Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Bring On The Monsters

I’ve written about the TV series Supernatural before and don’t want to overdo it, but it’s worth noting that just as I was falling out of love with the thing it gobsmacked me with two smashing episodes back to back.

If I hadn’t ordered up Season Four before I watched the last three episodes of Season Three, I might not have ordered it up at all. The show has always skirted pretty close to the very edge of what was acceptable to me, blood-and-gore-wise, and at the end of season three they didn’t just cross the line, they leaped over it. In two otherwise interesting episodes, sequences of explicit Saw-style torture porn horror were included, in one case including the graphic cutting out of a man’s heart while he was still alive — making the show (for me) pretty much unwatchable. It was with that bad taste in my mouth that I began Season Four… and discovered that the whole series had gone South in a different way, and for different reasons.

Without warning, Supernatural goes all Holy and Christian on us, with Angels and even Mister God His-sef becoming Main Characters. Suddenly, Dean is morphed into a bible-toting crusader for the Christian faith. Even if I was a bible-thumper myself, which I emphatically am not, I’d have to say that God has no place on a show like this. Besides which — in a world where the supernatural can encompass all the mythologies of the world, it seems downright stupid of the show’s producers to marry the series so completely to The Bible. How to Limit Your Options in One Easy Step. 

So I deeply suspect that Season Four will be my last… I just can’t buy into all this Angel crap. But before I go, it was danged good to get two powerfully fun and successful episodes back-to-back in the last couple of days. Both fall into the category of “Tragical Comedies or Comical Tragedies,” but that’s where the similarities end. 

In “Monster Movie,” which was filmed in black-and-white in a manner that strongly evokes the great Universal Monster Movies of the thirties and especially the forties, Sam and Dean go up against no less than the vintage film incarnations of Dracula, The Wolfman and The Mummy… and the script cannily ties it all into Supernatural’s own distinct canon. It is immensely enjoyable, with some laugh-out-loud moments, some good creepy chills, and a great Ultimate Monster. How close is the detail? One scene even mimics the distinctive “shock” close-ups of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula by highlighting the vampire with spotlights that actually miss his eyes by inches! Fans of the 1931 picture know what I’m talking about.

The next episode, “Yellow Fever,” opens with a scary-suspenseful sequence that abruptly turns into what is undoubtedly the biggest out-loud belly-laugh of the entire series, bar none. So again it’s a comedy episode, with Dean literally in danger of dying of fright, but the monster at the core of the story is tragic enough to lend a little weight — and a couple of genuinely chilling moments — to an episode that shows off Jensen Ackles’s comic timing to the maximum.

So — even though I’ll probably be parting ways with the Winchester boys after I finish this season somewhere around Halloween — I’m happy to know that despite some really dumb over-all planning, the show still has some genuine juice left in it. I felt the same way about The X-Files in Season Two: the over-arcing story of UFOs and government conspiracies was already becoming tedious to say the least — but then like a shot in the dark came the wonderful episode set in a circus sideshow, “Humbug” — probably my favorite show of that entire series. 

P.S. Proving that every TV series misfires at some point, this year’s new batch of Doctor Who has been a decidedly mixed bag. Is it a creative friction between Peter Capaldi (who is wonderful as The Doctor, don’t get me wrong) or has Moffat just gone off his rocker? For almost all of the first five episodes Moffat has been trying to turn it into The Clara Show… which pisses me off to no end. The Companion is important, but The Companion is not the star of the show. Last week’s entry, “Time Heist,” finally nudged the thing back in the right direction. We’ll see where it goes from here. I can’t just give up on it yet — Capaldi is too good, and one hopes that he will finally be allowed to star in the show that bear’s his character’s name…


— Freder.

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