Authors: Jules, Kenedi, Brianna
For years, The CW and Warner Bros. Television have attempted to capitalize on the popularity of the hit series Supernatural via spin-off. When the first attempt, Bloodlines, was universally panned by viewers, it seemed the answer was to focus on familiar characters rather than brand-new faces. Wayward Sisters, which focused on fan favorites Jody, Donna, Claire, Alex, Patience, and Kaia, had a successful backdoor pilot that unfortunately was not picked up to series. The episode showed such promise that it seemed impossible for another spin-off concept to beat it. If such a strong pilot wasn’t chosen to move forward, it appeared that spinning off Supernatural was just an impossible task regardless of the talent involved or the strength of its concept.
But with The Winchesters, creators Robbie Thompson and Jensen and Danneel Ackles have managed to create the perfect spin-off for fans of the original. All three have a deep understanding of the sandbox they are playing in. The series respects fans of the original while encouraging new interpretations of canon that enrich the viewing experience of watching Supernatural. More importantly, it’s entertaining as hell to watch, with an engaging young cast supported by great writing and directing.
With just a few episodes to go until the season one finale of The Winchesters, we’re taking a look at all the ways in which the prequel has succeeded on its own terms, bringing back the best of the original while improving on it in a few key areas.
Nostalgia With A Twist
From The Winchesters’ debut episode, fans have proclaimed that watching the show felt like coming home. Watching the pilot, it was almost impossible to feel like you weren’t stepping right back into the realm of Supernatural. From characteristic references to the original show to returning cast and crew members right down to the camera work, there was no denying that this was a piece of the old show that we knew and loved. And yet The Winchesters has managed to carve out its own little niche, emulating the mothership in some key aspects but establishing itself as its own separate entity enough that fans didn’t feel like this production was a continuation of Supernatural, but a separate yet interconnected story that has the strength to hold itself up on its own shoulders.
Before The Winchesters was even available for our consumption, the team behind the production served as an anchor for fans from the original series. In a time where fans were skeptical of the spinoff’s concept, a fundamental trust in the team behind it was brought to the table, soothing people’s doubts. After almost a full season of watching this show, it’s safe to say that trust wasn’t unfounded.
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Jensen Ackles’ role in Supernatural needs no explanation. However, in addition to reprising his role as Dean Winchester, he took the leap with his wife Danneel Ackles (who portrayed the angel Sister Jo on the mothership) to expand their horizons and serve as executive producers alongside Robbie Thompson through their production company Chaos Machine. The pair have brought a genuine passion to this project that shines through in every tweet, every convention, and every interview they’ve been a part of.
Robbie Thompson, of course, also brought his invaluable expertise to the table. A writer on Supernatural for many years, Thompson created some of the most iconic episodes of the series, such as “Baby,” “Fan Fiction,” “LARP and the Real Girl,” and more. He also created fan-favorite characters like Charlie Bradbury and Eileen Leahy. In addition to these characters being universally lovable (and generally badass), their introductions took an important step forward introducing better representation in the series with an openly lesbian and Deaf character, respectively.
These three aren’t the only returning alumni. Many people from the original crew have returned, such as the infamous composer Jay Gruska and producing director John Showalter. All of these people have contributed to making The Winchesters feel like coming home, as only people who truly understand the show on a fundamental level can.
One thing that has directly bled over into The Winchesters from Supernatural is the Monster of the Week (MOTW) structure for episodes and the action-packed pacing. Back before Supernatural transitioned to bigger and bigger bads, the basis for the show centered around the brothers traversing the great American landscape and hunting down monsters on an individual, case-by-case basis. As the show grew in complexity, these types of episodes remained but started to tie into the larger narrative of the season. In The Winchesters, we’ve seen a return to humble origins in that MOTW episodes are more prevalent, but in a blend with the new-age, have all been significant to the larger narrative at play. In addition, like the original, The Winchesters blends comedy and drama effortlessly.
That blend of comedy and drama is only possible because of its young cast leading the way. Anyone who watches television today knows that a show is quickly forgettable without strong character arcs and chemistry between the cast. From the moment each of our lovable Scooby gang is introduced to one another, it’s obvious that Meg Donnelly, Drake Rodger, JoJo Fleites, and Nida Khurshid have an easy chemistry with each other that simply can’t be forced. The group are able to act off one another with moments that feel so genuine to who their characters are that fully envelops viewers in the story and makes the hour-long show fly by.
