Supernatural: Just Another Shapeshifter of Shows?

Supernatural Season 11 Poster
Supernatural Season 11 Promo

Just after the premier of its 11th season staring Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles as the famous brother duo Sam and Dean Winchester, the TV show Supernatural has been considered a major success among viewers (and fangirls). It has been argued though, that the show’s content resembles too much similarity to that of previous mythical-surrounding shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Vampire Diaries.

Jared Padalecki as Sam and Jensen Ackles as Dean in Supernatural.
Jared Padalecki as Sam and Jensen Ackles as Dean in Supernatural.

Supernatural follows the story of two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, who live in a world where every creature you can imagine is real…and dangerous. After their mother is killed by such a creature, “the boys” (as they are commonly referred to) are raised to be “hunters” by their father John Winchester that track down and kill these supernatural beings. The show focuses on the brothers’ journey of slaying monsters, hunting down what killed their mother, and the many problems (and women) they run into on the way. Ultimately told from the brothers’ point of view, a lot of the show is revolved around hunting and tracking, beating up the bad guys and rescuing innocent people. Although not completely run on action, we also see them grow up through the ten seasons, see them fall in and out of love, face impossible odds, and lose more people than they can count. The show takes breaks from the boys cutting off the heads of vampires and stabbing demons to reveal what they do outside of hunting, and how this impacts not only themselves, but also the others around them.

Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy
Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy

The TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer tells a similar tale to the Winchester’s. Premiering in March of 1997, it stared Sarah Michelle Gellar as a young girl named Buffy, that is said to have come from a long line of women who are “slayers” of vampires. Along with fighting fanged creatures, Buffy also has to deal with the problems and life of being a teenager.

What Supernatural and Buffy share in common is not only that they both have awesome creature-fighting main characters, but they also show that their characters have a life outside of the mythical. While the Winchester’s usually deal with problems that interfere with their brother relationship, Buffy has to watch out for her friends that are swept away in her reality. Something else the two supernatural shows share in common is their ability to balance the horror with humor. As shows filled with strange creatures, they have easily made their audiences cringe more than enough times wether it be from the black-eyed demons or the death of a loved character. But these shows have also been known for the small instances where their characters are able to crack a joke or two. Supernatural’s Dean Winchester for instance, is the type of character that loves to lighten the mood with one of his sarcastic comments (mostly at Sam’s expense). It isn’t uncommon either for the “Scooby Gang” in Buffy to crack a joke about how a character might be dressed while on the hunt for a monster.

Dean (left) Sam (middle) and Bobby (right)
Dean (left) Sam (middle) and Bobby (right) prepare to hunt down a monster

Where the shows begin to differ though, is in their style of framing their stories. Buffy tends to set up their seasons, at least in the early seasons, with small fights between Buffy along with her friends and a few minor dangers that ultimately lead up to a final fight between the “boss” of the season. Supernatural is more set up in a non-linear way, where the Winchester’s always seem to be facing a certain problem, but they might not solve it in one season or they might have to face the problem multiple times.

So where Supernatural does seem to take leads from Buffy, is in the importance of showing the character’s lives outside of monster fighting and how the blending of the sarcastic with suspense can make a great TV show.

The Cast of The Vampire Diaries
The main cast of The Vampire Diaries

The Vampire Diaries is another popular supernatural drama that premiered in 2009. Like Buffy it focused on the life of Elena Gilbert a teenage girl who lives in Mystic Falls, and also yet another town where supernatural creatures like vampires and werewolves happen to exist.

Of course, Supernatural was already on TV by the time The Vampire Diaries premiered, but the two shows have similar qualities to them. Both also have a large main cast that seems to expand as the seasons go on, and that’s what makes them great. The always changing of characters with the loss and addition of new ones opens up the possibilities for new situations (and villains). But along with the ever-changing of characters, the shows always seem to have this feeling of uncertainty. We never know who might turn bad, or what new enemy the groups might face. This sense of uncertainty for plot twists and what the future for our characters might hold is what keeps us watching the next episode.

The two shows seem to treat this uncertainty differently though, and with different tactics. The Vampire Diaries tends to throw plot twists in the form of who’s dating who, or guess who is actually alive and not dead. Who could forget Elena’s ultimate decision between Stephan and Damon? Or the first time we learn Katherine is actually still alive? The Vampire Diaries likes to pull on the drama of the show, instead of the fast vampire action. Supernatural on the other hand is quite the opposite. While the show does contain drama (Lisa?) it throws its own attention grabbers by doing things like changing the morality of a certain character, or conjuring up a new type of super monster for the Winchester’s to kill. During the last ten seasons Sam and Dean’s morality is constantly changing whether they question it or not, and there always seems to be a bigger challenge than demons around the corner.

