So this dropped.
So let's talk about it.
I'll admit I'm going to be a little biased in this. I've read every Supernatural supplementary material so far including the original comics, which looked at the time John spent immediately after Mary's death.
Of course all that old continuity was blown up in spectacular fashion by episode 8.12 "As Time Goes By" with the time travel adventures of Henry Winchester. Ever since that episode, there's just not a real way to harmonize the continuity of John & Mary's story. We essentially have 2 versions of it: the season 1-7 version and the S8-15 version. Quite obviously this prequel series is going to be utilizing the S8-15 continuity, which does allow more space to explore possible stories.
But before we make peace with the continuity snarl this series will entail, I want to say a thought on creation.
There's a good reason making art is compared to raising children. Both involve pouring your blood, sweat, and tears into something you hope is beautiful. Something that is going to make the world a little bit better by bringing joy to other people's lives.
The big difference is that art is also a business. It's why being a salesman for your own work means you end up going just a little bit crazy because it means having to watch the world reject your child in the worst ways possible over and over and over again in the hopes that you can find that little sliver of fans who will really love them. It's tough and you learn sympathy for anyone going through it.
So let's say I want to make this great new story about monsters hiding in society. Let's call it... "American Monsters." Now the challenge is that I've got to try and sell this story to a new audience which has no reason or desire to even like it. Now suppose I called my story... "Grimm: Another City?" Well, now I have a ready made fanbase who are at least more inclined to give my story a shot than they were when it was wholly original.
Still putting that label on my story means that expectations are going to come with that audience. If I were to change the title to say... "Supernatural: Bloodlines," then the expectations for my story are going to change, along with the potential audience. The title I pick for my story involves implications about characters and continuity and worldbuilding. If I am not willing to play by the rules and setups involved with a title, then it is my responsibility as a storyteller to change the title to a more fitting one. Either I should find a place it does belong, or invent something new.
This goes beyond simple continuity and worldbuilding. The branding on a story conveys something about the characters and plots - a promise of a certain flavor to the story. I certainly don't hate the idea of The Winchesters! I like the idea of a hunting couple coming together through it all and exploring the challenges such a life would bring to love and vice versa. I've also suggested in the past that SPN's best spin-off idea would be one involving hunters in ages past. There is a lot of rich potential here for a really solid, decent show.
So the question is: What does the trailer offer us?
A truly timeless work will be multifaceted, meaning that a wide variety of fans will be able to find a wide variety of reasons to enjoy the story. One could argue that the best tales can't really be boiled down to "just" one aspect. Quality worldbuilding will help you set up and execute captivating plots. Well done plots will challenge beloved characters and give them opportunities to shine. It's all interconnected, forming a feedback loop system which makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Works with enduring, wide-ranging fandoms endure because they are so rich, fans can find something they love in it. One fan may love the world and setting of the story. Another prefers the characters. Ask a dozen fans what they love about it, and you can probably get two dozen answers.
And yes, I would include the original Supernatural in this grouping as a solid, timeless work.
Can the spinoff live up to the legacy?
I must admit that at first glance the worldbuilding looks kind of thin. The hint of an interesting plot is shown which gives some hope there.
Then there are the characters...
Previously I have written about what it really means to have "flawed" characters. (part 2) To sum up a larger point: A character should lack at the start of the story which they gain by the end of it. (Musicals will make this obvious with an "I want" song.) From the trailer, we are given a good sense of what John Winchester lacks and is hoping to gain from the story.
But what about Mary? What is her flaw? What is she lacking? From the trailer the answer seems to be: nothing. She's a perfect, actualized human being who wants for nothing and has no need of anybody in her life. So then... where is my interest? Especially when you are promising a romance. A big part of making it work is that the principle characters of the romantic tale should lack something which the other person fulfills perfectly. We get a hint of this in John's direction - he lacks answers to the fate of his father and Mary is plugged into that hidden world which may hold those answers. Now what is she getting out of all this? I can come up with several possibilities. From what we knew in the original Supernatural show, there's plenty of writing potential with Mary Campbell in a prequel. But is any of that going to be in here? Is any of that going to be explored? From what we've seen in the trailer so far, the answer almost seems to be no. If anything from what little we're shown, the trailer gives the impression that Mary does not need John at all - that if anything he's more of a hinderance to her than any benefit.
Obviously this could all be changed by the time the actual episode airs. Trailers can lie about their product. But you can't tell me these two people are in love and expect me to just believe it because I know how their story ends. You've got to show me that they're in love.
See, there's a trend I like to call "cargo-cult writing" by which people seem to believe that if they can copy the form of something ("put in the trope") then they will get the same function. For an example: "Supernatural had a car driving down the highway. If we have a vehicle driving around, that will make it like Supernatural!"
That's not how it works (literally or metaphorically). It wasn't the car driving down the highway that made Supernatural. It was the characters and moments INSIDE the car that made it work. They had a need of a function - character interaction - and adopted the form from what was available: driving the car. You can shove your characters onto the road but that doesn't automatically make it work. You've got to dig deeper, get to the inside of the car, the heart of it all.
The trailer shows me that there is a lot of copying of the forms from Supernatural, but doesn't show me enough of the function. Where's the heart? Where's the core of it all? I know the story is supposed to end in marriage, that it should all be a grand romance. Where is the love? What do these two people get from each other that they can't get from anyone else?
I am cautiously optimistic about this. I really would love for Supernatural to have a good, solid spin off (I was even rooting for Wayward Sisters). The people involved in this production have earned enough goodwill from me that I will give this show a shot. The question will be can they find and bring out the heart of this show and give us another great classic? Or will this all be another empty shell, an imitation of greatness?
Well I'll be here to give it a fair chance. Hope you'll join me.
Cross posted from Hunting Muses.