Something’s been nagging at me the last few months about this favorite show of mine, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I read this fantastic article from an editor of “The Vampire Diaries.”  Nancy Forner shared a lot about the editing process for a genre vs. a procedural show.  How tone plays a huge part of how they edit scenes.  How they go for more emotional impact with "The Vampire Diaries", how they edit knowing the show thrives on tension and is incredibly stylistic, unlike some of the procedural shows she worked on in the past like “Law & Order: SVU.”  
     
No doubt about it, ever since Eric Kripke stepped down as showrunner at the end of season five, the style and tone of the show has changed.  The question I’ve always had though is what exactly changed?  It’s going to take a least a couple of parts for me to give an acceptable analysis, but in this article, I try to tackle the question, “Has “Supernatural” gone too procedural?”
 
What’s a procedural?

 
Definitions are probably in order.  Here’s the definition of a “procedural” per Wikipedia:
  
In television, "procedural" specifically refers to a genre of programs in which a problem is introduced, investigated and solved all within the same episode.  The general formula for a police procedural involves the commission or discovery of a crime at the beginning of the episode, the ensuing investigation, and the arrest or conviction of a perpetrator at the end of the episode.
 
We know just by watching “CSI” that a lot of the times the end of the episode will also lead to the death of the perpetrator (I heard all of you shouting, ‘Bieber!’).  Here’s another interesting tidbit about the procedural.  Procedurals are sometimes criticized for their lack of character development, with little attention being paid to the lives of the recurring characters outside of their jobs.  That hit a little too close to home for me when looking at season 6 and 7 Sam and Dean Winchester.
 
Nancy Forner had this to say about editing for “Law and Order: SVU.”
 
Law & Order: SVU, to take an example of a more classic TV show, is cut very straightforward and formal: you start with a wide shot, go to a medium and then over-the-shoulder. Rarely does the editing stand out. SVU is only about the story, not about the visuals.
 
It’s only about the story.  Could it be that “Supernatural” in the last two seasons has been too focused on the story?  
 
In a show like “Law and Order: SVU” though, a lot of the story strength comes from the dialogue.  That’s how they make the episodes engaging.  “Supernatural” is not a dialogue intensive show for the most part.  Sure, there are episodes and writers that have been more inclined toward sharp dialogue.  Eric Kripke was a brilliant dialogue writer, as was Jeremy Carver.  However, in terms of dialogue that is fast and off the wall unique, Ben Edlund is king.  

 
 
“Supernatural” is classified as a, appropriately enough, “Supernatural drama.”  The  genre has a wider range of rules, but one thing is pretty clear.  When Eric Kripke forged the vision for his supernatural drama, a procedural mentality wasn’t close to what he visualized.  Sure, season one was a little rough at first, but they needed time to find their footing.  They figured out rather quickly the show couldn’t thrive alone on urban legends.  Following the formula that worked so well for “The X-Files,” a mytharc had to be built and balanced with the stand alone cases.  By the second season, that perfect balance of horror, action, family drama, and humor was established.  Not a procedural, that’s for sure!
 
Now let’s seen what Ms. Forner had to say about editing for “The Vampire Diaries.” 
 
The stylistic uniqueness is in part due to the young adult and teen demographic who form the majority of the viewers. MTV was revolutionary for its fast cutting, but this is the post MTV generation, which grew up with music videos and fast editing. These kids watch TV, do homework, talk on the phone and IM at the same time. They can take in a lot more visuals than older people can. They get bored if it's not a tight pace.
 
I haven't read any studies, but having kids myself, I can tell you that they're used to taking in a lot more information, and they listen to tons of music, so they love that high energy. And we have to match that in The Vampire Diaries. That doesn't mean everything is very fast, however. If we have a beautiful love story or a tearful moment, we will play it long and slow. It's cut to express the story.
 
So while the action is fast paced, the emotional moments are long and slow.  I could go on and on about the times “Supernatural” has excelled in this tactic of selling the emotional moment in between the action packed story.  This is Sera Gamble’s wheelhouse, at least as a writer.  Among many great scenes there’s the end of “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things,” Dean’s tearful speech to Sam in “All Hell Breaks Loose Part II,” Dean’s last words to Sam as the clock strikes midnight in “No Rest For The Wicked,” the end of “Heaven and Hell,” and Sam’s vivid hallucinations in “When The Levee Breaks.”  The pace practically stops and it’s up to the actors and the dialogue to sell the story.  “Supernatural” has two very strong actors that can sell any scene by just sharing glances.  It’s what makes them extraordinary.  

 
In seasons six and seven, it’s not that these emotional moments are completely gone, but they’re  fewer and farther between.  Story is taking priority.  The brothers are distant and not talking like they used too (half a season of soulless Sam didn’t help).  They now carry more of a resemblance to partners in a cop show.  So the question becomes, is the editing to blame?  The writing?  Perhaps both?  Directors and actors just do what’s on a page.  Was there an intentional tonal shift made and we ended up finding out the hard way?  
 
In earlier seasons, the pacing was sharper and dialogue more interesting.  “Mystery Spot” is a classic example of this.  Not all episodes of course are as wildly paced and as well written as “Mystery Spot,” “A Very Supernatural Christmas,”  “Lazarus Rising,” “On The Head of A Pin” or “Changing Channels.”  But when the episodes weren’t heavily   paced with action, usually there was something entertaining filling in the gaps.  A suspenseful story, or a dramatic character study.  Or humor.  
 
Ah yes, the humor.  “Supernatural” has defined itself through the years for the  uniqueness of the comedy.  Dark and completely offbeat.  The show has had both whole episodes or little golden scenes written in between the intense story.  Comedy episodes have always been the best paced and most well constructed episodes.  One reason though is because most of them have been written by Ben Edlund.  
 
