it.
When a few hunters who believe Sam to be the antichrist are about to kill the younger Winchester, Dean shows up on the scene having mastered his stupid crazy luck and… just watch.
10. “Wanted Dead or Alive”
In season three’s finale, No Rest for the Wicked, it’s about to go down. Dean is living his literal last night on earth as he has condemned himself to hell due to a demonic deal he made earlier in the series where he got exactly one year to live before his life and soul are forfeit. This moment takes place on the night that his soul is to be collected, with the brothers pursuing the demon that holds Dean’s contract as the seconds tick away. The demon in question is Lilith, who has taken up residence in the body of a little girl and is using her powers to menace the child’s family in homage to a classic Twilight Zone episode.
So as the Winchester boys ride out for maybe the last time on a suicidal attempt to save Dean’s soul, Dean cranks some Bon Jovi to set the mood. Sam expresses amusement at his choice as Dean pours his heart into singing along. Eventually, straight-man Sam not only joins in as Richie Sambora to Dean’s Jon Bon Jovi, but after Dean trails off, visibly contemplating his fate, he keeps right on going.
It’s a moment that starts out funny, becomes badass, and then ends up hitting you right in the feels. Epic is what it is, and pretty damn nerdy too. In fact, this moment kind of defines the whole show for me. Supernatural has always been a mish-mash of my favorite things. And just when I think they’ve exhausted their possibilities, they widen the scope and surprise me again and again.
A lot of viewers -even horror and fantasy fans- seem to have passed the show by having never given it a shot. But a strong cult following has kept Supernatural’s viewership consistent and it’s been fun as a fan to see new fans come into the fold with that wide-eyed “why didn’t anybody tell me about this?!” enthusiasm since Netflix Instant added it to the roster. Speaking of which, if you haven’t ridden with the Winchesters yet, now’s a pretty good time to start with seven seasons worth of awesome waiting for you to “Watch Instantly”. Just saying.