A Chat With Eric Kripke – The Boys, Supernatural and Crafting the Icebergs Under the Water

 

I was introduced to the new Amazon Prime show The Boys at San Diego Comic Con and was immediately intrigued. I was already excited about it simply because Eric Kripke, creator of Supernatural, is executive producer (and we all know how passionate I am about Supernatural...). So I went to the “activation experience,” which took you inside the first episode of the show and let you help some of “the boys” solve a superhero-related crime. That’s right, the superheroes in this show aren’t exactly the good guys. In fact, they’re a bunch of assholes. Most of them anyway. Propped up by big corporate money and power, the “Supes” are essentially the worst kind of fabricated and manufactured celebrities, their personas carefully constructed to appeal to the unsuspecting masses as the only hope for an increasingly frightened and powerless humanity. If that sounds a little too close to real life right now, that’s exactly the point.

That’s the premise of the comic on which The Boys is based, and the premise of the Amazon series as well. The show has something to say about who holds power in our current culture and how they wield it, including the role of social media and propaganda in shaping people’s views and keeping them in a perpetual state of fear – which makes a superhero who swoops in to save the day and claims to be able to keep everyone safe very appealing indeed. It’s a dark, gritty, cynical world that The Boys inhabit, but it reflects the fear-mongering and online manipulation that is all too real, that make people long for “saviors” and turn the other way when those saviors turn out to be the actual monsters.

All that hits a little too close to home, and if that’s all the show was about, the darkness would be too much to take on top of the overwhelming dose of darkness I get every day through every type of media. What makes The Boys instead as hopeful as the traditional superhero tropes it subverts were intended to be is the existence of a resistance. In the tradition of Supernatural’s Sam and Dean, the resistance comes in the form of a bunch of just plain humans, who nevertheless are willing to go against the odds and try to do what’s right. Instead of taking out demons and wendigos, the Boys are going after the Supes. Outgunned in terms of powers and definitely the underdogs, nevertheless the Boys are every bit as invested in the “always keep fighting” mantra that has made Supernatural such an inspiring show. I’ve only watched one episode so far, and I’m already rooting for them.

For a show whose first episode begins with an ultra violent occurrence and includes a decadent sex-fueled club scene and some full frontal (equal opportunity) nudity, The Boys tackles complex and relevant themes with a surprisingly deft hand. Main character Hughie, whose quest for revenge is instigated by one of the Supes callously running through his girlfriend at super speed and exploding her, has his trauma examined instead of just tossed out there as an explanation for what happens next. And while everyone on the show seems to live somewhere in the morally ambiguous grey area that I love seeing characters struggle through, that goes for the Supes too – or at least one of them.

The premiere episode also takes the time to examine new Supe Starlight’s recruitment into the elite “Seven”. Presented as young and naïve and fully buying into the cult of celebrity that she thinks she craves, Starlight soon finds that the Supes are not who she thought they were when she had that poster of The Deep on her wall. It’s a pointed commentary that was fascinating to me as a psychologist who’s studied celebrity and fandom for the past decade plus. There’s significant sexual assault-based trauma for Starlight that happens with that realization, and it too is not glossed over but explored realistically. That story line pulled on my heartstrings more than anything else in the first episode, and anchored the show in a feminist slant while critiquing the misogyny and power dynamics inherent in that world – and our own.

At the Comic Con press room, Erin Moriarty (who plays Starlight) said she loved the fact that you initially believe that Starlight is going to fit into the familiar stereotype, but it turns out she’s a lot more than that. So far, one episode in, she feels like the moral compass of the show, along with Hughie, who she just so happens to meet on a park bench as they struggle to come to terms with their respective traumas and how those traumas have changed how they view themselves.

The Boys is executive produced by Seth Rogen and Eric Kripke, based on the comic series by Garth Ennis. It stars Karl Urban (Billy Butcher) as leader of the Boys, along with recently traumatized Hughie (Jack Quaid), Karen Fukuhara (The Female), Laz Alonso (Mother’s Milk), and Tomer Kapon (Frenchie). The Supes include Anthony Starr (Homelander), Dominique McElligott (Queen Maeve), Jessie T. Usher (A Train), Chace Crawford (The Deep), Nathan Mitchell (Black Noir) and Erin Moriarty (Starlight). Elisabeth Shue plays Madelyn Stillwell, the corporate PR person who pulls the strings with a chilling smile.

As a passionate Supernatural fan, I was initially interested in The Boys because of Eric Kripke, who created the characters I love so much on Supernatural. I asked him a question at the press room for The Boys at Comic Con (see video link below), but couldn’t wait to talk with him some more about his new show and its similarities to his first ‘baby’, Supernatural. We’ve stayed a little bit in touch over the past decade by email, but having a chance to actually chat was a treat.

E: Hey Lynn, how are you?

L: It’s been like ten years since we’ve had an actual conversation!

E: It probably has been, but I follow you on twitter and we’ve had some twitter conversations and you seem like you’re doing great, so I know what you’ve been up to. And thank you so much for all the support over the years.