“Supernatural” in the first five seasons was mostly praised for it’s perfect balance.  If you strip away all the elements that “Supernatural” has used in the past, you’re left with story.  Think about a typical season one through five Monster of the Week episode.  Now take away the humor and brotherly banter.  Take away the emotional moments, like the brotherly bonding talks.  Take away layered and focused character studies.  Take away the fast paced action of the story.  What’s left?  The story.  You’ve got yourself a weak procedural.  Naturally that hasn’t been happening with all the episodes, but it’s becoming a more and more consistent problem.    
 
Sam and Dean Winchester - FBI
 
You know what can easily slant a paranormal show into procedural territory?  Making your leads cops of course!  
 
Sam and Dean are hunters.  Plain and simple.  Hunters are dishonest and do what they can to get to the truth.  This involves some creative methods and interrogation.  In seasons one and two, Sam and Dean were posing as something different every week.  In season three they became a bit more cop oriented, and the FBI guise was introduced.  With each season since then, “Sam and Dean Winchester - FBI” has become more and more common place, especially with MOTW episodes.  For something that was once a folly in earlier seasons, it’s become the weekly norm now in season seven. 
 
Let’s trace through the seasons.  In season one, the first time Sam and Dean put on the suits was “Phantom Traveler.”  They were after all playing NTSB agents and needed to look the part (The black suits were hot!).  There was only a couple other times in season one they put on suits for their “parts”.  “Route 666” (as insurance agents) and “Something Wicked” when they posed as Center of Disease control officers.  Sure they impersonated other forms of law enforcement like marshals and police detectives (the first time in the Pilot) but they didn’t dress the part and spend most of the episode acting the part.  They often talked to people using other forms of persuasion.  In “Bloody Mary” they were “friends” of the deceased and college students researching a paper (from Ohio State!).  In “Hookman” they were new students.  In “Bugs” they were two brothers looking for real estate.  In “Scarecrow,” “Asylum,” “Faith,” “Route 666,” “Hell House,” and “Dead Man’s Blood,” they were normal hunters. “Nightmare” was the most delicious alias, for who couldn’t resist Sam and Dean as priests?  “Shadow” they were security system maintenance men, art collectors in “Provenance,” unidentified and unsuited officers in “Salvation,”  and firemen in “Devil’s Trap.”   

Season two starts off with them being themselves in the hospital, then they’re carnival workers, regular hunters asking questions through giving bribes, friends of the deceased again, insurance agents (no suits), and I’ll just stop there.  Oh wait, prisoners in orange jump suits (commence drooling here).  Even when they posed as officers in “Heart” they weren’t wearing the suits and doing the FBI thing.  

When did the FBI guise start then?  The first time they both put on the suits and played the law enforcement part for a chunk of episode was “Bedtime Stories.”  They weren’t FBI though, they were detectives with the county sheriff’s office.  They had to whole routine down by now though, officially questioning the witnesses, following up on leads, etc.  They were still dodging real law enforcement though!  Remember that humor thing?  The police sketch artist bit to this day gets me rolling.  That’s how I remember average episodes.  

 
The suits were on again as sheriff’s department investigators in “Red Sky At Morning.”  In “Fresh Blood,” it was Gordon and Kubrick who were law guys in the suits, and that reinforced like Bobby in “The Magnificent Seven” the guise of dressing up and playing law enforcement types was part of the hunter’s job description.  By “A Very Supernatural Christmas” putting on the suits and posing as some form of agent/detective became an established thing.  This was the first episode where Sam and Dean were FBI.  In “Malleus Maleficarum” they were detectives in suits.  Dean put on the suit as a detective (briefly) in “Dream A Little Dream of Me.”  In one brief and very hilarious scene in “Mystery Spot” which Sam got unhinged with the owner, they were in the suits as reporters.  The next to eps, “Jus In Bello” and “Ghostfacers” broke that string of dressing up for the part, but they were back to dressing up again in “Long Distance Call” as corporate guys.  Then that’s it for season three as they got to the heart of Dean’s deal.  So, if you’re counting here, they were FBI once, and law enforcement in suits four times. 
The FBI thing gets more frequent in seasons four and five.  Season four the suit action didn’t happen again until the fifth episode, “Monster Movie” but honestly, the suits had to be on in that one.  Sharp looking G-men were a must for a black and white throwback!  However, kind of interesting that this far into the series, they have only been FBI guys twice. 

They’re FBI in “Yellow Fever,” “It’s the Great Pumpkin Sam Winchester,” “Wishful Thinking” (very briefly, without the suits, also Sam was a writer, they were teddy bear doctors, and wedding planners), “Criss Angel is A Douchebag,” “Sex and Violence,” and finally the beginning of “Monster At The End of This Book” (which was too priceless since they were that way only to be caught “larping”).  
 
Season five they were suited for the Feeb roles in “Free To Be You and Me” (okay it was just Dean and Castiel in a fun twist), “Fallen Idols,” “I Believe The Children Are Our Future”, “Changing Channels,” “My Bloody Valentine,” and “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” (although it was an awesome backfire).  In “The Devil You Know,” they were CDC instead, same suits though.  
 
For seasons three through five, the FBI/investigators bit was pretty even and not dominant of the entire season or even the episodes for the most part.  In season six though, there was a bit of a shift.  For one, they’ve gone strictly FBI now.  They were FBI in “Two and a Half Men” (Sam only), “The Third Man,”  “You Can’t Handle The Truth,” “All Dogs Go To Heaven,” “Like A Virgin,” “Unforgiven,” “Mannequin 3: The Reckoning,” “And Then There Were None,” “Mommy Dearest” (Sam and Bobby).  These stories aren’t just quick turns as G-men.  With a few exceptions (“Mommy Dearest”) they’re spending bigger chunks of the episode in FBI mode.   
 
