Contains minor spoilers.
I’m not quite sure when it happened – at the end of season seven, I think – but Supernatural lost its way. I remember looking forward to each new episode during the period when it was, first and foremost, a monster-of-the-week type of show, a Scooby-Doo for grown-ups. Then it all got a bit convoluted with the introduction of angels, but we went with it. Then there were angel wars and it all seemed to be getting a little bit silly. Then there were leviathans and, despite the fact we never really understood what they were and never really found them such a menace, we went with that too.
But season eight found Supernatural doing something I have yet to forgive: it simply got a bit shit. The scripts got weaker, the stars were at times looking visibly bored, and the whole thing was like watching Supernatural through a frosted window. The first half of season eight wasn’t helped by the awful flashback structure or the introduction of Benny, a character it seems most fans didn’t warm to. The second half was passable, but only because it was a TV series the fans loved and didn’t want to let go of.
Now we have season nine – four seasons more than the original intention. The way forward might have been to go back to the monster-of-the-week format, but this week’s first episode doesn’t point towards that happening as one of the Winchesters is again at death’s door (literally). How many times can they die or nearly die before us not shouting at the screen “just die and be done with it?” We know they’re not going to die. Or, if they do, they won’t stay dead. There’s no suspense in these scenarios anymore.
To be fair, the first episode of season nine was better than the first episode of season eight, but that’s not saying much. There’s no inspiration here anymore, and certainly no logic – just scatterbrained ideas with no rhyme or reason to them. It’s almost as if the writers have got together in a panic having learned yet another season is on its way and they have no idea what they are going to fill twenty-two episodes with. I’m not even sure they understand the storyline anymore and how we landed up at this point. Even the re-cap at the beginning of the episode gave up on reminding us of the story so far, it was just 60 seconds of snippets that could have been thrown together by a kid at a computer.
To be fair, there were some highlights of S09E01. Ezekiel seemed like a nice chap, but it doesn’t look like he will be around on a regular basis. Castiel is present and correct, but he’s gained and lost his powers more times that a recurring guest star has found themselves filming a death scene. And it’s always nice to see Bobby (killing him off in season seven was hardly the programme’s most sensible decision), but his appearance seems to have been to delight fans rather than to serve any great purpose. Finally, there was Castiel recreating a famous laundrette-set advert – the episode’s highpoint and one reminding us that the surreal humour that used to a be a trademark of the series has been sorely lacking of late. Castiel with his kit off, though, actually makes us realise he now looks younger than Sam (who hasn’t had a haircut since the last season, in case you were wondering).
I wanted to be drawn back into Supernatural, but I now sit here and wonder if I can really be bothered anymore.
I talked about the return of Glee a couple of weeks back, and last night saw the broadcast of the anticipated episode dealing with the passing of Finn Hudson, following Cory Monteith’s death in the summer. Reviews of the episode have ranged from luke-warm to very favourable. Glee might miss the mark quite a bit these days but, unlike Supernatural, it does seem to be trying its best. There have been comments that there was no explanation for Finn’s death, and that the series could have force-fed us a drugs-related issue-of-the-week episode. But this probably wasn’t the time or place for a drugs-related episode (although the absence of such a storyline is a mysterious omission over the last four seasons). Instead, Glee played a blinder dealing with an issue that effects more teenagers than drugs does: grief.
The episode starts three weeks after Finn’s death, with both old and new members of New Directions coming together for a private memorial to Finn. The supposed leap in time from the last episode makes one wonder why this wasn’t the first episode of the present season, as it would have made more sense given the summer break. Even so, this was played to perfection…mostly. The teen audience was told that there was no right time or right way to deal with grief when someone close to you passes away, and that is something of a valuable (and rarely mentioned) lesson.
The sequence near the beginning of the episode where Kurt returns home and he and his Dad and step-Mum (Finn’s mother) start to go through Finn’s things, deciding what to keep and what to not keep, was superb. Romy Rosemont gave a stunning, heartbreaking performance, and the writing was spot-on as those of us who have been in similar situations will know all too well. Amber Riley’s vocal performances reminded us of just what a fine singer she is. Perhaps the big mistake was affording so much screen time to Puck – Mark Salling’s acting was never exactly stellar, but seems to have got worse since he has been away from the show, and his performance seemed to be the only weak link in the episode. The show didn’t forget it was a comedy at heart either, and there were some unexpected but welcome comedic moments (most notably when Tina goes to grief counselling). It’s hard to imagine how the episode could have been dealt with better, especially remembering this is, primarily, a show for teens. It would have been all too easy to pull at the heartstrings every thirty seconds but, oddly, the whole episode seemed less manipulative than normal – and that was a welcome surprise.