It can be said that Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries are actually two sides of the same coin. Both are modern-day shows that give challenge to modern-day problems with a mythical twist. But where they seem to differ is in what aspects of the show they want to emphasize to their audience.

Sam and Dean Winchester
Sam and Dean Winchester

So what makes Supernatural its own unique show you ask?

Is how it seems to take the best aspects of previous supernatural shows like Buffy’s inclusion of a life outside of the supernatural, while also playing into the love of modern drama like The Vampire Diaries. It also connects the characters on the show with the people in its audience in a way that they love. We get to know Sam and Dean on such a personal level within their brotherhood and their relationships with other characters, while also cheering them on as they fight for humanity’s survival.

So while it can be said that Supernatural shares its appealing qualities with other shows, what is known for sure is that there will only ever be one Sam and one Dean Winchester.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. I had heard of this show before, but when I was actually given the option to watch it I was skeptical.

  2. Sarina Oh

    I just love this series so much! This show is actually the one that started my addiction of watching TV Series and since then have been fascinated with all kinds of supernatural creatures.

  3. Tatijana

    My favorite parts include their funny brotherly interactions… and oh yeah… they are both mighty attractive haha. Don’t forget that.

  4. You make interesting arguments concerning the contrasts between the two shows. Having watched up through Season 5 of Supernatural so far, I am familiar with all the elements you mention. I also watched the first 4 seasons of VD, and am relatively familiar with Buffy.
    That being said, those who have not seen the respective shows – particularly Supernatural, might fail to see what it is you feel the show brings to the table. Some more specific examples of the shows uniqueness might bring a skeptical audience around better.
    As a whole though, this article reflects articulately on a popular sub-genre of teen-oriented television. Nicely done!

  5. I feel like Supernatural pulled a lot of its best elements from Buffy, as did many other television series. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was just revolutionary. However, Buffy had a wider ensemble, whereas Supernatural always returns to the relationship between the two brothers. I would argue that Buffy is the better series and the one more worth watching, but both combine the supernatural and the normal life well, as you pointed out.

  6. Ms.Pacheco

    I was very good fan of supernatural in beginning but later the quality of the show is reduced very badly. The story cycle keeps on returning to Sam and Dean. Every season ending the same cycle follows at some point it gets irritating. Apart from that story is very good new myths each episodes different story everything is nice. Actually i came to know many things after watching the show.

  7. Supernatural continues to outshine itself every season.

  8. I am a crazy Supernatural fan!

  9. Kymberly Birch

    All that you want in horror, fiction and intrigue.

  10. My favorite thing about Supernatural has always been the pop culture references/self-referential/meta elements. Buffy had some of that as well, though on a much more subtle level. It would be interesting to compare the two in that regard.

  11. this show has everything.

  12. Emily Inman

    Great article! I am a Supernatural fan, and I always loved the fact that there were similarities from awesome shows of the 90s/2000s, even some of the same actors from the X Files and Buffy. Yet it stands alone as original. My favorite thing about these shows is they transport you from the real world with the meta/mythical elements, and yet ground you with the family and very human elements. So looking forward to seeing where this show takes us next!

  13. Jordan

    I loved your article as it helped answer questions i have about the series myself. I have never been able to get into Supernatural or the Vampire diaries, although I could with Buffy. I think it was because the characters were more appealing to me. It might be because I don’t think Supernatural would show me anything I haven’t before. The reasons fans love Supernatural sounds similar to why anime fans like Full metal Alchemist. The main duo are brothers and they fight evil to eventually bring their mother to life. The series is a lot shorter, characters explored and plot concise. Have you seen FMA? What are your thoughts?

    • BlueJayy

      I’m really glad you enjoyed my article! and that it helped answer questions you had about the show. I actually haven’t seen Full Metal Alchemist, but I will defiantly check it out! It does sound a lot like what Supernatural’s plot is essentially based around. I think Supernatural does take in a lot of elements that are common in mythical shows with creatures (such as using vampire, werewolves, ghosts etc.) But I think the show also tries and focus on the creatures as living beings with feelings and a life instead of JUST monsters, as a lot of the time the Winchesters are trying to save the creature from their own selves. I think that’s the part that interested me about the show, is the sense that everyone has a story to tell.