Still, season six wasn’t that bad compared to the full on shift we get in season seven.  “The Girl Next Door” (Sam), “Defending Your Life,” “Shut Up, Dr. Phil,” “The Mentalists,” “How To Win Friends and Influence Monsters,” “Time After Time” (Dean, with a super awesome twist), “The Slice Girls,” “Plucky Pennywhistle’s Magical Menagerie,” “Repo Man,” “Out With The Old,” and “Party On, Garth.”  

 
Notice a big rut forming?  The real shame here is not only does season seven have the most, the season isn’t even over yet.  11 out of 18 episodes aired where they’ve put on the suits and done the FBI thing?  Only “Time After Time” counts as a out of the norm twist on what is becoming an overused vice.    
 
So what’s wrong with the FBI thing?  Simple.  When playing FBI, the episode gets very formulaic as well.  It all starts with a teaser (usually the gruesome death of the week), Sam and Dean with the suits investigating the crime scene, they talk to the witnesses in official capacity, go back to the motel for research, another death happens, they investigate in the suits, figure out who the perpetrator is, figure out how to trap it, and they end up either killing it or it gets away, all while maybe saving someone in the process.  
 
Remember the construction of a procedural?  “The general formula for a police procedural involves the commission or discovery of a crime at the beginning of the episode, the ensuing investigation, and the arrest or conviction of a perpetrator at the end of the episode.”
 
This structure actually has been very common in “Supernatural” for the MOTW episodes throughout the series.  The difference is, the cases and the circumstances make the outcome and the story very unique.  In a police procedural like “CSI” they’re investigators following protocol.  There’s no protocol for hunters. They can be someone different every week. Remember great monster stories like “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Nightshifter,” “Yellow Fever,” and “The Curious Case of Dean Winchester?”  
 
What’s happening now is that so much focus is given to showing Sam and Dean in their FBI roles and unfolding their investigation by the book that other bits that used to fill time are being sacrificed.  The brotherly banter, the humorous situations (Dean with a Dom in “Criss Angel is a Douchebag” comes to mind), the emotional impact to the characters of what’s happening (remember the end of “Houses of The Holy?”).  This used to be a character based drama driven by story.  Now story is driving the characters.  That works great in a procedural.  It doesn’t work great for a show that even spent part of an episode mocking procedural cop shows.     
 

Perhaps I’m being too harsh though.  Maybe people like this procedural mentality more.  I’ve read nothing but complaints about how the show got too bogged down by the mytharc in seasons 4 and 5.  That could be true, but what we have here now is perhaps the pendulum swinging too far the other way.  
 
Look at episodes like “You Can’t Handle The Truth,” where most of the episode is sluggishly paced because the formulaic approach of these two guys handling the investigation takes precedence.  Okay, there is one humorous bit with Bobby, but it isn’t until the brotherly fallout at the end that there’s anything very compelling about that episode.  How about “All Dogs Go To Heaven?”  That episode, other than following the standard investigation pattern, really suffers when one of our heroes is very poorly written as a total ass.  All we’re left with is one very hot looking sniper Dean Winchester.  As much as I love that visual, it doesn’t make the episode watchable.  “Like A Virgin” did benefit from a fantastic brotherly reunion, but the rest of the episode was killed by a sluggish pace following the standard MOTW investigation routine.  “My Heart Will Go On” had it’s moments, but again it’s another case of poor pacing for the sake of unfolding a story in traditional fashion.  However, that episode did excel in the emotional moments between Ellen and Bobby.  
 
Not all though can be blamed on FBI/straight by the book.  “Mannequin 3:  The Reckoning” is just one of those episodes that was just plain bad.  Ditto for “Defending Your Life.”  Nothing could have saved those.  They go in the history books with “Red Sky at Morning” and “Bugs.”    
 
Another problem with episodes taking too much time to follow standard procedure is that when the mytharc or character intensive episodes do get their turn, they’re overloaded.  “Let It Bleed,” “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” and “The Born-Again Identity” bring on an entirely different problem.  There’s too much story, so as a result, there’s an emotional and/or comical element missing because there just isn’t time.  The scenes are often jagged, rushed, and don’t flow well because they’re trying to get in story as much as they can.  This again can be blamed on horrible pacing.  Sure there are a couple of great moments in each of these, but they’re swallowed by the frenzied pace of the rest.  
 
Season six however did deliver one thing that season seven has been sorely missing.  The comical episodes.  Sure, in prior seasons there were more comical moments woven into the episodes, but season six as far as whole comedy episodes delivered a few of the best.  You will not get better than “Clap Your Hands If You Believe” and “The French Mistake.”  “Frontierland” was a priceless novelty as well, even if the Back to the Future III references were a bit much.  Not one episode in season seven can say it’s made us laugh like these classics.  “Season 7: Time For A Wedding” and “Party On, Garth” were mild attempts at humor.  They fell very flat.  
 
In season seven, the FBI/procedural element hasn’t been all bad though and makes a case for not being totally eliminated.  “The Mentalists” was a solid episode.  “How to Win Friends and Influence Monsters,” even though they had the suits on, was not a typical case by a long shot (Edlund!).  “Time After Time” did G-man in the 40’s.  A golden opportunity well delivered.

