"It sucks to be a hero. Their lives are filled with pain, danger and fear," says Eric Kripke, executive producer of CW's Supernatural (Thursdays at 9 pm/ET), the cult show about demon-hunting brothers Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Sam (Jared Padalecki) Winchester.
Is the angst worth it? The emotional May 3 episode gives Dean a chance to quit being a savior and find out. In a nod to the Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life, he's mysteriously granted his most fervent wish: the normal family life taken away from him and Sam by the nasty Yellow-Eyed Demon that killed their mother (and, years later, Sam's love, Jessica) and turned the brothers into driven hunters of mystical villains.
In Supernatural's spin, there's no friendly angel. Instead, the wish-granter is a djinni, a sinister genie with a secret agenda, who sends Dean into an alternate reality.
Waking in bed with a beautiful woman he doesn't recognize, Dean finds himself in a world where Mom (Samantha Smith) and Jessica (Friday Night Lights' Adrianne Palicki) are alive. (Grey's Anatomy's Jeffrey Dean Morgan wasn't available to reprise his role as their dad, but he'll show up in the season finale.)
In what the actors affectionately call this "bizarro" world, Sam is a budding lawyer and Dean is a motorhead living back home in Lawrence, Kansas, with his girlfriend (Michelle Borth). With no common goal, the brothers barely speak to each other.
Wrapping his mind around this twist was a challenge, Padalecki admits. "After playing Sam for 41 episodes, Eric, who was directing, told me, ‘Throw all Sam's subtext out the window and just be the normal kid you were trying to be in the pilot.' It was weird."
Ackles agrees. "It was taking me out of my Dean comfort zone. Because Jared and I have created such a bond with these characters, when you have to play against that chemistry, it's like you expect a fastball and you get a curveball."
Still, it must have been refreshing to play a happy Dean, right? "It was fun, but not something I'd want to get used to. One of the big drawing points of the character for me is the smart-ass attitude that Dean always carries around." Not to mention all those cool ghostbusting weapons.
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