There are times when it feels like a distinct possibility Supernatural will outlive us all. That feeling only intensifies when the CW series, currently in its thirteenth season, turns out creatively ambitious and wholly enjoyable episodes like Thursday's "Scoobynatural," an animated crossover with the beloved children's show.
In the delightful hour written by Jim Krieg and Jeremy Adams, Sam (Jared Padalecki), Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Castiel (Misha Collins) find themselves trapped inside an episode of Scooby-Doo that Dean, a Scooby superfan (naturally), has seen many, many times. But things very quickly start to go awry and Team Free Will soon finds itself forced to hunt down a very real and dangerous ghost while simultaneously protecting Fred, Velma, Daphne, Shaggy and Scooby from learning the terrifying truth that monsters aren't just shady real estate developers in masks. The episode is destined to become an instant classic, joining episodes like "Changing Channels" and "The French Mistake" on fans' must-watch lists, and it's because the show has once again stepped outside the box to break genre boundaries and have a little fun.
Episodes like "Scoobynatural" occur sporadically, maybe once a season if we're lucky, but they break up the repetition that inevitably happens when a series is quickly closing in on 300 episodes. And for a show that has had only two leads since it premiered in 2005 (sorry, Castiel), it's done a respectable job of finding new and interesting ways to evolve while still essentially hitting the same beats each season. As Sam said to Velma this week: they've saved the world ... a lot. But one of the reasons the show has managed to survive all these years is because it's been able to successfully balance the now intimately familiar life-and-death, save-the-world stakes with injections of humor and wild creativity. After all, Supernatural's greatest strength has always been its willingness to laugh at itself.
While "Scoobynatural" is just the latest episode in a decently-sized lineup of ambitious but risky Supernatural episodes, it's also crucial proof that the show is not just running on fumes while its stars collect paychecks. The hour is not something that can be reproduced every other week, or even every season -- the animated episode was a year in the making -- but it does reinforce the idea that the possibilities of Supernatural might actually be endless.
The fifth season episode "Changing Channels" saw Sam and Dean forced into a number of different TV show genres, and Season 6's "The French Mistake" saw them transported to a world where magic didn't exist and Supernatural was a TV show where Sam and Dean were played by actors named Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles. Like these episodes, "Scoobynatural" is a rare treasure buried beneath mountains of man pain and lingering parental issues. It joins "Mystery Spot," "Ghostfacers," "The Real Ghostbusters," "Fan Fiction" and "Baby" as the series' most inventive episodes to date. And it's this ambitious streak that keeps the show from getting completely mired in its own world-ending doom and gloom. It's episodes like this that remind us that Supernatural is still an enjoyable viewing experience but that it can reach truly great heights when it pumps the brakes and has a little fun. More importantly, it also reminds us that Supernatural can balance the weird with surprisingly deep observations of its characters.
Dean's inherent desire to preserve the innocence of the Scooby Gang is evidence of his own desire to escape back to a time before his life imploded and he and his brother were forced into the dangerous family business. Although they're eventually forced to tell Fred and the rest of the gang the truth about the supernatural when people start dying, the Winchesters are also able to fix their mistake and convince the Scooby Gang they were wrong and that monsters aren't real. It's impossible for Sam and Dean to ever have their slate wiped clean, it's impossible for them to return to a time of innocence, but they can keep the illusion intact for the animated men, women and talking dogs of Scooby-Doo.
Knowing that Supernatural is still capable of producing thoroughly imaginative episodes like "Scoobynatural" in its thirteenth season is certainly impressive, but what's more interesting is what it says about the show: that not only is it at its best when it has the freedom to break free from the constraints of stopping yet another apocalypse, but there's arguably still a bit more gas left in Baby's tank. Suddenly, being outlived by Supernatural doesn't seem quite so bad.
Supernatural airs Thursdays at 8/7c on The CW.
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