I understand your skepticism. The CW is not exactly a home for prestige dramas, and dropping in on a random episode of the show is not likely to help you understand its appeal, other than the obvious fact that the Winchester boys are very pretty. The show's never won an award you've heard of, and it doesn't get much respect from most typical geek media. Set all that aside, though, because I am willing to put the best of Supernatural (or as I think of it, the only parts that matter) up against any geek TV series in its genre. For seasons two through five, Supernatural is the equal or better of everything from The X-Files to Buffy the Vampire Slayer in terms of its characters, story and sheer entertainment factor.
That timeframe is key to appreciating the show, mind you. The first season is rough, with just a few episodes pointing to what it would eventually become. The two leads were still working out their chemistry and the episodes were almost all "monster of the week" scripts of highly varying quality. Yes, some were fucking sweet, but just as many more were clunky, frivolous or just plain dumb. A handful of episodes pointed toward the show's overarching mythology, and those are worth seeing, but for the most part you're safe skipping the first season once you've seen the pilot and closing episodes to get oriented. Similarly, everything after season five, which concluded the show's major storyline, is disposable at best. There are certainly some entertaining episodes here and there but it definitely feels like a letdown after the main story. Yes, that is an issue, but many great shows suffered from this same fate — the X-Files slogged on at least three seasons too far, and it's still widely regarded as one of the all-time greats.
Within that four-season window, though, wow! Supernatural offered up a pair of monster-hunting brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, who got along like real brothers. They fought, they bickered, they gave each other constant shit and they made it feel real, even in a show where the primary plot always revolved around hunting and killing creatures of the night. The show didn't shy away from portraying the effects of that lifestyle on the brothers, or the other "hunters" they ran across. It never delved too deeply into it — not much fun to have an entire episode where Dean just cries in the shower for forty minutes — but the brothers both are portrayed as haunted by the things they have seen and done, dealing with it with lots of booze and the occasional near-psychotic episode.
Then, of course, there are the monsters. Oh, the wonderful, wonderful monsters! While working their way toward the apocalyptic main story — more on that in a minute — they run across some fantastic and fantastically weird supernatural things. Vampires, werewolves and ghosts, of course — wouldn't be a monster show without them, would it? — but also all kinds of weird shit pulled from the corners of urban myth and esoteric legends. Djinni? Sure! Wendigo? Why not? Rakshasa? You bet, everything's invited! That fantastic bestiary made the early seasons in particular a lot of fun, even if they did pull back a bit from it later on once the main themes became more established and we figured out where the show was going.
And boy, was it ever going someplace.
The main conflict is none other than the one depicted in that all-time bestseller, the Bible. God vs. Satan, with the fate of the world in the balance. Armageddon! The Rapture! Angels and demons and end times, oh my! Now, Supernatural is not, by a long shot, the first horror fiction to deal with Christian mythology. But what it did with that mythology is what set it apart. Whereas The Exorcist comes off like a two-hour commercial for the goofier parts of Catholicism, Supernatural throws all that out the window, taking the basics of the God vs. Satan story and putting a unique and thoroughly post-modern twist on it. Prophecy plays a part, but so does saying "fuck you" to the will of God. Demons are the bad guys, but in a lot of ways, the angels are worse. The heroes are happy to throw around holy water and run some Latin exorcism chants out to get rid of a pesky demon, but they spend fuck-all time praying, and for the most part, the only things they believe in are the things they've seen. In short, it treats Christian mythology like Western entertainment treats most other culture's mythology — it takes the fun parts, throws away the boring shit and mashes up the rest to fit its own storytelling needs. It is a strange and blasphemous take on Christianity and at times it's hard to believe that it could have ever been on network TV, but it was and it is glorious.
It doesn't hurt that the show, more than any of its horror-television siblings, absolutely stuck the landing. The finale stays true to the characters and the show's mythology, and even offers a bit of hope for the survivors. Now, yes, it fucked all that up by continuing to exist afterward, but hey, the CW doesn't exactly have a lot of cash cows like Supernatural, so that's business. You never have to watch another episode after the season five finale — honestly, apart from a handful of sweet fan-service episodes, there's not a lot of reason to keep watching — but those four seasons after season's one growing pains up until the final battle between good and evil are simply fantastic. When you're tired of rewatching Buffy and can't get over the "OMG so '90s" aspect of those X-Files reruns and need something new to try, remember my words: Put down your prejudice against the two prettiest monster-killers who ever lived and join the cult of Supernatural.
Existing Supernatural fans can celebrate their love of the Winchester brothers this weekend at Myths and Legends Con at the Ramada Plaza North, which has added the show to its featured fandoms this year; Supernatural newcomers can go for the Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Firefly and Game of Throne fandom and maybe find a Supernatural fan who can offer a concurring opinion.