The latest TV series produced by "Charlie's Angels" director McG (see also "The OC" and "Fastlane", "Supernatural" is a WB (sorry, I mean CW) is a sort of a teen "The X-Files" (frequent "Supernatural" director Kim Manners was a frequent "X-Files" director and "Supernatural" co-exec producer John Shiban started his career as an "X-Files" staff writer. Other ex "X-Files" staff are also along for the ride.) While the series doesn't meet the level "The X-Files" did in its prime, "Supernatural" still surprises with how genuinely creepy and compelling it is at times.
"Supernatural" focuses on Sam and Dean Winchester, played by Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki. The boys lost their mother to a demon and their father trained them to hunt evil demons or creatures. In the first season, their father had disappeared only to return to join the boys in their fight. The season finale, however, ended with a tragic accident that left all three of their fates in question. The second season saw the aftermath of the crash and the boys' father making a big decision. Afterwards, the two sons hit the road, solving more cases and trying to cope with their father's decision.
The third season of the show upped the stakes really quite nicely, continuing off where the prior season ended, with Dean making a massive choice to save his brother. The end of the season also gave the two a major task: the gates of hell were opened, letting hundreds of demons out to walk the Earth. As one character says to the two brothers in the first episode: "You've brought war down on us."
However, the clock is ticking down on Dean, as he's only got a year due to the deal he made to bring back Sam. Sam, meanwhile, searches desperately for a way to save his brother, but defaulting on the deal would mean grave consequences for Sam. The thread of Sam trying to find a way to save Dean leads to some powerful dramatic moments as the two brothers try to cope in their own way - Dean's initial recklessness leads to sober realization, while Sam is heartbroken at the thought that he may lose his brother in a year.
Not surprisingly, the fourth season manages to up the stakes further (something the show has done quite well since season one.) You know - end of the world, that sort of thing - all in a day's work for Sam and Dean. However, there's one big problem: Dean has to figure out a way to get out of Hell first. When he wakes up again in the real world with no knowledge of why he's been pulled back from the depths of hell, he sets out to find Sam, who ran off in search of a way to get Dean back. Dean and Bobby think that the only way that Dean could have been brought back is that Sam had been up to dark dealings.
Much to Dean and Bobby (Jim Beaver)'s surprise, there is no deal, as Sam wasn't able to find any demon willing to make a bargain - so who was it? It's gradually revealed that Dean and Sam are part of a larger plan launched by God, and that Dean was pulled back to Earth by an angel named Castiel (Masha Collins). Towards the end of the opening episode ("Lazarus Rising"), Castiel explains that Dean has work to do.
If they didn't believe him at first, they certainly do in the next episode ("Are You There God? It's Me, Dean Winchester"), where "The Rising of the Witnesses" - angry spirits of those who were not able to be saved - is revealed to be a rather large sign of the upcoming apocalypse.
The season veers back-and-forth (quite well) between the story regarding the boys trying to stop the Apocalypse and stories of the week. Once again, the series manages to come up with some particularly imaginative stories, including, "In the Beginning", where Dean is sent back to before he was born to learn more from his parents. "Wishful Thinking" also explores both the positives and rather serious negatives of what might happen if the town wishing well really worked. "Monster Movie" is a clever take on the classics, while "It's a Terrible Life" is an entertaining "Twilight Zone"-esque effort. As the series has done in the past, the finale is just as massive a reveal as the prior seasons, and sets up an epic fifth season.
What's remarkable about "Supernatural" is how far the series has come in several regards. While the show initially looked like another "teen drama" to some, it was a surprisingly enjoyable and eerie effort from producer McG, with two excellent lead performances from Ackles and Padalecki. The two leads have grown into their characters over the seasons and the result are deeper, more powerful performances from both. Beaver also continues to offer an excellent supporting effort. The show certainly is skilled at delivering the creeps, but what also impresses (even moreso this time around) is how many moments are genuinely, deeply moving.
While the drama has been heightened, that's not to say that the series can't still be deeply, darkly funny. In the second episode, it's revealed that Bobby built a ghost-proof supernatural panic room. When pressed on how he could have done that, he notes, "I had a weekend off." A few minutes later, when discussing the Apocalypse, Dean includes in his description, "$5 gas."
Additionally, the show's look has improved considerably. While "Supernatural" has always been impressive at delivering tense, surreal and deeply spooky imagery, the show's art direction, production design and effects work, among other departments. There are some truly inspired visuals throughout this season. The show also retains its unique underlying flavor - the tension (and especially the sense of dread, which is especially heavy this season) and desolation sometimes gives the show a bit of the feel of a Western. The show's other big positive is knowing when showing less results in more; while there are certainly more than a few bold freak-outs, the series makes a great deal out of creepy sounds in the distance or creaky floorboards.
61. 4- 1 18 Sep 08 Lazarus Rising
- Dean wakes up in his own coffin. How did he return from the dead, and what happened in the four months he was in Hell?
62. 4- 2 25 Sep 08 Are You There God? It's Me, Dean Winchester
- After Dean's encounter with Castiel, Dean, Sam and Bobby begin to come under attack from the angry spirits of those they were not able to save. They are also warned that someone is trying to break seals that will bring on the apocalypse.