 
Did we really need 11 FBI investigation episodes though?  “Shut Up, Dr. Phil” was supposed to be a standard case bolstered by eccentric characters.  It turned out to be slow and nothing memorable.  “The Slice Girls” followed a standard investigation pattern but had the great setup of an emotional conflict for Dean.  It didn’t deliver.  Even though the clown attack scenes as well as the ending brotherly moment in “Plucky Pennywhistle’s Magical Menagerie” were great, they were woven in between sluggish and by the book investigation scenes (at least when Sam wasn’t cringing at clowns).  “Out With The Old” was a well done story, but FBI fatigue had set in for me by then.  
 
I wouldn’t mind throwing Sam and Dean back into the territory of seasons one and two, when they were forced into different situations every week.  More bikini inspectors I say!  I mean really, hasn’t the FBI gotten wise about all these impersonations by now?  I’m calling this my mandate for Season 8.  You better be reading this Mr. Carver!!!  
 
The question remains though, will getting rid of the FBI/cop guise be enough?  Will that kill a lot of the procedural mentality that’s been dominating these plots?  I do acknowledge that’s only one part of the problem.  It’s a step in the right direction.  Or is it?  Now is your chance to share.        
 
Coming up in the next part, I’ll examine some of the editing techniques used in seasons 1 through 5 vs. seasons 6 and 7 to see what changes may or may not have impacted the overall tone of “Supernatural.”  
 
     
 
   

Comments  

NOLANOLA
# NOLANOLA 2012-04-13 04:08
WELL AS I HAVE SAID BEFORE, BRING BACK THE BROTHERLY LOVE & BANTER AND ALL WILL BE RIGHT WITH ME AND MY SN WORLD.

I WISH THERE WERE DIRECTORS CUTS ON THE DVDs. THAT MIGHT GIVE US MORE STORY & FLOW.

I KNOW WHAT A WRITER WRITES & A DIRECTOR DIRECTS DOES NOT ALWAYS SHOW UP ON SCREEN. THATS WHY WE NEED EXTENDED CUTS. GUY BEE SAID HE LIKES TO SHOOT ABOUT 10 EXTRA MINUTES, JUST SO TPTB HAVE SOME CHOICES.

I JUST WANT DEEP FAMILY SCENES AGAIN. I AM NOT CLOSE WITH MY SIBLING & I GUESS THATS ONE REASON WHY I AM DRAWN TO SPN. ALSO SINCE THE JETSONS AS A CHILD I HAVE LOVED SCI-FI.

I AM NO FEMINAZI BUT I HATE TO SEE A POWERFUL WOMAN GONE. I HOPE SERA STAYS ON TO WRITE. SHE CAN WRITE FOREVER. BRAVA SERA.

I DONT LIKE LONG COMMENTS, SO THANKS SPN FANDOM
belluvsmiami
# belluvsmiami 2012-04-13 05:14
Thats exactly what it is! Thank you for writing this.

I love watching Supernatural for everything that it is but lately there has been something bothering me. Something familiar that I couldn't quite put my finger on until now.

I am a long time fan of the procedural cop show CSI Miami, a show that may well be on its last feet for being far too procedural & unbelievable in their last 4 seasons. Supernatural has mocked this favourite of mine in a great way though, I found Sam's Horatio impression mighty hilarious.

Whilst I could give two hoots if my other show ends I certaintly do not want Supernatural to go down this path.
Just like my other show it does become story driven and the characters are left behind, and solving the problem so easily in one hour becomes boring quick.

I feel the exact same way with the last season and this season of Supernatural, there is just something different. Its the same guys but its changed. Some episodes hit the spot while others just don't.

Although they are from different genre's I would hate to see this show suffer the same fate as my other.

I do wonder if they removed the "procedural " part of this show would it improve?....
Ginger
# Ginger 2012-04-13 08:15
"This used to be a character based drama driven by story. Now story is driving the characters. "

My biggest complaint for the last two years because I feel that is why Sam and Dean have lost their intimacy and, as a result, the audience loses intimacy with the brothers (and there are lots of 'stuff' involved in or that makes up intimacy.) I used to feel I was in the backseat of the Impala sharing a journey with the brothers. One little mini-movie per week. Now, as you say, I feel like I am watching two cop partners investigate a crime.

I hope Jeremy realizes some of the problems of late and quickly goes about changing things up. If nothing else, I would like a serialized format (like the first two episodes of S7) towards an overarching mytharc better than the few crammed mytharc episodes delivered these last two years. At least that would provide some structuring discipline for each writer...althou gh I also think that would be really restrictive for the better writers like Edlund and Robbie Thompson, and that would be a shame.
Sylvie
# Sylvie 2012-04-13 08:36
I somewhat agree with you. Some of the shows from seasons 6 & 7 are a little too procedural. Now, do I think it's a bad thing? Not as much as you do. I like procedurals, CSI is one of my favourites in this genre. But until you pointed out how many times they played FBI agents, I hadn't realized they'd done it that often. Now what I do wholeheartedly agree with is that we need to bring more brotherly moments back to the fold.

With the mytharc that we had from season 1 to 5 being so beautifully tied up, I think maybe the writers had to scramble with new ideas and new ways for the show to continue in the same vein. Is Jeremy Carver coming back to the show going to fix every little problem? I don't think so, but hopefully it will start going in a different direction. I do want the show to move forward and not back. That being said, I do like season 7, and I have great hope for season 8.
merannoeu
# merannoeu 2012-04-13 08:37
I am not a formal critic of anything but the way I see seasons 6 and 7 (an ignorant opinion, perhaps) is as follows:
Dean and Sam are burned out. Hunting for them now is just going through the motions, are done with creativity. Sure they express a glimmer of life now and then but for the most part, like any person would be, they are just tired.
Sorry to be so depressing.
I still love the show, by the way. Strange, huh?
Melanie
# Melanie 2012-04-13 17:53
I think this is correct - I think that its purposefully been standard cases by the book with the FBI guises as the most practical way to get people's cooperation - because Dean & Sam are too wrung out to do anything else but go through the motions on straightforward hunts.
Nat
# Nat 2012-04-13 09:11
THIS!! Absolutely a spot-on examination and summation of what's changed. I hadn't even thought about the editing style but certainly from a story-telling aspect the show HAS gone very procedural.

