A few years ago, amidst the void left by the monster-hunting grooviness of Buffy The Vampire Slayer along came Supernatural, a WB series that debuted in fall 2005 as some sort of viable contender to bring standalone evil, a recurring demonic arc, dry humor and hunky leads that fit the network mold of skewing young.
In 2011 the show has begun its seventh strong season on the WB, and though it appeared to be on the verge of ending neatly after season five, a twist and tilt of the central mythology has given new sea legs to the adventures of brothers Sam and Dean Winchester, and their quest to prevent a literal run of hell on Earth. This six-disc season six set (if only there was one more six it would seem thematically appropriate) catches Supernatural on its way to revitalizing its new central thesis, going beyond demon hunting into the realm of vengeful angels, a disinterested god and the search for a lost soul.
This collection follows the brothers - Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) - as they deal with pesky issues such as Sam's pilfered soul, a cocky lord of Hell, a civil war in Heaven and even a little H.P. Lovecraft as the season builds to some monumental changes for Team Winchester ally and rogue angel Castiel (Misha Collins). Explaining the intricacies of the plot would be pointless if you're a newcomer, because there's a whole lot of backstory; if you've followed this through season five then moving on to this set is a no-brainer. Considering how Supernatural could have easily closed up shop after the fifth season, especially with the way things has quasi-closure (skewed closure, but closure nonetheless) it's remarkable that the expanded storylines here don't feel nearly as forced as I had anticipated. Sure, the whole "will Sam get his soul back" bit perhaps gets overplayed - and may have been better served getting tied up sooner - but season six is as much about the evolution and expansion of the character Castiel, the trenchcoated angel who provides not only some of the show's best dry-humor delivery, but as things progress gets to show his bad-assness.
While the central civil-war-lost-soul arc continues standalone highlights in season six include the Ben Edlund-penned Clap Your Hands If You Believe, which manages to combine UFOs, fairies and leprechauns into one neat pile. The humor quotient is high, yet the concept is pretty grim, aided by a terrific performance from guest star Robert Picardo. Edlund, however, really knocks it out of the park with the brilliantly self-referential The French Mistake, which could be my favorite Supernatural ep of the past few seasons. After being sent to an alternate universe by the angel Balthazar (Sebastian Roché), the Winchesters find themselves as actors Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles on a show called Supernatural. Lots of great in-jokes and mockery abound here, including a violent showdown with series creator Eric Kripke (Micah A. Hauptman).
Utilizing an evenly balanced mix of humor and horror, Supernatural walks a potentially dangerous line, but it does so with a cocksure aplomb. There's the overall apocalyptic vibe, with plenty of dark religious tangents, mixed with some pretty graphic violence (for a WB series, that is) and witty (if not downright comical) dialogue to give everything a proper Buffyverse homage. Maybe Eric Kripke - along with executive producers Robert Singer, Sera Gamble and Ben Edlund - would disagree with my Whedon-esque comparisons, but in my book that's not just a good thing, it's a great thing. Supernatural may seem familiar on one level, but it's really its own entity, operating on a completely different level of demons than lovable Buffy Summers did. There are some pretty edgy concepts on display here, and even as an atheist I'm constantly amazed at the way a network series (WB is a network, sort of) often goes against the common party line in its portrayal of angels, demons and the notion of god.
In the meantime, if you're new to Supernatural I recommend starting at season one. You'll thank me later...
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfers pale next to their BD brethren, but aside from that obvious comparison the image is quite decent and on par with broadcast quality. Black levels, especially on a show like this that so often features dimly lit scenes, are solid throughout, colors look evenly rendered and no major evidence of compression/EE issues to contend with. Nice.
High marks for the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track, chock full of deep bass and an aggressive rear channel mix. Dialogue is clean and easily discernible, but it is elements like the low rumble of Sam and Dean's car or the directional movement during the 'then and now' opening bits is really where it's at here.
Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.
The heavy cardboard slipcase houses a tri-hinged clear plastic case containing the six discs of this set; inside a fold-out insert provides episode summaries, production info and original airdates, if that's your bag. As for disc supplements spread across the set, pickings are fairly thin. There are only a pair of commentaries (though for two of the best eps of the season), both delivered by executive producers Robert Singer, Sera Gamble and Ben Edlund. The first appears on disc three for Clap Your Hands If You Believe and disc four's The French Mistake. The absence of Ackles and Padalecki is notable, but the tracks are informative, and I always find input from those three (Singer, Gamble, Edlund) to be fairly revealing and enlightening.
Disc one features a frothy Jensen Ackles: A Director's Journey (26m:45s), which looks at his foray into directing the ep Weekend At Bobby's. Strip away the heard-it-before comments about making that transition and it is the behind-the-scenes footage that is most fascinating here. Disc four offers up the chuckle-worthy The French Mistake Alternate Takes and Outtakes (04m:27s), which while hardly necessary does manage to be entertaining. The final disc carries the most material, beginning with the 'what's a soul?' exploration of Supernatural And The Quest For The Soul (29m:30s), with production staff, theologians and the like. A tired Gag Reel (11m:10s) is included, as are a couple of episodes of Supernatural: The Anime Series. I'm not a big anime fan, so this didn't do much for me, but if you like that sort of thing you can watch All Hell Breaks Loose Part I (22m:42s) and All Hell Breaks Loose Part I (22m:42s). Each anime episode features an Ackles/Padalecki intro, as well.
A show that during its first season was perhaps more of a guilty pleasure - until it became more grounded in the mythology - has long ago matured into one of those must-see series each week. This season six set has a number of standout eps (The French Mistake anyone?) and the season ender cliffhanger is genius.