Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Expectations of Truly Passionate Fans

Note: I made an effort to keep big spoilers out of this post in deference to overseas fans who are behind a season. I do have some mild references, however.

Another note: When I say "we," I know I'm not speaking for every fan, and even for the ones "like me," nothing is universal. But I think there's enough commonality to justify use of the plural.

I've never been a fan of a television show like I'm a fan of Supernatural. Two came close: Firefly and Lost. The former was too short-lived to sustain forever, and the latter subsided after the novelty wore off.

But somehow, my passion for SPN has endured, and even grown. I've spent the last two summers gathering with friends every week to watch the entire series over again, beginning to end. I save each season on the DVR until the DVDs come out so I can watch them anytime I want.

I love this show beyond any other show I've ever watched. And that creates unique expectations. Expectations that non-fans just can't understand, and that manifest in two ways.

(photos Sergei Bachlakov/The CW ©2008)

1. Every episode should be better than the one before.

We all love the show because of Sam and Dean and their chemistry. On top of that, it's been fairly well written, with interesting mythology, excellent guest stars, and a superb blend of drama, humor, suspense, and action. Each season has improved, but as season 4 started, we didn't expect it to get even better. We were wrong, and episodes like "In the Beginning" and "Monster Movie" have us anticipating the deepest emotions and cacklingest humor every week.

When a show gets analyzed ad nauseum, it's got to be difficult to come up with twists that surprise us. The truth about Mary did that, big time. Dean's description of what happened in hell wasn't surprising, but the purity of emotion ensured that the impact of watching him reveal it was still strong.

So now, every Thursday, we're giddy with eagerness. We can't wait to see what they'll come up with that beats existential teddy bears. How much we'll laugh at Dean and want to cuddle Sam (or vice versa!). Kripke and Co. know how to bring it. They've set us up, so they had damned well better make sure they deliver, every time.

Of course, such overwhelmingly high expectations have a flip side. Or do they?

2. If an episode doesn't live up to the ones before it, it's okay.

You'd think high expectations would mean easy disappointment. After all, no one and nothing can deliver every time. SPN isn't unique in that regard. There's occasional clumsy blocking or weak/stiff/hollow acting or even (gasp!) illogical or convenient writing. Nothing's perfect.

But somehow, SPN never disappoints, even when it does. I mean, for how many other shows will we say, "I didn't like that one" and then watch it again? And maybe even again?

I have shows that aren't my favorites ("Metamorphosis" from this season, for example). But SPN has so much going for it that a slip in one area is shored up by something great in another. There are always brotherly moments, funny lines, scary scenes, cool special effects, fun guest stars, intriguing camera work, and meaningful music. Even when an episode is weak by comparison, it gives us stuff to talk about.

Which brings me to Entertainment Weekly and the review for last week's show.

SPN doesn't get enough media/promotion love, so I was delighted to see a full review in the "What to Watch" column. The reviewer is either a casual watcher or a non-watcher who meant well, but really shouldn't speak for us fans. She said:

"Sometimes a show just feels like a rerun...Superfans deserve more from the series than rewarmed horror-trope leftovers."

Let us decide what we deserve. "Family Remains" wasn't season-changing. It didn't advance the mythology, or deal with angels or demons or brother-versus-brother. It was a classic episode that brought us to back to the show's roots, to what made us fall in love with it in the first place. We need episodes like this, that make us sleep with the lights on and go up the stairs with our backs to the wall. And maybe we need an episode, once in a while, that isn't as intense with the awesomeness. Maybe it makes us appreciate the best ones more.

Every Thursday night after the show airs on the East Coast, I chat online with a bunch of friends about the episode. This week, most of them used the word "disappointed" and referenced the things they didn't like. But when I said, "so you all agree with that Entertainment Weekly reviewer," they all shouted "NO!"

Megan Hart put it most eloquently when she said, "Even when they dip below the surface, they're still heads and shoulders above everyone else."

That's everything a passionate fan can ask for.

10 comments:

AuthorM said...

I love Supernatural like frogs love flies.

It doesn't mean I think every second of every episode is perfect and I understand that my love for it allows me to accept that imperfection more than I might from another, less-loved show.

But over all, it's the best show I've ever watched, and this season has been killing me softly every single week.

True, Family Remains didn't do it for me the way the others have, but the parts I loved...I loved. There just weren't as many parts I loved last week. ;)

When I think of life without new Supernaturals to love I seriously want to weep. Love that like creates a lot of pressure for the show's creators, and I think it's easy for fans to forget that the show is written by real people, acted by real people, edited and produced by *real people* -- not super human never-fail creative geniuses.

I'm willing to give them all a break now and then.

M

Victoria said...

I love Supernatural like bears love honey.
Everything M said!
Last week wasn't my favorite episde, but I find myself thinking about it often. That's got to mean something, right?
V. :)

Tanya Michaels said...