Additionally, the writers room has done a brilliant job of making characters with complex backstories that keep you both intrigued to learn more while also making them instantly relatable. None are perfect, all are flawed in their own ways, and they each feel like a fully fleshed-out character in their own right. It’s impossible not to instantly love each of them as they grapple with doing the right thing while hunting yet also making mistakes and learning together as a group. We’ve only had a season with them, and yet each character has undone immense character development that television often lacks for a lead cast of this size. It’s a testament to both the strength of the writers room and the bond between the main cast that every single character interaction feels effortless and natural.
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They’re all fiercely protective of these characters in a good and productive way. And they’ve also done their homework and want to play the authenticity of the things that you’re talking about, and it’s important to them. So it’s just something that… it’s sheer joy to me to be able to get their best ideas, and I take those conversations, bring them into the writers’ room, and then it ends up on the page pretty directly.Robbie Thompson, “Interview: Executive Producer and Writer Robbie Thompson Talks ‘The Winchesters’ [EXCLUSIVE]”
Like any good television show, The Winchesters has a season-long mystery that requires both a level of mystery but also well-paced storytelling that will keep viewers engaged with the story. Season one’s mystery features an otherworldly species intent on taking over the world, and it’s up to the gang to stop them, along with the developing mystery of who the man in the photo (hint: it’s Dean) is and why the Akrida are so very afraid of him. For fans of the original show, the inclusion of Dean is an instant attention grabber, given that the beloved character died on a hunt in the final season. The writers have done a fantastic job of introducing the season mystery of the Akrida while also dropping hints and developments on where Dean is and what he could be up to.
Developing a story in which the viewer knows more than the main characters can sometimes be a bit boring. We already know who he is, so why keep watching? However, The Winchesters balances Dean with the world-ending threat of the Akrida so well that viewers can and will find themselves yelling at the TV that Dean is, well, Dean while also rooting for the gang to defeat the Akrida. The overall mystery of the season has been well-developed and perfectly paced and reminds us that the writers room is led by a master in the art of television, Robbie Thompson.
A ‘Supernatural’ World — For Everyone
As previously alluded to, Supernatural‘s one major and consistent critique from the beginning was its overall lack of diversity both in front of and behind the camera. While this started to change in the later seasons, it was the one sore spot for fans that never truly resolved. However, The Winchesters has improved on this significantly. While John and Mary represent the connection to the mothership, their story (and their perspective) are not the only priority. In the main group, Ada, Carlos, and Latika have depth. Their cultures are integral to their characters and often to the plot in a way that Supernatural never prioritized. In addition, many of The Winchesters‘ monsters and plotlines incorporate myths and legends from a variety of cultures. Part of this is due to the overall Akrida arc, but it is also a dedicated effort by the writers to expose the audience to more varied cultural traditions in an accurate way.
[With] ‘Supernatural’ and the mothership, we did have a lot of older white, straight men. That was just the nature of the show and how it was built and laid out. Everyone was always well aware that it was that and we needed to make an effort not to do that and to diversify.Jensen Ackles, “NYCC Interview: The Cast and Crew of ‘The Winchesters’ Discuss ‘Supernatural’ Prequel”
This also goes for the series’ LGBTQIA+ characters. Rather than focus on queer tragedy or a coming out narrative, Thompson and the rest of the writers have chosen to simply weave queer characters into the fabric of The Winchesters. Carlos’ sexuality is an element of who he is, but it is not the entirety of who he is. Carlos, like Charlie, is instantly relatable and lovable. He is also not the only openly LGBTQIA+ character on the show, making sure that the world he lives in feels authentic.
Most important, Chaos Machine has ensured that the behind-the-camera talent matches the diversity in front of it. For example, over its 327 episodes, Supernatural had five female directors covering 13 episodes (Nina Lopez-Corrado, Amanda Tapping, Rachel Talalay, Jan Eliasberg, and Catriona McKenzie). On The Winchesters, five out of 13 total episodes were directed by women. In addition, the writing staff is a healthy mix of first-time writers from diverse backgrounds mixed with several experienced TV producers and writers. This is by design. The Winchesters is one of the productions affiliated with the Warner Brothers Workshop Program, which is an optional program specifically targeting emerging talent in the film industry to provide them with opportunities to gain TV experience. As Jensen and Danneel Ackles told us at New York Comic Con, their goal was to add new perspectives to keep The Winchesters fresh while honoring the original lore. They’ve succeeded, finally making Supernatural a world everyone can see themselves in.
