By now it’s no surprise that Tuesday’s episode of Supernatural, Bloodlines, a back door pilot for the potential spinoff, bombed with the show’s normally fanatically loyal fanbase. But, what went wrong? Why was it so bad?
There are reasons we avoid the ‘back door’.
First and foremost, there was the fact that it was a back door pilot. This type of pilot, which is a special episode embedded in the regular season of the parent show, is a way for showrunners to save money and slip the idea out there in front of fans without running much risk. While this is good for the finances of the show, it’s extremely hard to pull off without making fans and regular viewers feel uncomfortable. The only time we’ve even seen it work to any degree was the pilot for the short-lived Bones spinoff The Finder.
Typically speaking, branching out from a single episode in an established series is suicide. It usually sinks the would-be spinoff before it leaves dry dock, and runs the risk of damaging the reputation of the original show.
There are reasons they call them “spinoffs”, not “dropoffs.”
Second, they took the worst possible plot approach a back door pilot could ever take. They based the pilot on completely new characters that the viewers had never even heard of before, much less gotten to know. They had no familiarity in that universe, so the characters essentially lit up like neon signs that said, “I don’t belong here.”
It’s not like Supernatural hasn’t given producers plenty of opportunities to create potentially fantastic spinoffs. So many of the story arcs over the last nine seasons could have been set free to run wild on their own show. They had built up the following, and viewers were going crazy over them. These are the types of stories that you let spin off into their very own show. Samuel Colt could star in a wild Supernatural western. Or, instead of killing off Ellen and Jo Harvelle they could have let them limp off into the sunset, badly bruised but looking for the next bad ass to put down.
And the surviving remnants of the Men of Letters, scattered here and there, just have to be doing something somewhere. Have a few of those old chums stumble in for a few episodes, let the viewers fall in love with them, and off they go, to some other super-secret MOL fortress they found out about while digging through the archives with Sam and Dean.
And let’s not forget.. Tiger Mommy is still out there.
Bloodlines was bit too bloodless, and failed to roll in the mud.
Third, Supernatural fans expect a certain feel to a Supernatural series. This one is a big deal. It’s not ‘edgy.’ It’s not ‘gritty’. Supernatural is downright ‘grungy’. As in grunge: dirt, blood, guts, gore, grime, mud, torn t-shirts, and an army man jammed into the ashtray. The Supernatural ‘feel’ is the feeling of just having had the most epic mud fight of your life, in which someone came close to loosing an eye, and everyone is bleeding but doesn’t realize it yet because they’re still having too much fun. Even the resident angel, Castiel, at his neatest and cleanest, always gives the impression of being just a wee bit disheveled.
Bloodlines was just the opposite. It wasn’t clean and neat. It was downright pristine. The only time we saw dust moats fly in front of the camera was when Sam and Dean were in front of it too. And that just served to make them look like Pigpen knock-offs from the Peanuts comic strips. And that pisses us off.
Supernatural fans only play with Barbie dolls when they’re using them for target practice.
Fourth, the female characters were extreme examples of stereotypes. One was the dominant, male-hating witch while the other was the docile doormat from Wimpsville. The most believable female character in Bloodlines was the one that died eight minutes into the episode.
While regular female characters are not an ongoing occurrence on Supernatural, the few recurring female characters we’ve seen have had, well, character. They were thoughtful and imperfect, but always trying to do their best... or worst, as the case may be. The one time a stereotyped female role was employed it was strategically perfect. If the angel Naomi had been anything less than the stereotypical control freak her character wouldn’t have worked very well at all.
Supernatural fans want eye candy that can kick ass and then dissolve into a bottle of whiskey while trying to decide if she should spend the change from the bottle on a manicure or a magazine of .50 caliber rounds for the Browning she picked up on a case she did in Topeka. You know, the one where she met “insert known hunter’s name here.”
Bloodlines lacked focus, but not in the way you think.
Supernatural is about two brothers. That’s it. The ‘I Was God Once (Or Twice)’ sitting on one shoulder and the ‘King Of Hell, Boys’ sitting on the other add a lot of dimension and flavor to the show, but when it comes right down to it Supernatural is about Sam and Dean. If everyone else around them died we would fill buckets with our great big crocodile tears, and then tune in next week to see what the Winchester brothers would do next.
Bloodlines tried to pack too many main characters into the pilot. Five, to be exact: two shapeshifters, two werewolves, and a lost puppy-person who wants to play at being a hunter. If this went to series even more characters would be added. They really should have trimmed that down and made it specifically about the lost puppy-person. The focus should have been about seeing him go from being hunted to being a hunter. Instead, he tagged along and yipped at Sam and Dean’s heals.
If the Supernatural showrunners want to do a spinoff we’re all for it. But, for the love of all things Winchester please do it right. Take the time to build the characters from within the parent show. Take your time. Take an entire season, in fact. Listen to the fans. They know what they would watch. They know what they want to see. Please them, for they are your masters.
As for Bloodlines: give it a hunter’s burial. Burn it so that nothing of it returns to haunt us.