I like a lot of cheesy things. This is the default setting for scifi fans. One must like the cheese as well as the well-written, well-acted, heart-wrenching drama with bonus explosions in space or one will miss out on what I suspect is about half the genre. Because I’ve lived with this open-armed and loving attitude towards cheesy things for oh, so very very long, I’ve honestly lost most of the sensitivity in my cheese-o-meter. Which is not to say that I don’t know when a thing is outright bad. I do. Or, rather, I know when I don’t like a thing. I suppose that’s an important distinction. Everything horrible has at least one biggest fan or the people who make horrible things would have stopped by now. The point is, I don’t think cheesy things can be judged for their cheesiness objectively.
There. Now I will stop saying “cheese.” Probably.
I bring up this issue because I started watching Supernatural a few weeks ago, and I’m honestly not sure how to talk about it. Like any tv show, it’s somewhere between utterly lame and the best thing ever, depending on your mindset when you start watching and how long you wait before deciding to either embrace or bail. I try to give anything I watch at least a full season. If I don’t give a shit what happens next, I’m out. If it’s lukewarm, but I still want to find out despite the awful, I’ll keep watching. You never know, it might get its feet under it. Stranger things have happened during second seasons. I’m not saying that Supernatural might be bad. I just mean that it seems like the sort of show that comes with a built-in catch-22: it seems silly and not worth your time until you’re sucked in, but you won’t ever get sucked in if you don’t give it a shot because it seems silly and not worth your time. Like so much scifi. A shame, that. And oddly genre-specific.
Anyway. Basic rundown: Sam and Dean Winchester have been raised their whole lives to hunt monsters. Their mother was killed by a demon when they were little and their father brought them up to hate and kill all the sticky things that go “boo.” Sam, the younger brother, had tried to escape this bizarre legacy by going to Stanford and dating a beautiful blonde stereotype. When the girlfriend gets murdered by the same demon that killed his mother (of course she does), he rejoins his brother in the family business and we’re off and running. It’s like the X-files and Buffy had a baby that was raised by Stargate.
And I bring up Stargate for a reason. The shows don’t resemble each other that much – writing, plot, etc, are all worlds apart – but, the overall character arcs are more central to both shows than whatever shenanigans are going down. Sometimes an entirely forgettable episode becomes key much later because of one line of dialogue or one small action tying in to a bigger plot line that changes the whole character. The other thing that reminds me of Stargate is all the different mythologies, all mixed together and stacked on top of each other. Some of the monsters are really cool. There’s a whole vampire thing, and tons of demons, and a lot of one-off references to bad guys from many and varied lores. I like that. Equal opportunity stabbing. The only thing that bothered me was that while both brothers had been slaying demons and nasties all their lives, in season four they scoffed at the possibility of angels existing, as did all the other hunters that they talked to. To such an extent that it seemed like none of them had ever even picked up a Bible or any other contemporary religious literature (“contemporary” in this case of course meaning “still widely in use”). I can understand not wanting to offend your audience, maybe, but since their job is to be well-versed in myths and legends from other cultures and/or times, this seemed like a glaring plot hole. And one they fell into good and proper for about a season. Which might have been the point, but it still got under my skin.
Supernatural also has a great sense of humor. I love when the creators of a show don’t take the show too seriously all the time, when they understand what it is. It’s super self-deprecating and self-referential and the longer one watches the funnier those callbacks become. It’s full of music and movie references, too, which you know I love. But it makes me wonder how these boys had the time to watch all those movies, growing up the way they did. Makes me wonder, anyway. (I may have a small problem with suspending disbelief when it comes to the personal lives of fictional people. I’m working on it.) There are a couple of episodes in particular that make outright fun of the show, its storylines, and the cast, including pointing out the wealth of Supernatural slash fiction (which among fans is called “Wincest”). But the best one? In the episode “Live Fast and Twi-hard,” the dumb girl and her willowy vampire boyfriend are named Kristen and Robert. I had to hit pause for a minute, I was laughing so hard. Predictable, sure, but still hilarious.
Here’s the thing I like about shows like these: the monsters are real. I like when there’s a seedy underbelly to our reality, our worldview, and a secret subculture of people who know the truth. We’ve all heard of vampires, we know the stories, we know that you have to stake them through the heart, right? But what if you were faced with one? Say you’re walking down a dark alley and you think the dude who jumps out at you is an average mugger, but no! He fangs you to death and you’re thinking “What the fuck? Was that a vampire? Vampires aren’t real!” as you lay bleeding. No, dude, clearly vampires are now very real. And you’re dead so you can’t tell anyone. Bummer. But had you known that ahead of time, you might not have died. Or become a monster yourself, perhaps. I like when the world that a show operates in is not some closely-related one that resembles our own, but is actually our own. They can write around our prejudices and our hangups, use them to their advantage. It widens the scope, somehow, to not have to come up with a whole new set of rules.
And who among us didn’t want to fight bad guys when we were little and imaginative and idealistic? Monsters are the ultimate bad guys, aren’t they? Sure, I could get a graduate degree in sociology or economics and maybe get into politics or become a lawyer or an FBI agent to fight real-world meanies. But there’s so much red tape and bullshit in the way of doing real good in the real world. Sometimes it seems hopeless to even try. Kudos to those among us who have that in them. You’re better folk than I. Killing monsters? That’s clean. Neat and tidy and unequivocally a good deed, every time. That’s the problem with people who we call “monsters,” isn’t it? They’re still people. They’re still like us, somehow, and as much as we hate to admit it, there’s a kinship there that makes our brains not want to slash and slay them with reckless abandon.
Anyway, maybe go watch some Supernatural. It might be cheesy, but I don’t know for sure. Obviously. Oh, and a small side note: Misha Collins, the actor who plays the angel Castiel, runs a really interesting charity. They raise money so that people can perpetrate random acts of kindness. It seems like an uncomplicated way to do real good in the real world. Check it out if you’re feeling charitable. And if you run across any vampires, let me know if that staking thing really works.