Instead of using the story to tell about the characters, they are using the characters to tell about the story. And frankly, for me, it's never been all that much about the stories as much as the characters. IMO, we have lost so much of what we love about these boys in the last two seasons, and you have here a perfect grasp of why.

Personally, seasons 4 and 5 were my favorites overall. I love how all the previous storyline tied together and made the mytharc a matter of the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts.

There was so much to draw on, with 5 prior seasons already established going into season 6, I expected a change of pace and perhaps some rough patches moving forward (how do you top the apocalypse, after all). I was sorely disappointed that it felt like the show had largely ignored all that had gone before, rather than taking in previous storyline to build something even deeper.

Thank you so much for writing this and I really, really look forward to reading the next part.
cd28
# cd28 2012-04-13 10:38
This was a really interesting read. Thanks for writing it. One of my biggest issues with this season, more so than last season, has been that they stopped writing longer-arc stories. Cas's story gained a lot of momentum near the end of last season, and then it felt like it was abruptly dropped so that the show could switch to monster of the week cases instead. With Sam and Dean's storylines, I was hoping that both were building toward some big climax or twist, but as the season progressed, I lost confidence that this was true. The procedural approach explains things.

I've also noticed, and have been a little annoyed, that Sam and Dean have been wearing suits a lot (mostly because I prefer them in their hunter-wear, hanging out in diners or dive bars). I hadn't made the connection to cop shows, but you're right, they are trying to become a cop show with a twist.
Ginger
# Ginger 2012-04-13 15:00
Diners and upscale bars have seriously annoyed me this season, too. And since when would Dean Winchester ever be in a bristol? I've also noticed the suits as the preferred attire -- not liking that either.
Kimberly
# Kimberly 2012-04-13 10:49
I believe what has changed may have been the writing or the editing, but it was the brothers themselves as well. I agree that the brothers are burnt out. Dean and Sam have been to hell and back, have killed every type of monster under the sun, have stopped the apocalypse, and dealt with dealing with the deaths of many people who they care so much about. It's definitely taking its toll on them.

Season 6 was Sera's way of cutting her own slice of Supernatural and it was her way of setting herself apart from the the mytharc of Kripke in Seasons 1-5. It did fall a bit short because we don't see an overall flow or plot, just a lot of little things all happening at once to the brothers - Sam's soul still in the cage, the Mother of All, Heaven's civil war, and Castiel's alliance with Crowley. It was too much to have jumbled together into one season. Season 7 is faring a bit better, but it still has Bobby's death, Frank, and the Leviathans, which doesn't seem to have an end in sight and we usually find out about the truth of the overall arc of the season midway through (example here is finding out about Castiel's alliance with Crowley after the boys killed Eve).

If she had spread out some of the issues facing the boys, we'd see more of Crowley, more intimate dialog between the brothers, more give-em-hell attitude towards seeing this through. But now we're seeing two tired and burnt out brothers who have nothing really left to live for, not even each other. At least in a few of the past seasons, they literally died and made deals and risked their lives for each other. Now it seems they don't even care about that.

Dean has become overly obsessed with killing Dick Roman (or the Leviathan possessing him) and Sam just wants to move on from it all and hunt monsters again. I see a complete twist in the story since the first two seasons where Dean was about "saving people, hunting things" and Sam wasn't sure he even wanted to be back in to the hunting life.

Although there's more humor in Season 7, it's not the same humor as before because the brothers themselves have changed so much. Dean used to be snarky and a ladies' man, but after having to erase Lisa and Ben's memory, he's changed. He had one whole year as a "normal" person and that did him in. Sam, on the other hand, had two or more years away from the hunting life with Jessica and law school, but after Jess died, HE became a hard-ass about killing and hunting down as many "evil sons-of-bitches " as they could.

What's changed the most about the brothers (and ultimately the way the show has become) over the last two seasons is actually a good thing. The SHOW hasn't become procedural, but the BROTHERS have! They've become robots, just looking for crime and passing the time killing monsters, until Dean can finally gank Dick Roman and get his revenge on the death of Bobby. That's where he's become more like Sam used to be. Killing Azazeal was Sam's revenge for Jess's death; killing Dick will be Dean's revenge for killing Bobby.

Season 7 has a lot more call-backs to the past few seasons though and my gut is telling me that Carver will make amends and bring things back to the way things were in Season 8. But we have to remember in all this, the brothers are not the same. They've seen too much and been hurt and betrayed by a lot of people to go back to the way they used to be. There will always be demons and angels on their shoulders, but the main demon badies are all gone - Azazeal, Lilith, Ruby. The main issues in Heaven are all but gone - Uriel, Anna, Raphael, Lucifer and Michael, even Castiel. So what we're left with is the basics - the brothers, together, "saving people, hunting things".
rmoats8621
# rmoats8621 2012-04-13 13:03
This is such a wonderful article, Alice. I totally agree. I miss the way the brothers used to mix it up and not always show up as some type of law enforcement. I loved the episode "Shadow" where we saw them in jumpsuits as alarm company techs. It was such a great look. I still laugh every time I hear Dean complain in that episode about how renting costumes cost them their hard earned (haha) money. However, when they do dress up, I love the sport coat with slacks look versus a formal suit. Dean's look in "Season 7, Time for a Wedding" was a good look, too. The sweater, tweed coat and slacks look really did him justice. Ahhhh.... Plus he played a reporter. I love it when they play reporters. Their demeanor is more relaxed and not so uptight. So, here's hoping that Mr. Carver does take note and read some of the articles, sites, etc. that are out there pointing this out. Variety is good....otherwi se, it becomes too second nature and as you pointed out, the shows formula begins to look like a second rate procedural show and not a great horror show!
KELLY
# KELLY 2012-04-13 13:59
While I have seen a few procedural type episodes, I disagree about the number of them and some of those have had the most character develop. So I don't see the same outcome. I don't mind a little procedural if they are done well and have lots of good character development.

