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Neither Super Nor Natural

For months now, I’ve read the hype about the WB’s new Supernatural, the high-concept darling of its fall lineup, in which that one handsome guy who used to be on another WB show and that other handsome guy who used to be on another WB show drive across the country in a really bitchin’ muscle car killing monsters. Time after time — sometimes from critics, but usually from WB suits — I’ve seen it compared to The X-Files, the previous pinnacle of spine-tingling TV chills.

Since the WB was kind enough to stream the entire first episode of Supernatural via Yahoo for interested viewers, I can safely say that Supernatural is a bit like The X-Files. You just have to remove any wit, charisma, intelligence and actual scariness. (So, kind of like the ninth season of The X-Files.) Supernatural isn’t so-dumb-it’s-fun bad. It isn’t even delightfully-cheesy-horror-movie bad. It’s just bad.

Unless, of course, you like shows about sexy hunks abandoning their sexy girlfriends to hunt sexy ghosts. Sexy ghosts who get lingering close-ups on their sexy ghost cleavage. Sexy ghosts who want to make out with you — to death!

Surely, in the wake of Tarzan, the WB learned the error of casting your lead actors based solely on their pretty, pretty faces? (If Tarzan showrunner Eric Kripke’s presence as the creator and writer of Supernatural is any clue, probably not.) Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles sort of stumble through their lines, squinting and smirking and not really making any effort to convince the viewer that they’re anything but handsome. These two sucking charisma voids seem to have breached the laws of physics and created negative acting. If they shared a scene with, say, scenery-chewing god Christopher Walken, they might actually reduce his screen presence to that of your basic Ashton Kutcher or Rob Schneider.

Padalecki is at least the likeable one, although he played a guy named Dean on Gilmore Girls, and plays the brother of a guy named Dean here. Given Gilmore Girls fans’ existing love of elaborate wordplay, that could lead to some downright dangerous “Who’s On First”-style conversational Mobius strips. (Seriously, they couldn’t have changed the name?) Ackles’ character is, well, kind of an Ack-hole — smug, obnoxious, and stupid enough to think that ordinary bullets from an ordinary pistol are going to hurt a ghost. I’ll admit he delivers an amusingly weary “I’m okay!” when dragging himself out of a river (long story), but it doesn’t quite compensate for him bellowing “That Constance — what a BITCH!” in reference to the Ghost-of-the-Week.

Granted, the writing does neither lead any favors. Kripke’s script shovels the show’s entire premise gracelessly into dialogue within the first five minutes, lest the audience be kept in any kind of confusing suspense that might lead them to get bored and switch channels. (“After Mom died, Dad trained us to hunt monsters in hopes of finding the thing that killed her. But we don’t find it, so we just keep killing everything we can.” I kid you not.) When they’re not speaking entirely in cliches, our Ken Doll heroes seem to confuse second-grade insults and punches in the arm for characterization.

They’re not exactly deductive geniuses, either, seeing how all the clues for the episode’s central plot — a ghostly “woman in white” luring drivers to a vaguely horrible fate — are helpfully provided to them by other characters. Seriously, they don’t have to do anything. A girl they meet tells them exactly what’s doing the killing. A suspicious sheriff literally hands Ackles their father’s clue-packed diary. And the vengeful ghost shows up in Padalecki’s headlights, plunks herself in his back seat, and pretty much insists on being his next passenger. It’s not that they solve the mystery so much as have the mystery solved in their general vicinity. Even the gang from Scooby-Doo had to work harder than this.

The ghost’s modus operandi is to throw herself at guys, make out with them, then literally rip their hearts out. (Kind of like at least one of my ex-girlfriends, except that the ghost is apparently considerate enough to clean up after herself.) Actress Sarah Shahi was pretty cool on the first season of Alias, but here she appears to have been doped with roofies. She never seems like much of a threat, honestly — the special effects make her blink in and out a bit, and sometimes she sports a makeup job that seems left over from Michael Jackson’s Thriller, but mostly you’re just trying not to laugh at Padalecki’s noble attempts to refuse to suck face with her. (No, no, anything but that!) And then Ackles shoots at her, and Padalecki drives his car into her old house, and the ghosts of her murdered children show up to drag her down to Hell in an explosion of bad CGI.

There is, at least, the very good-looking Adrianne Palicki playing Padalecki’s girlfriend. She spends about 90 percent of her screen time in either a sexy nurse costume or revealing sleepwear — not that I’m complaining — and apparently wears a push-up bra to bed. All of which makes it even harder to believe that Padalecki would abandon her, even for a weekend, for a life of monster-killing and credit card fraud with his imbecile brother. (Hint: When a character asks his girlfriend, “What would I ever do without you?”, chances are he’s going to find out.)

I’ll confess that there were a few moments in its opening and closing sequences when Supernatural had me in suspense despite myself, feeling like something really scary was about to happen. Except that when it did happen, it wasn’t scary at all. The fate that befalls our heroes’ mother in the opening flashback is too random and nonsensical to actually be frightening. When it happens again to the girlfriend character in the pilot’s closing minutes, for no apparent reason besides its convenience to the premise of the series, it’s just plain ridiculous.

With the success of The O.C., executive producer McG had pretty much managed to atone for the godawful excess of Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle — or, as I like to call it, “Why the Rest of the World Hates Us, Exhibit A.” Between last season’s North Shore and this lazy, creativity-free excuse for a TV show, I’m afraid he’s right back where he started. The only thing scary about Supernatural is the notion that someone might actually want to watch it.


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