Supernatural is just old enough that its first two seasons missed the hi-def revolution, but no longer. The good news is that this is more than just an import of the existing Supernatural: The Complete First Season DVD set onto the Blu-Ray platform. With the improved visuals -- the Brothers Winchester do look much sharper, though not as sharp as you might expect for a newer series -- come a couple of additional features, as well as the Paley Festival panel the cast and creators participated in back in 2006. Sorry, panel aficionados, they didn't upgrade that one to hi-def.
It turned out to be a lot of fun looking back at the first adventures of the Winchester boys on this four-disc set. Long before an apocalyptic struggle between Heaven and Hell came to dominate the series, Supernatural was about two estranged brothers coming together on a cross-country road trip. Along the way, they tackled the monsters that make up America's urban legends, all the while tracking both their missing father and the demon that tore their family apart.
The series starts us with a pivotal moment when the boys are just children. Startled by a noise, their father, John Winchester, comes into Sam's nursery, only to see his wife, splayed out across the ceiling, erupt into flame. He's barely able to get his boys out of the house before it explodes. That powerful image fractures this family irreparably, as John takes on the mantle of hunter, seeking out the creature that had killed his wife, along with any other nasties that go bump in the night.
Years later, Sam (Jared Padalecki) has escaped that the life, settling down in college with his beautiful new girlfriend and trying to turn his back on the dark and twisted world he'd grown up in. But when Dean (Jensen Ackles) shows up, telling him that dad hasn't returned from his most recent hunting trip, Sam realizes that you can't escape family, and that the horrors of his past will come back to haunt his present in the most harrowing of ways.
Pulling from legends across the country, creator Eric Kripke and his writing staff have the boys facing monsters that many of us recognize from our own childhoods. Where I come from, Bloody Mary was one of the strongest horror icons, and I'm sure different parts of the country resonated with different stories. Surely all of us know some version of "The Hook," or the woman on the highway just looking for a ride home.
A mix of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and The X-Files, Supernatural still manages to be its own thing in its first season. It's more like a miniature horror feature film each week. Most episodes provide full closure on the "monster of the week," while a few begin to lay the foundation for the complex mythology that eventually dominates the series.
The season gives us our first encounters with demons, and Sam learns the hard way (or doesn't learn, as future seasons would demonstrate) that you can't always trust a beautiful face. Supernatural is certainly full of those. Two good-looking boys driving around in a 1967 Chevy Impala and saving the day every week are bound to gain the notice of the beautiful women of whichever small towns they're rolling through that week. In fact, I'd say they left a swooning heart or two after every visit. Dean often left more than that.
The success of the series, right from the beginning, comes in the chemistry between the two leads. With a deft comedic touch, they convincingly embody the relationship between two brothers, including all the ups and downs you would expect if you spent that much time together. It's no wonder they're mistaken for gay lovers in one episode.
The final episode of the season introduces Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver), who becomes one of the most important characters in the series. Right away, you know you're going to like this guy, and that he can offer the sort of father-figure the boys desperately need.
It's hard to remember that one of the most complex mythologies on television had such a humble beginning, but it was a masterstroke by Kripke to set his series up this way. Keep it simple in the beginning to lure in as many viewers as possible, all the while building toward the climax of your five-year battle. That Supernatural doesn't have a larger audience is a travesty, but that it is launching its sixth season this fall is a testament to the strength of Kripke's vision and to the talent of the cast and crew in bringing that vision to life so brilliantly every week.
Most of the features on this Blu-Ray set will be familiar to fans who might already own the DVD version. There's commentary by creator Eric Kripke, director David Nutter, and producer Peter Johnson on the pilot, while Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles give their thoughts on "Phantom Traveler." The content of the commentaries becomes rather familiar as you work your way through the other features.
It's expected in first-season extras to hear about the genesis of the show, the casting of the actors, and some of the other key elements that came together to create your series. So, if you're into that, strap in for a good time, because you'll hear it in the commentary, in the "Supernatural: Tales from the Edge of Darkness" documentary, as well as in the two new features added to the Blu-Ray.
It's all covered again in the "Supernatural Paley Festival Panel Discussion" from 2006. Originally available as a DVD on its own, it's been incorporated into this set, and there's plenty of fun to be had in watching Padalecki and Ackles try to remain coherent after being on the set until 4 a.m. the previous night.
Also imported from the DVD set are several deleted scenes, a very funny gag reel, and the original featurette, "A Day in the Life of Jared and Jensen." The other Blu-Ray-exclusive feature is far more impressive. I don't have the other seasons of Supernatural on Blu-Ray, but if this feature isn't on them, it needs to be added to future releases. "The Devil's Road Map" is a comprehensive and interactive feature centered around a map of the United States. You can tackle it three ways using your Blu-Ray remote.
Taking each episode at a time, you can explore new interviews and behind-the-scenes footage of the making of that particular episode. You can also tackle the original urban legend that spawned the episode, as well as exploring different facets of John Winchester's journal. Hidden within the map are three skull icons that, if found and clicked on fast enough, launch a secret video short exploring more about the characters of Sam and Dean, as well as the actors who portray them.