I noticed the suits and FBI thing, but I really see this as more of a reflection of their state of mind (or at least Dean's). In the first three season Dean was more playful. He enjoyed the hunt. He enjoyed the life of a hunter. He took each day as it came for the most parts. Yeah he started having doubts but most of the time he was living the life to the fullest.

He would do things, it seemed, to get him and especially Sammy it potentially awkward situations-just to see if they could get out of them. Even after he first came back from Hell, even with the impending apocalypse he still had more of a live life attitude. Until he and Sam started to grow further apart and he found out about breaking the first seal. Then he stopped being so playful. He even told Cas in Free to Be You and Me that he hadn't laughed that hard in years.

He was more playful again after Sam got his soul back. That's one of the reason I love "Like A Virgin" is that not only did we get Sammy back we got Dean back too. Yes he was still wearing the suit but his joyfulness about having his brother back infected the whole case. Dean and that stone and him questioning the "virgin" -that was a happy Dean. That's why I think that the season would have been better served to have some of the episodes, like All Dogs be on the Soul Sam side. We were missing Both our leads really and I agree that episode was pretty procedural. It wasn't bad-it just wasn't emotionally engaging.

This season though Dean has been in a funk a good portion of the season. Sam has been driving the cases. He's been the one pushing them to do this case or that. And if Sam is in the driver's seat he going to go for efficiency, typically the FBI.

That's why I think (hope?) that what the show is working towards is giving Dean and Sam both a renewed enjoyment of the life, in a realistic way. To me it would not be realistic after everything they've been through and everyone they've lost, if they snapped out of it became happy-go-lucky again. But I think (hope?)what everyone's been telling Dean over the last year, will finally resonate and will a New -old Dean back for next year.

Now where I do agree with you is that the story have been so jammed packed at time that we lost little moments that turn an 8 or 9 into a 10. Such as with Born-Identity.

Note to writers listen to Bob Singer in The French Mistake. If comes down to cutting a scene where they sit on the Impala (I want that damn car back) and talk about their feelings or a really cool shot or filling a hole in the plot. Kill the shot. Leave the hole open. (Or better yet on some of these episode just make script a little tighter.) GIVE ME MY BROMANCE MOMENT!

On the missing big humorous episodes, I really loved Plucky's, but the best was How to Win Friends. I ADORED STONED DEAN and Brandon and Ranger Rick. and the looks Sam gives Dean. But I think that's the difference in this year and last and even the previous years. Most of the funniest episodes were written by Edlund or Carver. And 2 out of the 3 Edlund's written so far this year (and I have a feeling with the timing the next one is going to be heavier as well)have been drama-based. Or downright dark with Repo Man. I love his dramatic episodes too so its hard to pick between them.

I do hope with Carver back that this is something that will improve. Not having to depend on Edlund for the over-the-top fantastic funny episodes that also drive the story. Mystery Spot is still one of my all time favorites. And loved Changing Channels as well. He's really good at adding the humor to the dramatic as well. Such as in Point of No Return (another of my all time favorites).