      • Jordan

        No worries. Your response just confirms to me that Full Metal Alchemist and Supernatural may have a great deal in common! Interesting 🙂 There are a few articles on the website comparing the 2003 and 2009 versions of FMA so maybe take a look at them.

  14. Jeffery Moser

    The supernatural element adds suspense and moves plot.

  15. I started following this show since last year and to my surprise, watched all ten seasons in a month.

  16. scole

    i’ve watched Supernatural far too long and spent far too many nights binge watching this show! there is such a suspense element and a relationship dynamic that keeps bringing me back. SPN is the only show that uses these “salt on the window in order to keep demons out” rituals that i feel could actually work outside of the show if that makes sense. Plus, Sam and Dean have a dysfunctional relationship, but it’s also a good one when it’s going good. The show for it’s element, plot, suspense and how many times people come back to life is what keeps me watching. After 11 seasons I think I’m in for the long haul now though haha

  17. The thing that amazes me freaking much is the chemistry among the two characters, Sam and Dean. Somehow i can relate that to my life. It partially explains my relationship with my elder brother.

  18. george bailey

    Was this submitted for a high school english class? i mean, really, how about some insight?

  19. I’ve never seen this show, but now i’m interested!

  20. My friend recommended this show to me about 3 years ago. I was skeptical and had never really heard of the show. I tried it, and needless to say I binged the first 5 seasons in a few months. After that, some of the seasons aren’t as good. So far season 11 is good! I would recommend!

  21. It should probably be noted that there are a few more differences between Buffy and Supernatural besides how they ultimately deal with their characters. Aesthetically, Buffy is an homage to gothic horror, while Supernatural draws much of its look from the darker, bloodier horror films of the 70s and 80s (likely spawned from the “hippie horror” of the late 60s and early 70s”). This is most noticeable in the earlier seasons of Supernatural with it generally darker, grittier lighting, but this may be due in part to a smaller production budget in comparison to later seasons.

    Most notable, however, is that Supernatural not only confirms some sort of existence of the Judeo-Christian god (along with the gods of several other religions), but it also draws its overarching story lines from a loose interpretation of the Bible. Meanwhile, Buffy neither confirms nor denies the existence of God (though other gods do make an appearance). Instead Buffy focuses on very real human fears studied in the form of monsters.

  22. I love Supernatural! <3

  23. Emily Deibler

    I have complicated thoughts on Supernatural, but good work comparing and contrasting it to other similar shows. As someone who has watched all three, they all definitely provide various takes on the diverse horror/supernatural fantasy genre. Interesting that The Vampire Diaries and Supernatural both air on the CW as well.

  24. I really need to watch this show!

  25. It’s also interesting to note that Buffy and Supernatural share a pretty similar core conflict: desire to be normal vs. duty to save the world. Kind of fun to see how the same basic problem can create such different shows!

  26. Kenny Lim

    I used to enjoy supernatural and fantasy shows, but I gave up a while ago. It’s no different than a crime drama. It follows a particular formula: Someone dies, the main character investigates, things slowly progress, more people die, a main character suddenly has an epiphany, someone almost gets killed, then the main characters save them, and everything is all fine and dandy again. I don’t know, I’m just no longer entertained by anything that follows a specific formula anymore.

  27. Great job tying together shows I’ve never really thought about in terms of one another. I misunderstood your title actually and thought that you were talking about how Supernatural has completely changed its plot, look, and feel over the years (the biggest split happening after Season 5). As a show originally pitched as “X-Files meets Route 66,” I don’t believe the first, say, three seasons had the sort of similarities you point out now. But Supernatural is a different creature now, and I think this comparison shows it.

  28. Sarah Bish

    I love the show, and do think that it does follow some pretty common tropes for sci-fi/fantasy television. I also do think that the longer the show has aired the more stereotypical and poorly written it has become. However, the comparisons that you made are not significant enough to make me question the creativity or originality of Supernatural. Maybe try to make stronger connections next time.

  29. Thank you so much for actually mentioning Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 2015 and comparing it to modern day shows because it had a lot of influence on modern day shows. While all three of these shows might have a few overlapping themes in common, they’re most definitely worlds apart. For all you viewers out there, Buffy may sound like the “teen-iest” of the shows, but it’s the epitome of existentialism, the Vampire Diaries is an intense and soapy ride (Haven’t finished the third season) and Supernatural is a delightful balance of both.

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