Saturday, October 1, 2022

‘The Winchesters’ Pilot Review [SPOILER-FREE]

TELEVISION'The Winchesters' Pilot Review

When the news first broke that Supernatural was set to continue in the form of a prequel that would follow John Winchester and Mary Campbell’s origin story, the reaction from fandom was mixed. The CW had previously tried twice to spin off Supernatural via backdoor pilots for Bloodlines and Wayward Sisters, neither of which made it to series. While many were excited for any expansion of the universe regardless of its focus, others thought of Supernatural as a show that could not function without Sam, Dean, and Castiel leading the way. It was fair to ask if there was a compelling reason to revisit John and Mary’s story on The Winchesters given that we knew so much about them from the original show.

In addition, the announcement came just a few short months after the series’ conclusion, with fans still grieving its loss and perhaps not ready to move on just yet. But in the year since that announcement, anticipation has grown as more details like casting have been released and time has given fans the chance to process the end of Supernatural. The detail that Dean would appear both as a narrator and in person on the new series was met with optimism. Beloved Supernatural writer Robbie Thompson’s involvement overseeing The Winchesters as showrunner made this prequel a gamble worth betting on for many fans.

Based on the pilot episode, fans were right to place their trust in Thompson and the Chaos Machine team. From the brilliant casting to the gusto with which Thompson dives right into the story, the gamble has completely paid off. The Winchesters is a confident, entertaining prequel with something new to say, a loving tribute to a beloved series that marks its own territory and more than justifies its existence.

Matt Miller/The CW
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While the plot is still being kept under wraps (and this is a spoiler free review!), I can say that the pilot is a tightly and expertly written episode of television, quickly establishing our new world and the people in it. Fans of Thompson often cite his ability to create beloved characters and add new shades to ones we already know, and that skill is put to good use here. Director Glen Winter creates a gorgeous visual palate with several shots that live up to the hype of the original. The craftsmanship involved at every level is impressive.

From a casting perspective, the team has truly outdone themselves. The Winchesters is led by four immensely talented young actors, all of whom have an easy chemistry that will surely deepen even more as the season goes on. There is no learning curve, which is remarkable considering that only one of the four has ever been a series regular on a show before. They are all naturals on screen. It’s no coincidence that the strongest moments of the pilot are the ones that feature all four interacting.

Nida Khurshid’s Latika is a sweetheart who brings much needed representation to a franchise that has often been criticized for a lack of BIPOC characters. Her nervousness and kindness stand out, and audiences are sure to fall in love with her. Carlos is exactly what the fandom hoped he would be: a hilarious, take-no-prisoners hunter that clearly walked onto a soundstage directly from Thompson’s brain. JoJo Fleites appears to relish the opportunity to bring Carlos to life, and they do it well. Both actors do a lot in one episode to create goodwill with viewers, and there’s no doubt both Carlos and Latika will be embraced by Supernatural fans.

Matt Miller/The CW

Drake Rodger and Meg Donnelly had the most difficult task in front of them given the baggage that John and Mary carry from the original series in the form of iconic portrayals from Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Samantha Smith. Both step up to the plate admirably, adding new dimensions to their characters. Rodger is a real find by the casting team, with charisma to spare and the micro-expressions necessary to break hearts. He plays comedic and dramatic moments well, and his version of John has hidden depths that will no doubt be explored in upcoming episodes. Anyone familiar with Donnelly’s work on American Housewife or the Disney Channel knows she can handle slapstick comedy. But her Mary is a darker departure for her, and her performance is edgy, nuanced, and heartbreaking. Viewers will want to get to know this version of Mary, and that is due to Donnelly’s stellar work.

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From the opening minutes of the episode to the end, it is abundantly clear that everyone involved in the show cares, not only about the story but also about the fandom. Watching The Winchesters was like getting Supernatural back, and not just because of Dean’s presence or a few well timed Easter eggs. The cinematography, score, and plot are a throwback to the early seasons, while the Scooby Gang dynamic between its leads centers the found family theme that became prevalent in the later years. I was not expecting to be emotional while watching, but several moments had me (unsuccessfully) holding back tears. For cautious skeptics, I can only say that it exceeded expectations in every possible way. Wherever this new road takes the Supernatural fandom, it will definitely be a journey worth taking.

The Winchesters premieres October 11 at 8 p.m. ET on The CW. You can find our other coverage of the show here. Be sure to check out On The Road Again, Nerds & Beyond’s podcast covering all things The Winchesters!

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