L: Pretty sure I should be thanking you – I’ve written six books about your show (Supernatural) that helped me get tenure and promotion to professor. Thank you for that!

E: Well, you’re welcome!

It really had been a while. I first chatted with Eric Kripke way back in 2008 when I began researching and writing books about fandom and celebrity, mostly focused on the show he created that I had fallen head over heels in love with, Supernatural. (Here’s Eric the first time we met at the Supernatural Creation convention in Burbank – he was a baby!)

Photo Lizz Sisson

We did a few phone interviews and met up at Comic Con that year to chat some more. We talked a lot about fandom and of course about fannish creativity and fanfiction. Eric’s first question: Am I ever in it?

Me: Umm, I guess? I may have run across a few…

Kripke: Oooh, is it porn? You have to send me that!

Fast forward to 2019 and Eric’s Reddit AMA when someone asked him if he’d read any Supernatural erotica and he said yes, and then described the definitely-not-G-rated fic…

L: I had to laugh when I saw you mention that fic with you and Jared from back in the day (laughing). I mean, what you said is true, you were assertive in it…

E: Exactly!

L: I had forgotten what it was actually about and was like OMG that’s right…

E: Yeah (laughing) I’ve never forgotten it, it made a major impact that’s for sure.

L: Well, either you’re welcome or… I’m sorry?

E: (still laughing) Yeah right, I think a little of both.

Side note: Eric has always been fine with fans “playing in his sandbox” and understands transformative works as a sign of affection for his characters and his worlds. There’s a whole chapter on our early conversations about Supernatural in Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls if you’re curious.

L: Anyway, The Boys! I’ve watched the first episode, I’m a bit old school in that I like to watch one at a time and space it out and sort of digest it. I LOVED the first episode and I think other Supernatural fans will really love the show too. There are some similarities to Supernatural for sure.

E: Mm hmm

L: For one thing, the protagonist is sent on a hunt for revenge because the love of his life is violently killed – Mary burning on the ceiling is an iconic image for Supernatural, and so is Robin being decimated and Hughie standing there still holding her bloody hands!

E: Hmm. That one, I mean yes, now that you’ve pointed it out, there are similarities to that. Robin dying in The Boys is taken almost frame for frame from the comic book so it’s funny, that hadn’t really occurred to me about that connection, because in The Boys the instigating incident is so infamous for anyone who’s a fan of the books. It was my job to capture it as faithfully as possible and that’s mostly where my head was, but yeah. Also, I think where they’re similar is there are a lot of tonal and thematic similarities. In a lot of ways, The Boys is a hard R Supernatural.

L: (silently) A hard R Supernatural….ohgod yes please…

E: And it’s funny because you don’t even realize these things until it’s hindsight. I don’t set out to say oh I’m gonna make something for Supernatural fans, I just make stuff – the only person I really try to please is me. But because I love Supernatural and those are the kind of things that I love, I guess it stands to reason that if left to my own devices to make another show that I put all my love into, it will have some similarities.

L: That makes sense.

E: What The Boys is really ultimately about is these kind of very down to earth middle class blue collar people taking on these arrogant ultra powerful forces that are overwhelming and all powerful. In Supernatural it’s angels and demons and (laughing) God…

L: lol

E: And in The Boys, it’s the sort of pantheon of superheroes. The incredibly big guy with magical powers basically is something that I’m clearly interested in. I think I really like the idea of blue collar no bullshit guys taking on and puncturing these huge myths and kind of having to bring them down to earth just through their own wits, because they’re outmatched…

L: Yeah, and that’s all they have, their own smarts.

E: And that says something to me, I think, about the world. Like we’re always up against these seemingly insurmountable forces, but there are things we can do to get some equality. You just have to – it’s not easy and it’s not fair – but you just have to keep banging away at it.

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Supernatural Puts ‘Jack In The Box’ – and Me In A Mood

 

It’s a tough time to be a fan. I have two shows that I absolutely adore, and both of those shows delivered a gut punch last week that left me reeling. The Magicians season finale saw the death of one of my favorite characters (and half of my favorite ship) and it was both excruciatingly well done and absolutely heartbreaking (and maybe a bit problematic too). The very next night, Supernatural aired its penultimate episode of Season 14. I was already raw from the anticipatory grieving about Supernatural ending this time next year, and then The Magicians ripped me apart, so I went into watching “Jack In The Box” with more trepidation and dread than anticipation.

To those of you saying hey, why can’t you just watch the Show and love it? Let me just say that I would give ANYTHING to be able to do that right now. I DO love it, I will always love it. What I really want to do is squee about it all the time.  But last week’s episode left me feeling sad and vaguely sick to my stomach, so there’s not a lot of squee to be had right now.

I always go back and do a rewatch before I write my review, but today I found every excuse not to. Have to run out and pick up the ham for tomorrow’s dinner. Have to grade some papers. Have to clean….and water the plants (we have lot of plants, so that took alot of time)…have to….  Finally I couldn’t put it off any longer, and the rewatch made me feel every bit as sick to my stomach as the first watch did. I guess you can say that means the episode was well done, because it was clearly crafted to be upsetting (just as the episode before was crafted to be very sad), but when I don’t want to watch it, I’m not sure that’s the level of upset the Show was going for.

