Tuesday, March 11, 2008

“Don’t Go Upstairs!”: A "Supernatural" Obsession

I managed to survive the strike without too much trouble of finding suitable replacement entertainment. While I loathe game shows that give people crazy amounts of cash for being able to recognize simple numbers and I don’t trust America to pick its next idol, I still had “The Bad Girls Club” and a slew of surprisingly watchable fare from MTV and VH1 (“Making the Band 4,” “Gauntlet III”, “The Salt N Peppa Show” and “Rock of Love II”). I also had the movies. I would survive. And I did. But as soon as the strike ended, and I knew my favorite shows were coming back on the air in just a couple of months, my admittedly low-brow entertainment went from salacious guilty pleasures to annoying skankfests with bitches who are more in need of therapy and medication than phat L.A. cribs and a bottle service at the trendiest clubs.

Reality shows are like Taco Bell: it's great every now and then, but consuming it regularly will make you sick. I missed shows with a real script and drama with actors and foresight and deliciously melodramatic moments like Izzie tearfully begging Denny to fight because she loved him or Peter Petrelli diving off the side of a building because he thought he could fly.

In my quest for a decent drama, I stumbled upon Youtube clips of “Supernatural,” the once WB now newly renewed CW saga about two formerly estranged brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester (starring “Gilmore Girls” Jared Padalecki and the gorgeous Jensen Ackles), who travel country to hunt demons and other supernatural beings inspired by real folklore.

The show has a deceptively simple concept, but it pops with all sorts of “Why hasn’t this been done before?” genius: Dean, the older brother, uses a sawed-off shot gun with shells filled with rock salt to repel demons; Dean keeps a full-on anti-demon arsenal in the trunk of his beloved car—a 1967 Impala; Sam was the intelligent younger son who left the demon hunting trade behind for Stanford. All of this comes together to create a truly believable and cryptically fun world of demon hunter culture that’s greasy and action-packed and seemingly as apart of our American culture as Apple Pie and truck stops.

I also have an extreme love/hate relationship with the show’s suspense. Each installment usually opens with a creepy montage of some poor person strolling around the thick darkness of their home, frowning when the lights flicker and sticking their faces next to malfunctioning saber saws. It’s terrifying, even though you know the victims will be grizzly slain by the evil being. I’m constantly screaming “TURN ON THE LIGHT!” “DON’T GO UPSTRAIRS!” “RIGHT BEHIND YOU!” “DON’T STICK YOUR HAND DOWN THE GARBAGE DISPOSAL!”

“Supernatural” is a weekly horror show, and even watching episodes back-to-back, the scares are classic, but wickedly successful. It illustrates that less violent scares can be as terrifying even controlled by the ghoulish FCC and censors. But it also proves that real horror is more of the unknown (which the show capitalizes on) and less torture-porn as the new crop of horror movies seems to believe.

Moreover, “Supernatural” is beautifully shot, wonderfully acted and smartly written. Padalacki and Ackles have genuine chemistry, and manage to emotionally ground a fantasy world with real human angst and laugh-out-loud humor. The dramatic dysfunction between the two brothers and sometimes their lumberjack-ian father (played by the loveable Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is so palpable and relatable that I often compare Sam and Dean relationship to that of my sister and I. The brotherly moments are the true heart of the show, and both actors dive in and sell them in the most poignant and visceral way.

Admittedly, Jensen Ackles is the better actor and consistently proves that he’s more than just an extremely pretty face. He stuffs a refreshing amount of character, sillyness and pizzazz into a hard-edged, wiseacre demon hunter who loves his car, killin' demons, classic rock, and “frisky women.” With years of acting credits to his name (“Days of our Lives,” “Dark Angel,” and “Smallville), he shines as Dean Winchester—the anti-hero who will literally die to protect his little bro’, Sammy. I predict he’ll be the next Brad Pitt (or the first Jensen Ackles), give him five more years.

