Monday, January 19, 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.