The biggest aspect of Supernatural‘s success with audiences that has always been underrated is its appeal to those who do not feel fully at home in their families of origin, even when the show itself did not fully explore this. Particularly in early seasons, the show was populated mainly by straight white men, with the occasional female romantic interest or guest arc featuring a person of color. Despite this, Supernatural‘s fandom was diverse, particularly appealing to LGBTQIA+ fans and fans dealing with mental illness. They latched onto Dean, Sam, Castiel, and the wider ensemble cast because these characters dealt with trauma in a way that was rarely explored in genre television of the time. As the show continued, the exploration of chosen family became more explicit. The existence of the Wayward Sisters pilot is evidence that those in charge of the series were well aware of the appeal that chosen family had for many fans.
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The thing that I really, truly loved about ‘Supernatural,’ whether it was season 1 or season 15, was that family don’t end in blood is really about, to me, is about the family that you find. There’s the family that you’re born into, and for some people like myself, they are blessed, it’s a wonderful thing. For others, they’re not as blessed, it’s a terrible thing. But then there’s the family that you make, and that was really important to be as inclusive in that family as possible from the beginning.Robbie Thompson, “NYCC Interview: The Cast and Crew of ‘The Winchesters’ Discuss ‘Supernatural’ Prequel”
The Winchesters has fully leaned into the found family trope and more explicitly recognized the importance of those figures in our lives. All of our Core Four find purpose and comfort within hunting and with each other. They could all survive on their own, but they are stronger and happier together. While Supernatural started having those conversations more explicitly in later seasons, The Winchesters baked it in from the beginning. It’s an honest exploration of trauma and complex intergenerational dynamics that is able to go deeper than the original by virtue of the diversity of its talent and the specificity of its mission.
One of the major concerns fans had about the prequel was whether the story of Mary and John could possibly be interesting, given how much we already knew about them. However, one of the more moving highlights of The Winchesters has been watching the tragedy of both characters play out in real time. It’s one thing to know that Mary and John were shaped by their parents and fate. It’s another to see John break down from Vietnam flashbacks or for Mary get to hear from her father that it wasn’t fair for him to force her into hunting. These moments of heartbreak and catharsis for fans shade in both characters in unexpected ways. Mary is given agency for the first time, which makes her inevitable (or is it?) fate all the more tragic. Far from redeeming John as a character, The Winchesters is more interested in what makes a young man turn away from the light despite every opportunity to turn back.
It adds even more weight to scenes in the original, like Dean’s ultimate rejection of God’s characterization of him in “Inherit the Earth,” because we see just how far back the trauma reaches in the Winchester/Campbell family tree. The story, as shown in The Winchesters, is a tragedy, but as continued in Supernatural, it is ultimately a story of breaking free from the cycle of violence. It also gives fans closure regarding Dean’s death by bringing him back to life via narration (and through his unspecified meddling in the series’ timeline, which is shaping up to be the season twist). Watching The Winchesters brings back all the nostalgia of the original, but it has more to say about fate and chosen family than its predecessor. Robbie Thompson and his team have managed to take the DNA of Supernatural and expand on it in an immensely satisfying way for audiences old and new.
The Winchesters airs Tuesdays 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!
Thank you for this wonderful article that articulates all the strengths of The Winchesters. It’s so obviously a passion project and the chemistry between the young actors of the Core Four, as well as Millie, Ada, Samuel, the older characters is such a high point for the show. I hope we get more.
Despite the love shown here for the show, I do think that speaking for the whole of the audience isn’t fair? I’m not sure this is the spin-off we deserve, especially if we happen to be a Sam fan. I miss Sam Winchester. I miss that he’s the only Winchester that hasn’t been so much as mentioned on the show. And I think this is a valid concern, given that ‘The Winchesters’ is positing itself as the canonical prequel to the universe we care about. I worry that the canon missteps we’ve already seen on the show means canon doesn’t actually matter to the writers. It matters to the fans, both in fandom and general audience, I promise you!
I’m not feeling nostalgia when I watch The Winchesters; I’m feeling disenfranchised from the canon. It doesn’t feel like it honors the lore (holy water against vampires, when??), and as someone who lived through the 70’s, I was hoping for a little more authenticity there too. It was such a ripe era! Same with setting the show in New Orleans. What an amazing city! But we hardly get that NOLA feel. Annnnywho. I think the kids acting on the show are earnest and trying as best they can (esp. Drake, who, bless him, actually watched the mothership). But when it all shakes out, this isn’t the spin-off that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Even despite Dean’s cameos. 🙁