Sunday, October 09, 2022

The Winchesters (Pilot), on CW

The thing about prequels is that we know where it’s going better than the characters do. Fans of Supernatural have seen the sacrifices John Winchester will make for his sons, but he did plenty of hunting before that. Much like his sons, Winchester has father issues of his own, not that he had much opportunity to spend time with his absent father. That is not all bad, because it gives him a commonality to bond over with his future wife, Mary Campbell, whose dad is also missing. The family that hunts together first gets together in the pilot episode of The Winchesters, which premieres Tuesday on the CW.

On his first day home from Vietnam, Winchester meet-cutes Campbell in a DNR-kind of way. Of course, cute does not last long in horror. The next time he encounters Campbell, she is saving him from a demon. As it happens, they were both following up leads regarding their fathers. Apparently, Winchester’s old man was part of “The Men of Letters,” a secret society dedicated to fighting supernatural threats. Presumably, Winchester Sr. largely cut ties with his wife and son to protect them from his business. In contrast, Campbell’s father trained her to be a “hunter” ever since she was a child.

Together with Campbell’s Scooby-Doo-Mystery-Incorporated fellow hunters Latika Desai (the shy one) and Carlos Cervantez (the cocky one), the future Winchesters follow demonic clues to New Orleans (they even have a similar van). Obviously, Winchester is keenly interested in Campbell, whereas she wants to spare him the chaos her father forced upon her. Yet, the mutual attraction is already evident.

Frankly, Drake Rodger and Meg Donnelly have better chemistry in the pilot (as Winchester and Campbell) than co-leads Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki exhibited in the only
Supernatural episode we’ve seen, “Crossroads Blues” (S2E8)—but its depiction of Robert Johnson was pretty hip. So far, showrunner Robbie Thompson nicely balances their courtship with the monster-hunting.

Pre-existing fans will be happy to hear Ackles narrates each episode in the persona of his Dean Winchester character. For non-fans, it gives the series a bit of a had-they-only-known noir vibe. The early 1970s setting adds color and texture, while the show’s empathy for Winchester’s difficult wartime service is refreshing. However, Cervantez’s promiscuous and ambiguous sexuality might be toned down in later episodes, now that the CW has accepted their average viewers are in the late fifties rather than Millennial-nothings.

Interview with the Vampire, the pilot episode shrewdly capitalizes on New Orleans’ spooky atmosphere. Thompson had plenty of lore to draw on, but the new stuff has promise. Along with Walker: Independence, The Winchesters suggests the CW might have good luck spinning off shows from Jared Padalecki series that do not feature Padalecki. Based on a highly watchable pilot, The Winchesters might be worth giving a shot when it airs Tuesday (10/11) on the CW.