>>It doesn't mean I think every second of every episode is perfect and I understand that my love for it allows me to accept that imperfection more than I might from another, less-loved show.<<

Well put, M! IMO, it's analogous to the difference between dating and marriage. There are some shows I watch casually and if they let me down, we part ways amicably. Not so with Supernatural--there HAVE been some episodes that let me down (sorry, Natalie *g*) but I'm committed. Just as my husband loves me despite my many, many (many flaws) and doesn't nitpick on a daily basis, I will stay invested because the show overall really delivers for me. It is allowed an off day. (I am also broad-minded enough to realize that just because an episode :cough: ghost hunters :cough: doesn't work for me personally doesn't mean every other fan out there felt the same way.)

Tanya

Trish Milburn said...

I think you've made an excellent point that even in the episodes that I don't like as much, there's something that I like. I think these episodes are good every once in awhile because they give us a breather in the action of the big story arc.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

I'm well aware that I let my devotion push me to defend episodes or elements that aren't necessarily defensible, and that makes it appear like I think it's never flawed. But yeah, my point is like M and V both said--when you love a show so much, it's easier to give a pass on the flaws. Now, if it happened a LOT, there would be problems. :)

Tanya! You didn't like "Ghostfacers"?! I just can't fathom that. Unless it was the camera work. That trendy, annoying method is hard to get past. But...but...

Trish, I think, too, a let-down episode helps us reset. Each super episode ramps us up with joy and anticipation that can become difficult to sustain, no matter how good it is. After "Family Remains" we can reach a level of equilibrium, ready to start ramping up toward the must-be-stellar end of the season.

Norah Wilson said...

Wow, do I ever feel at home here, ladies. Even the episodes that aren't stellar are still fine by me! The show is normally a perfect marriage between episodic and serial, and I love that about it. This one was missing the serial part (the advancement of the overarching plot), and that's where the let down comes in, I think. Maybe the writers felt we needed to put the brakes on a little bit vis-a-vis the pacing of the rest of the season? Whatever the case, even tho it didn't hold up to expectations, I'm quite happy to take it for what it was and enjoy it.

Tanya Michaels said...

>>Unless it was the camera work. That trendy, annoying method is hard to get past<<

That certainly didn't help.

In defense of "standalone" episodes that don't advance the overall plotline, I think that (when they're good) they help grow the audience. If you drag a friend into a show, telling them how great it is, and they're lost after five minutes (a frequent criticism of shows like Heroes, Lost and, to a lesser degree, Battlestar G.), it can be difficult to convince them to come back for more.

While I think tight plotting and no filler (even well written filler) is probably a good rule of thumb when it's coming from my editor, I totally disagree when it comes to shows. Do we want a short season that sticks straight to the overarching mythology? (Horrors! I want all 22 and more if possible...) Besides, some of my favorite eps have been "throwaways" on SPN. The same was also true with Buffy and Angel. (Seems like the funniest ones are always the standalones because they don't have to be so intense.)

Tanya

Maureen Child said...

Love this show.......and even the episodes that aren't my favorites, still give me what I watch the show for.

A couple of chuckles a couple of SERIOUS creep moments (the licking, ew) and sharp, fabulous dialogue with the brothers.

Let's face it, Sam and Dean are the reason we love this show. We're invested in them, their connection and how their lives are shaken up every week.

So as long as that relationship is highlighted, I'm happy.

Tanya Michaels said...

>>So as long as that relationship is highlighted, I'm happy.<<

Natalie, this is probably yet another reason I disliked Ghostfacers. I don't mind episodes that aren't part of the season long arc (heck, the black and white Halloween eps was one of my favorites *g*) but I felt like that one swerved too far away from the boys. I didn't like feeling that they'd taken a backseat on their own darn show!

Tanya

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Wow, do I ever feel at home here, ladies.

We're so glad to hear that, Norah!

This one was missing the serial part (the advancement of the overarching plot), and that's where the let down comes in, I think.

Maybe, but every season has its standalones, and like Tanya said, they're necessary to keep the numbers up. My husband loses interest without them, for example. Those are the ones he likes. And yes, they do tend to place them to break up the pacing a little, ease up on the intensity.

I am very pleased that you and Maureen also validate my position, that we'd still take a disappointing episode over just about anything else out there. :) Mostly. Probably not "Bugs."

Do we want a short season that sticks straight to the overarching mythology? (Horrors! I want all 22 and more if possible...)

Hear, hear! :)

Let's face it, Sam and Dean are the reason we love this show. We're invested in them, their connection and how their lives are shaken up every week.

That's, at the least, the #1 reason I've ever seen given for why people got hooked on it! :)

Natalie, this is probably yet another reason I disliked Ghostfacers...I felt like that one swerved too far away from the boys.

I understand that! I found everyone else so hilarious that it didn't bother me, but I totally get why it would make an episode a non-favorite.