In a cunning bid to get viewers hooked on long-running American TV shows, my local supermarket has a whole stack of first season boxsets on sale for the ridiculously tempty price of seven pounds sterling each! I tried to resist the call of the cardboard stand where they were sat, all shiny and new in their fancy space-saving cases (which magically cram six discs into the space normally occupied by one)… but I’m a weak, weak man, and eventually ended up buying into Supernatural. I’d never seen the show before, or read much about it (beyond the fact that Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle appear in later seasons), but since I’m trying to write spooky mystery stories myself at the moment, it seemed like something I should be watching for “inspiration” (i.e., ideas I could rip-off). In short the premise of the series is this: Back in the day, Daddy Winchester’s wife was killed by a powerful demon who promptly vanished, and so the ex-Marine has dedicated his life to hunting and killing evil things, raising his two sons Dean and Sam to do likewise, in the hope that they would one day catch up with the thing that killed his missus. In the pilot we learn that youngest son Sam has given up “the family business” to attend college and try to pass himself off as a civilian… but when Daddy Winchester goes missing, eldest son Dean quickly drags his sibling off on an epic quest to shoot American folklore in the face with a sawn-off shotgun.
My problem with this premise is that the only female characters in the show are either ephemeral damsels-in-distress, or evil creatures/ghosts to be fought and excised. Since the Winchester Boys have chosen to cut themselves off from the rest of society, for the standard reasons that superheroes usually give for adopting “secret identities”, this basically means that they’ll flirt/bond with the women they meet along the way, but then wave good-bye at the end of the episode, once the grateful gal has given our heroes a chaste peck on the cheek, or a hearty handshake. Blah. This also means we have to put up with a lot of bullshit macho posturing, as the two brothers rag on each other, argue over who gets to drive Dean’s muscle car, and generally tool around like a couple of bickering douchebags.* I thought the individual monster-of-the-week mysteries were incredibly creepy, with fantastic SFX, art direction and cinematography, but everything sort of ground to a tedious halt when the writers tried to focus on the family dynamic instead of the spookshow. I probably shouldn’t admit this… but y’know the old cliché about how men supposedly fantasise about famous actresses/models when they’re making love to their wives? Well, the whole way through the second half of the season, I was imagining how much more I’d enjoy the show if Dean was played by Michelle Rodriguez! No? Just me then.
The revolving-door casting policy did mean that they worked through some pretty good guest actresses though: First up was Sarah Shahi in the pilot as ‘Constance Welsh’, a hitchhiking ghost who seduces unfaithful men, before backseat-driving them to their deaths. Pesky! Shahi went on to star as ‘Detective Dani Reese’ in Life, which I used to rather enjoy. It wasn’t the most complex or mentally-taxing of cop shows, but I liked the fact that the hero was a Zen Buddhist, who dispensed some philosophical wisdom as he went about his business. According to Wikipedia, Shahi is a former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, of Spanish and Iranian descent, who was named #66 on the Maxim magazine “Hot 100 of 2006”, and also ranked No. 5 on the AfterEllen.com hot list in 2007 (presumably for her turn in The L Word). Next up was Amy Acker, of Angel and Dollhouse fame, playing the mother of a mute boy who held the key to a mystery involving murderous, sentient water (ep 1.3). Yes, really. Ep 1.11 featured an actress named Leah Graham… who hasn’t really been in anything else I’ve seen, but she had such a cute chipmunk face, I feel compelled to give her a shout-out anyway. Julie Benz, of Buffy and Angel fame, appeared in Ep 1.12 as a young woman hoping a faith healer can save her life… although she didn’t get much to do beyond looking sad and saintly. Beth Broderick cropped up in ep. 1.14, as the wife of a man who dies in extremely unlikely circumstances (his car and garage door conspire to gas him to death). Broderick is probably best known for playing ‘Zelda Spellman’ in Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, but I’ll always think of her most fondly as Chicklet’s kinky mother in Psycho Beach Party! Ep 1.17 features Agam Darshi, of Sanctuary fame, as a generic college student who foolishly caves to peer pressure, and enters a cursed house on a dare. SPOILER: She doesn’t last very long. Apparently Agam is also a writer/filmmaker and has produced a short film titled Bollywood Beckons, which looks pretty good from the trailer. The only recurring living female character this season was ‘Meg Masters’, played by Nicki Aycox (eps 1.11, 1.16, 1.21 and 1.22). I thought it was pretty obvious from her very first scene that her character was a wrong ‘un, but hilariously the supposedly-psychic Sam didn’t seem to pick up on any of the creepy vibes she was sending out. What a schmuck! Although she’s been in a ton of things, the coolest credit on her resume is probably her recurring role as Carol’s sister ‘Stella Vessey’ on Ed. Sigh… I used to love the crap outta that show.
The here-today-gone-tomorrow effect is especially glaring and egregious when it comes to the two major African-American characters featured in this season, because the writers work so hard to establish them as important figures in the heroes’ histories… only for them to be erased from their consciousness as soon as the episode ends. First up was ‘Missouri Mosely’, a psychic from the Winchester family’s hometown, who helped to wipe the scales from Daddy’s eyes after his wife was killed, and clue him into all the supernatural shenanigans that were going on around him. We meet her in ep 1.09, when she helps the boys to exorcise a ghost from their old house, and she seems to bond with them pretty well… but aside from a cameo in a spin-off comic book, that’s the only time she’s ever appeared in the series. Missouri was played by Loretta Devine, a five-time NAACP Image Award winner, best known for her roles on Boston Public, Grey’s Anatomy, and Eli Stone… but apparently, that don’t impress the Supernatural showrunners much. Next up, in ep 1.13, was ‘Cassie Robinson’, Dean’s ex-girlfriend and first love, played by Megalyn Echikunwoke. To be fair, they do get some pretty steamy sex scenes together once they’re reacquainted (there’s a neat interview with her about that here), but even that’s not enough to convince the damn fool to keep in touch. Tch! Echikunwoke has had recurring roles in 24, That ’70s Show, The 4400, and CSI: Miami… so, it’s not like either actress really needed the work… I’m just saying it’s odd that even women who seem so firmly embedded in the main characters’ lives can be left choking on the Impala’s eco-unfriendly exhaust fumes, and forgotten.
* This isn’t necessarily a feminist issue, since Buffy would have been just as insufferable if it had been solely about the Summers sisters and their Mom… dear god, that’s a horrible thought.