I wish we could keep Sera too. Because 4 episodes from her, 4 episodes from Edlund and 3-4 from Carver, with the addition Robbie Thompson and a few other we practically have a whole season.
Rosetta
# Rosetta 2012-04-13 14:24
I think this is a very smart article! ^^
I couldn't quite understand what I wanted to complain about... Thank you, now I know exactly what I meant all along LOL.
I agree with you, the show has indeed gone too procedural. In fact, the majority of the episodes since season 6 are episodes I don't feel like watching again... Isn't that crazy? I can go through seasons 1 to 5 millions of time, and not even the episodes people think are SO bad (like Bugs and Red Sky at Morning) don't even bother me. I can watch them a thousand times just as well.
I think overall the development of the storyline is very poor. It used to be all carefully written, even irrelevant episodes were somehow relevant. And I think it is part of the whole procedural feeling that's going on: no development whatsoever. In fact, the characters seem a bit lost to me at times and it hurts so bad, cause Sam and Dean are brilliant characters played by brilliant actors and the possibilities are endless. But we are still stuck with open-shut cases and FBI impersonations every episode.
I don't like to point my finger at people and say they are guilt. I can't blame only one person for all the wrong things that have been happening on this show, cause the fact is that it wouldn't even solve anything. But I just can't stop thinking that it is partially Sera Gamble's fault, since the showrunner should be able to keep the storyline going... She sould balance the episodes. She's the only one who can change the tone... Or better yet, she could. Now she left and I hope this will breathe a new life on the show, since it is really in need of new ideas. If you analyze both seasons 6 and 7 as a whole, you'll see what I mean. But I don't blame her for all that went wrong, all I'm saying is that she should have done something about it =/
The emotional episodes, like you said, get too much information, cause ALL the emotional moments need to be on only one episode. In prior seasons, we had great moments every episode to gradually show these changes. It's very different from throwing it all on our faces in one episode and then moving on to a happy episode... I mean, why? xD
I personally always loved the mythology, cause it's so well-written... So I loved seasons 4 and 5 (can't be tamed, nope LOL) and I would never complain about the pace, cause it was perfect for me. But it did affect a lot of people, because we all have different opinion. Think about the way you felt when you missed the MOTW episodes and found the show very boring in these seasons... Now, this is how I feel about the new episodes LOL there you go!
But, yes, I will love Supernatural until the very last episode. They will always make me smile and cry and it will NEVER change, because I'm a fan above all else! It's still the best show on television for me, yes, of course. But I can't help and compare it to what it used to be and isn't anymore. Think about all the possibilities *sigh*
Anyway, I loved the article
Rosetta
# Rosetta 2012-04-13 14:27
Didn't fit all in one message! LOL I talk too much!
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EireneS
# EireneS 2012-04-13 15:29
Really interesting article. Thank you Alice. I have felt the show has been less exciting lately and your article helps me to realize a possibility as to why. When I look back to S6, some of my favorite episodes are there - Twihard, Clap if you Believe, Frontierland, The French Mistake, My Heart will go on. And yet, somewhere in S6, I began to be a little wearied of the same procedure being used too many times-the guys become aware of something strange going on somewhere and head off to find out about what's causing it. That's OK in itself, but it seems that the next scene is them in suits going to the crime scene or morgue or lab getting info really easily and then easily solving the problem. What happened to their end of episode talk section because one or both of them have some insight they want to "explore".? I love that they express their concern/care for each other easier now than in earlier seasons, I hate that Sam is still doing stuff behind Dean's back-using the "talking board" to try to reach Bobby, I hate that so many of their close friends/mentors have died, I love being introduced to new friends/hunters /helpers, I get it that they are both burned out in their own ways-Sam with Lucifer riding him for so long and also worried about being left alone if Dean freaks out or is unable to continue hunting with him. Sort of like Dean in the first seasons-he needed to be needed, kept him sane and now Sam needs to be needed so he can feel attachment and security. And I get it that they have both aged emotionally as well as in years .
But it seems to me that the writers are getting lazy and passing over "routine" scenes like the FBI info scenes to get on with the story. If the rest of the story was good, that would be OK once in awhile, but that is not the case. The episodes are 50 percent "good" writing and the rest seems to be fill. I love watching Supernatural and I will probably continue through the end season but I would still like "some jazz on the page" (Season 2, Hollywood Babylon).
Bevie
# Bevie 2012-04-13 15:34
I've been hoping for more season 1 & 2 like episodes ever since season 4. I want brotherly love, teasing and humour in the show and more dithering over the roof of the Impala as much as you Alice.

I don't think they should always be FBI either. As they were in the first 2 seasons there are many more guises and phoney identities out there they could be using. You are right about that in my opinion, even though I don't dislike most of the episodes you do. "Chris Angel is a Douchebag" for some reason, can't explain it, annoys me and I REALLY don't like anything about it except the funny bit with Dean and the big guy with the whip. :eek:

I long for more brotherly moments and am grateful when a few get thrown in. But like Rosetta, I will love Supernatural to the very end and will never stop watching it even if it has to be dvds. It's the best show on TV right now and the best one ever in my humble opinion and I've been watching TV since the '50's. :P

And I hate police procedurals, doctor procedurals and lawyer procedurals. Boring boring boring! :-x So I am hoping that Jeremy Carver can keep our show from becoming any more like that and reverse that trend.

I liked your article Alice, and do understand the problems you are having at the moment with the show, and if you wish for a bit of seasons 1 & 2 to reappear I'm with you! :-)
Yirabah
# Yirabah 2012-04-13 16:25
I am just another one who has to thank you Alice for finally solving the mystery why I had problems with S 6 + 7.

Don't get me wrong. I sure enough watch my share of procedural shows. But no matter which one, none of them is capable of catching my attention the way Supernatural did. It doesn't matter if you miss out on a few eps in a procedural because you can easily catch up with things. As you said, not much story in it besides the crime.

With SPN it used to be that you had to watch each episode and had to watch it in order to get the full story of the show. How many of the SPN fans who found the show during later seasons had to watch from the beginning in order to understand all the stuff going on during the ep that caught their attention no matter if the first ep they saw was during S 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5. During S 6 + 7 there were eps were you didn't really need any back ground information they were really stand-alones just like an ordianary procedural.

Something that bothered me for example was how Frank got ditched. In other cases when a character close to the boys died at the end of an ep it was somehow picked up during the next ep. At least with a short exchange of words with the boys. But when the boys found the empty trailer with lots of blood at the end of that ep there was nothing. At least they could have wondered if Frank was dead or if he was able to make it somehow anyways since there was no body.

I believe a lot of us fans got sucked into the show because of the bond between the brothers and everybody else they adopted somehow into their family. Taking away everybody of that extend family from the boys during this season is what started to give it a procedural look I believe. Therefore there is not much left to tell outside of the procedural stuff and the little chances there are the show misses out on them. The feelings are missing. Most of us feel in love with the show because of the family love and now it seems there is none left.

