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.”