63. 4- 3 2 Oct 08 In the Beginning
- Castiel sends Dean back to Kansas in the 70's, where he meets his parents.
64. 4- 4 9 Oct 08 Metamorphosis
- Dean fears Sam is using his paranormal gifts in conflicts with God's plan. 65. 4- 5 16 Oct 08 Monster Movie
- In a B & W world reminiscent of classic horror flicks, the brothers take on a vampire, werewolf and mummy who are on a rampage at Oktoberfest.
66. 4- 6 23 Oct 08 Yellow Fever
- Dean is stricken with a mysterious illness that frightens its victims to death.
67. 4- 7 30 Oct 08 It's the Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester
- Another seal is being broken, and to try and stop it, Castiel plans the annihilation of the town.
68. 4- 8 6 Nov 08 Wishful Thinking
- A small town's wishing well actually works.
69. 4- 9 13 Nov 08 I Know What You Did Last Summer
- During a search for a girl named Anna Milton - who has a mysterious connection to angels - it's revealed what happened to Sam during the months he was in Hell.
70. 4-10 20 Nov 08 Heaven and Hell
- The angels come after Anna, so Sam and Dean go on the run with the frightened girl, determined to discover why she's become a target.
71. 4-11 15 Jan 09 Family Remains
- An All-American family doesn't stand a chance when a force turns their new home into a haunted house.
72. 4-12 22 Jan 09 Criss Angel Is A Douchebag
- Aging magician the Incredible Jay escapes from a dangerous trick.
73. 4-13 29 Jan 09 After School Special
- Murder brings Dean and Sam back to one of their old high schools, where they investigate possible demonic possession.
74. 4-14 5 Feb 09 Sex and Violence
- In a small Iowa town, three husbands are spending more time at the local nudie bar than their wives - who have met a mysterious fate.
75. 4-15 12 Mar 09 Death Takes a Holiday
- Reapers take a break from work, and that means no one can die. Unfortunately, rather than a real break, they're being held hostage by a demo.
76. 4-16 19 Mar 09 On the Head of a Pin
- After several angels are mysteriously murdered, Castiel and Uriel demand that Dean use his skills learned in hell to extract information from Alastair.
77. 4-17 26 Mar 09 It's a Terrible Life
- At Sandover Bridge and Iron Inc, Dean is Dean Smith, while Sam is Sam Wesson - what is going on?
78. 4-18 2 Apr 09 The Monster at the End of This Book
- Sam and Dean come across a series of graphic novels called "Supernatural" whose story seems awfully familiar.
79. 4-19 23 Apr 09 Jump the Shark
- The Winchesters discover they have a younger half-brother.
80. 4-20 30 Apr 09 The Rapture
- The body Castiel walks around in isn't his and the owner wants it back. While he may get it back, his life isn't quite the same.
81. 4-21 7 May 09 When The Levee Breaks
- Dean and Bobby have Sam locked in their panic room, contaminated by demon blood. As the apocalypse draws nearer, Bobby wants to free Sam to battle with them.
82. 4-22 14 May 09 Lucifer Rising
- The brothers prepare to fight the forces of the apocalypse in different camps. While Sam and Ruby hunt Lilith, Dean and Castiel are joined by Zachariah to take on Lucifer.
VIDEO: "Supernatural" is presented by Warner Brothers in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation quality isn't without a few minor concerns, but mostly looked terrific. Sharpness and detail were mostly impressive, even in the show's many dark or dimly-lit sequences. A few minor hints of artifacting were spotted in a couple of dark scenes, but these instances were very few. No edge enhancement or other concerns were spotted. Colors generally looked subdued, but that's what the show is going for.
SOUND:"Supernatural" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The show's soundtrack remained enjoyably eerie, with the surrounds offering up an array of intense sound effects and enjoyable ambience. The show's classic rock soundtrack also sounded bold and rich, with fine clarity. Dialogue sounded natural and well-recorded.
EXTRAS: Exec producer Eric Kripke and writer Jeremy Carter offer an audio commentary for "In the Beginning". Kripke offers a commentary for "Lucifer Rising" and director Robert Singer and writer Sera Gamble offer an audio commentary for "When the Levee Breaks". All three commentaries are quite enjoyable, providing an overview of the development of the episode, storyline and production challenges that occurred. While a few minor pauses of silence occur, the participants otherwise keep the discussion going throughout the three episodes.
"Mythology of Supernatural" is a 3-part look at the actual religious mythology/history behind elements of the show's stories. The documentary is broken up into parts and then those parts are broken into further parts (and, unfortunately, there is no "play all" option.) While having all of these documentaries be able to be played back-to-back would have been nice, this is a particularly enjoyable set of featurettes that offer interviews from various experts and cast members on "Paradise", "Purgatory" and "Inferno". Finally, a very funny gag reel is offered, as are deleted scenes on several episodes.
Final Thoughts: While I initially found "Supernatural" to be a pleasant surprise, the fourth season really sees the show taking a few steps further, with improved performances, an impressive mix of dark humor and drama and a set of tense, compelling stories. The DVD set provides very good audio/video quality, as well as a few informative supplements. Highly recommended.