JULY 8, 2010
As it aired in those dark, horrible days before I had an HDTV, it was wonderful to revisit the first (and still one of the best) seasons of Supernatural in glorious high def, thanks to the new Blu-ray release, which presents all 22 episodes in beautiful 1080p resolution. Also, I had missed a few episodes when it aired, so it was a real treat for me to experience a few more “monster” episodes, which have become increasingly rare over the past few, mythology heavy seasons.
Fans can almost be forgiven for forgetting how simple the show was in its first season (and thus much easier to miss an episode here and there). The season’s main arc was simply Sam and Dean looking for their father, and thus the show played out sort of like The Fugitive, with the boys searching for one individual but spending most of their time stopping in small towns and helping folks with whatever monster happened to be wreaking havoc in the area (OK, so that part’s not really like The Fugitive). In lieu of a really complex mythology, the cases often sort of tied into the boys’ situation in some way. For example, the early episode "Dead in the Water" finds Dean hellbent on making sure a kid is kept safe from the alleged Loch Ness-esque monster that has been snatching people in the lake, because he doesn’t want the kid to end up like him, who had to deal with monsters and such at an early age. Likewise, an episode where they return to their childhood home has them trying to stop a young mother from meeting the fate that theirs did. Creator Eric Kripke and his writers do a really good job at developing the history of the Winchester family without ever getting bogged down in long-winded exposition, something more than a few 4th and 5th season episodes suffered from.
Also, it’s scary as hell. Few network TV horror shows ever pull off as many creep out moments in their entire run as you might find in a single episode. Standouts like "Scarecrow," "Wendigo", and "Asylum" even gave me a few jolts, and I pride myself on having seen too many horror movies in my lifetime to still get scared. And again, it’s just sort of refreshing to go back and see the show in its infancy, as later seasons hardly even try to be scary for the most part. They still offer a few “monster of the week” one-off episodes, but most of the time they are dealing with angels and master plans and such. Back in the good ol’ days, they’d just go to a new town, Dean would hit on some attractive guest star (poor Sam has almost never gotten any over the show's run), and then they’d fight a demon.
That said, it’s interesting to see how much of the later seasons’ groundwork was already laid out in this first season, making the Lost guys look like liars in the process when they try to claim that they had the show planned out from the beginning. Sam’s potentially “dark” side is hinted at in the very first episode, despite the fact that it wouldn’t really be a factor until the end of the 2nd season. This season also introduces Meg and some other characters that would take center stage much later. In short, if you watch season 1 and 5, you’d feel like you were watching completely different shows, but when you put them in context with the other seasons, you’ll see that Supernatural is one of the few serial shows on TV that truly DEVELOPS at an even pace, with each season gradually becoming more complex and building toward an epic battle between the boys and the Devil himself (something that was somewhat stunted by the CW’s decision to keep the show - planned for a 5 season run - for another year).
The Blu-ray set carries over all of the extra features from the original standard def release, including a couple of commentaries, deleted scenes for several episodes, and a few featurettes, including a fun one detailing “A Day in the Life” of Jared Padelecki and Jensen Ackles, who goof off and prove that their chemistry - so essential to the show’s success - isn’t something they have to make up for the show’s cameras. New to the set is the show’s first season appearance at the famous Paley Festival, where both boys, Kripke, and a handful of other writers and directors talk about the show and answer questions from the crowd. It’s worth a look (Ackles tells a great story about how well his audition went - to play Sam), but it’s kind of “aged”, as they’re talking about things that have long since past as if they are just deciding to do them in the first place. Also, bizarrely, the clip is in standard def, which makes its status as a Blu-ray exclusive a bit ironic.
The other exclusive is much more fun - an interactive road map that shows where each episode took place on a map of the United States (proving their route made no goddamn sense, but that’s OK). Highlighting the icons for each episode will provide you with a little featurette about that specific episode, as well as information about the real town and its accompanying legend (many of the episodes are based at least in part on real life local legends). There’s also some info about John’s journal, including why it was introduced into the show in the first place (as a go-to source of quick exposition - one will say to the other “I found this in Dad’s journal”, followed by an explanation for whatever the situation is), though many of the selections are just clips from the episode in question without any sort of commentary. Navigating can be a bit clunky, but it’s a great feature all the same, and shows the kind of things that Blu-Ray is capable of given its higher storage capacity and interactively-minded programming.
And that’s another great thing about the set - it takes up about half the amount of shelf space as its standard def counterpart. With 6 episodes to a disc (instead of 4), the whole set is on 4 discs instead of 6, and the newer design for multi-disc sets is much more compact as well. Plus, as the show is one of the most contrast-heavy on TV, it definitely benefits from the improved resolution and contrast ratios that Blu-Ray offers, as they improve greatly even on their high def broadcast versions. The sound is about the same, however.
If you already own the standard def release, there isn’t a whole lot here to justify the upgrade as far as bonus features, both are interesting but nothing you’ll go back to, and I feel that they could have done more commentaries or featurettes (how about a list explaining all of Dean’s usually rock band inspired aliases?). I guess it depends on how much you love the difference between standard def and Blu-ray (and again, improved shelf space). However, if you have yet to dive into the world of Supernatural, this is hands down the way to go. The show looks great and IS great, and I guarantee you’ll be hooked after a few episodes. It has consistently been one of the best genre shows on TV, with almost no duds in its 5 year run, something even The X-Files couldn’t claim. Highly recommended.