I give kudos to the young Padalecki holds his own against a strong cast and accomplished guest stars, but there is something a bit too rehearsed about Jared Padalecki’s once law school-bound Sam. He can pull off the dramatic scenes without a problem (“Supernatural” can get surprisingly and satisfyingly tearjerky) and has a very soothing/eerie “I’m sorry your husband was disemboweled” voice. I don't think he's as spontaneous as Ackles--where there are many scenes and moments when I forget he's actually acting. Sam's character is definitely more rigid than Dean's and may hinder Padalecki's range. I do have an enormous amount of respect for his talent. I know that Padalecki, being a few months younger than myself, will only improve as he gains experience.

“Supernatural” is my new obsession, and I tore into all 64 episodes like a vampire with free reign at a blood bank. It will get me through the long days until my favorite shows return for a short run before taking their summer breaks, and come fall, the game starts all over again with rejuvenated writers, fresh plots and a whole bunch of "sons a bitches" to kill.

Bloggers Note: I cannot watch “What is and What Should Never Be” without crying, and I have no problem admitting that. This episode proves what a great actor Jensen Ackles is.

Also, be careful when searching for “Supernatural” clips on Youtube. I ran across something called “Wincest” and forgot how incredibly "dedicated" online fandoms can be.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Originality is dead...

Any good writer worth their salt will tell you that there is no such thing as a new story. Oprah may gush that “Juno” is “so fresh” and new, but ultimately, there are two age old stories that won’t change: boy gets girl; boy loses girl; man triumphs over evil; man is defeated by evil. Granted, there are infinite variations on how man or love prevails or fails.

All of that aside, it’s still downright flabbergasting to see that television executives and writers have lost their drive to create something new. (Do execs really strive to make anything new?) Technology has finally caught up to imagination, and instead of the industry embracing the CGIs and green screens in an innovative way, we get re-vamped series with “Knight Rider,” “American Gladiators,” “Terminator,” “Bionic Woman,” two versions of “Sex and the City” in NBC’s “Lipstick Jungle” and ABC’s “Cashmere Mafia.”

I remember watching “Knight Rider” as a child, and while the idea of a car so technologically advanced, it can talk, still ranks high on the Bad Ass meter, it’s not exactly appointment television. Sorry, Hasselhoff.

Admittedly, I understand that the lack of technology hindered the aesthetics of shows like “Rider” and “Bionic Woman.” The advancement in digital photography alone revolutionizes how fast film can be edited and enhanced. It’s natural for fans of those cheesy hits of yesteryear (and now creators of TV shows) to want to revisit said shows and bring their fancy, supped-up arsenal of technology with them…and hope the fanbase will come too. I don’t understand why that technology hasn’t been applied to more inventive shows, like “Heroes” and the painfully underrated “The 4400”—a now canceled USA Summer Series.

I can concede that the visually flashy, albeit stale “Cashmere Mafia” and promising “Lipstick Jungle” (based on the book of the same name by the “SATC” author, Candace Bushnell) could be considered shows in a new genre of television—Power Women Chic—that “Sex and the City” invented.

On the contrary, cable networks like USA, TNT and FX have built new and stronger reputations by unveiling edgier, riskier shows. And people are watching. USA’s “Monk”—a show about an OCD-ridden ex-detective—has brought the network more viewers and three Emmy wins for actor and star Tony Shalhub. USA has gone on to forge a fairly impressive schedule of shows that are usually a twist on traditional cop shows. “Burn Notice” is the latest to the USA family and dominated summer shows.

“The Closer” starring Kyra Sedgwick launched TNT from a network for old movies and re-runs to a network that created the strongest, most independent female character on television who was not an ice queen, but a caring, hard-edged woman with a sweet-tooth who solved murders with a holstered gun and a southern-lilted, “Thank you.”

FX carved out their own niche of uber-risque programming with “Nip/Tuck” and most recently, “Dirt” created by Courteney Cox-Arquette.

With the writers’ strike finally over, and writers returning to work, I hope that transfer their professional victory into new shows with original, risk-taking formats, instead of falling back on the old ones. Hollywood loves going green, and recycling is fantastic for the environment, but lazy for television.