And the suits. I wouldn't mind if the thief would steal those but he should have the decency to give the jacket back.
kazkriz
# kazkriz 2012-04-13 17:11
just enjoy the show.. :) also we'll have Jeremy and he'll bring back the best. just wait and see until season 7 is gone :) I do believe season 7 has been awesome so far. I've enjoyed pretty much everything.. yes I do miss somethings but I love supernatural... and that will not change EVER no matter what
Hedi
# Hedi 2012-04-13 17:26
Right on Alice! I totally agree with you! these last episodes had a straight pattern, ok, there is a case , Sam and dean go for it , they cross the FBI line , show their IDs and yada yada ! It's like they are too tired to try some new things! I re-watched some of season 1's episodes and I was like wow they were so creative and they were something different every dingle time! Army ranger, homeland security , med students, reality tv guys! And that's why it made supernatural more fun to watch beacuse you could never guess who they gonna be this time! I think it has to do sth with the writing obviously and I hope they try to focus on the details like they used to . Brotherly moments, having real hunting and all that. Though I enjoy side stories like Cas 's or Crowley or other things but writers should not forget the main idea of supernatural !
PENNY JAIME
# PENNY JAIME 2012-04-13 18:10
OK, I miss the brotherly moments too. No matter HOW burnt out they are, their base feelings & instincts towards each other wouldn't change.
Debbie
# Debbie 2012-04-13 18:44
Alice, Thank you so much for taking the time to write this insightful article and your expert analysis. You have made valid points and I hope the writers will take notice and begin to repair the damage before Season 7 ends. I am concerned that SPN is in danger right now and we may not even get to Season 8. I personally don't mind the FBI look, but agree the writers have overused it this season. I am so glad I found this website. It is up-to-date and provides me with the info I crave.
Amy
# Amy 2012-04-13 19:07
Off the top of my head one of the most organic introductions to the case of the week that beautifully marries the brothers relationship and emotinal arcs is Children shouldn't play with dead things.

it opens with the boys discussing Sam wanting to visit marys grave, dean doesn't want to be alone without Sam. While Sam pays his respects to his mother and buries Johns dogtags, knowing John would want her to have them...Dean is wandering around, unable to even be near the grave, yet keeping his brother close. he spots something odd and investigates.....

I love the mytharc but i also love the MOTW but more importantly I love the boys and their relationship. I want to see these guys and i want to see their relationship. Right now these are two guys who are together becasue they are going in the same direction. which in of itself could be awesome because there is also that learning about each other journey and with everthing they have been through, I'd imagine they have changed in fundamental ways and yet in others .. have stayed the same......but they barely interact anymore.

Do these guys know who their brother is anymore? Are they afraid to learn? Are they afriad of being rejected for their changes? or are they afraid of being rejected for how they stayed the same?

There is so much to learn and know about Sam and Dean and their relationship and how its changed and how they feel/think about it...not to mention how they feel/think about the changes within themselves.

What does Sam and Dean see as his stregnths? As weakness? Is he conciouslt trying to change these things about himself? So much to know about these two guys.

As it was in the beginning the monster they fight should reflect what the boys are going through...etc.

Andf the same goes for Dean and ever
Pragmatic Dreamer
# Pragmatic Dreamer 2012-04-15 15:41
Great article Alice. So much to think about. This is a show where it's so obvious that the characters need to drive the plot. When that engine starts to sputter, the whole train is in danger of derailing.

I just read Metamorphic Rock's great piece about the absence of the brotherly moments. It's fascinating to think, and imagine how a few different editing choices would have cemented the brotherly relationship, and made the episodes feel less formulaic.

I'm a a little fatigued by the FBI aliases. I too miss the journalists, the repairman (didn't Dean look so fine in his overalls, when he was working as a lineman with Frank.. More of this please!!), the goofy, oddball, spur of the moment identities. Can you imagine if they'd been the soldiers instead of Garth?

(Of course I wonder if they're always being FBI officers so they get access to all the information on the case. It wouldn't be so easily available otherwise.)

Again, some of these chances make me curious about what's happening behind the scenes -- at the executive producer level, at the showrunner level and even higher up the food chain. Evidence suggest the new president is more of a fan, but does that mean more involvement (perhaps tinkering? Killing with kindness.. It's been known to happen!) Would budget cuts have any impact?

I don't find Supernatural predictable, yet, but your excellent article points out how easily a show can start veering in that direction.

Thanks for giving me more to ponder!

Pragmatic Dreamer
Ann
# Ann 2012-04-16 10:05
Thanks for this ariticle, Alice. I agree with just about everything. The show has gotten too procedural which, to me, is the same as predictable. Procedurals follow too many rules. The early seasons of Supernatural appealed to me because the writers didn't seem to follow anyone else's rules. So many times while watching the show, I said to myself, 'wow, I never saw that on tv before'. That hasn't happened much during the last couple of seasons. Even the action sequences now seem redundant. I hope that season 8 brings us more creative story telling and a return to a focus on family.
suzee51
# suzee51 2012-04-19 15:39
"Hunters are dishonest and do what they can to get to the truth."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5b1EPseb54o&feature=related

Nuff said. ;-)
Tina
# Tina 2012-04-19 20:24
Thank you for writing this. For a long time I couldn't quite put my finger on it, why the individual episodes didn't excite me all that much anymore. I still love Supernatural, the characters and the story, but something feels off. I don't know anything about editing or what makes a show fall into a certain category besides the story, but what you explained about procedurals makes a lot of sense. I actually like procedural cop shows but for other reasons than what I like about Supernatural.
When I thought about what I miss most from earlier seasons, this is exactly what I came up with. I wish Sam and Dean would pretend to be someone other than FBI agents again. It seems a minor thing but I always thought it the most interesting to see them adapt to different situations.
From what you write about procedurals made me realise they are very predictable. That's another thing. When I started watching I didn't even like horror shows. (In seasons 1 and 2 I had to close my eyes a lot). But now I kinda miss it. Supernatural hasn't scared me in a long time.
But while I think the writers should be more creative again with how they present the characters, I still like the story a lot. I applaud the writers for having created such a complex world that actually makes sense. In a supernatural way, of course. Even the way they presented the apocalypse has worked for me and that has never happened before.
With seven seasons it must be hard to come up with something new and not contradict anything that happened before. So far they've managed that. But now they should quit thinking about some big bad they can introduce and focus on the characters and the small family stories again.
Anyway it turns out, I'm looking forward to new episodes.