There were lots of times back in the day when fandom would all go online after a rip-you-apart episode of Supernatural and post tons of icons (predecessor of gifs) saying “Damn You Kripke!”

The Show has never played it the easy way, and it has never been lollipops and rainbows. It’s a story filled with tragedy, but it has also always been a story with hope and with characters I loved fiercely, who were often heroic in the face of tragedy. Terrible things have happened to our heroes over the years, and they’ve had to make terrible decisions to save the world and each other, but this episode was particularly hard to swallow. I’m well aware that my emotions (like most of the fandom’s) are heightened because we know we have only 21 episodes left of this story that is so important to us. That makes every episode that doesn’t hit quite right for me seem even more upsetting than it would have before we knew the end was imminent. So with that in mind, here are my thoughts on ‘Jack In The Box.’

We’ve known the episode title for quite a while, so everyone knew that Jack was probably going to end  up in that goddamn box, but I for one didn’t want to believe it. The Ma’lak box was so profoundly upsetting to the fandom when Dean was determined to get in it, and his nightmare so horrifying, that the thought of Jack in that box was almost unthinkable. So I guess I chose not to think about it. Still, as the ‘Then’ segment started, a chilling dread began to settle over me. Please Show, don’t go there. Please?

Let me just say at the outset that all the actors outdid themselves. They all played their parts incredibly well and every one of them made me genuinely feel. It wasn’t always what I wanted to feel, but feel I did. Robert Singer directed (and had a cameo as a doctor) and that was also as well done as always. The VFX was on point and the cinematography and set dec were often breathtakingly beautiful. I appreciate my Show even when I’m reluctant to go where it’s taking me.

We open with a memorial service for Mary in the bunker. The AU hunters and other people who’ve hunted with her are there, her photo (or rather Sam Smith’s photo) and John’s journal on the table. Sam, Dean and Cas join the group but only Dean speaks. He’s carefully composed, makes a joke about Mary’s cooking even, while Sam stands silent, nodding in agreement.

Dean: We lost our mom once before…

It’s something important to remember when you look at Dean’s behavior in this episode. There’s this thing with grief that’s called the “fishhook effect”. A new loss “hooks into” all the old loss and pulls it up like a fish snagged on a line, so that the pain of the new loss brings up all the pain of the old one and it’s overwhelming. That’s what happens to Dean here, I think. Unlike Sam, he remembers the horrible pain of losing his mother as a four year old, something that has shaped his life ever since and left him with a reservoir of anger that he’s channeled into making him an often ruthless hunter.

Dean expresses their gratitude that they got to know her and what she was really like, a smart and stubborn hunter who couldn’t cook worth a damn.

Dean: Mom, you weren’t here long enough…. But we’re glad for the time we had.

There’s a weird and jarring moment in the middle of all this where AU Bobby suddenly appears and tosses a hatchet across the room to kill one of the guests, who apparently is a wraith, but WTF? It was all very odd.

WTF?

AU Bobby says what we’re all thinking – that maybe Dean is like him, “bein’ teary in public’s not my style.”

That’s for sure because Bobby doesn’t seem very torn up at all for someone who was maybe kinda sorta having a bit of a thing with Mary.

At any rate, it’s soon clear that something is up with Dean. Sam suggests they open Ketch’s bottle of Scotch and hang out and talk about Mom.

Dean: (almost coldly) Talk about Mom? Isn’t that what we’ve been doing?

Ouch.

He boxes things up with steely motivation, like he thinks he can just box up his grief over losing his mother (again).

Courtesy of that grief and loss course I’m currently teaching, Dean and Sam struggle to understand each other in this episode or to be there for each other because they have two very different styles of grieving. Sam is an intuitive griever – he wants to express his grief and share his feelings, eager to take in the comfort of others. Dean, on the other hand, is an instrumental griever. He keeps his feelings to himself and tries to DO something instead – like plan a memorial and box up his mother’s things. Neither can help the other right now, and that’s heartbreaking.

Cas, Sam and Bobby break out the Scotch as Sam looks at one of the very few (only?) photos of him, Dean and Mary when they were little.

They disagree, however, about what to do about Jack.

Cas: We need to find Jack…and help him.

Bobby: I liked the kid… but if his human side is gone, he’s an unstoppable monster who don’t know right from wrong, and he needs to be put down!

Bobby sets off to do just that, and Dean takes off saying he needs to get out of there.

When the next scene opens, we see that Dean has parked the Impala in the woods and is sitting alone on a fallen log. He looks around one last time to make sure nobody is watching him, and then he finally breaks down. Jensen Ackles can make you believe grief like no one else, and he sobbed for real here. I can’t help but wonder if he was crying real tears knowing he will be losing Dean Winchester soon, the way so many of us keep crying. At any rate, it was a heartbreaking scene. Ackles talked about it at a recent convention, saying that it was a brutal scene to film because it was cold and pouring rain and they needed to shoot from above so there couldn’t be any shelter for him. It sounded like it took a long time to film, so it’s sort of a shame it was so short. It got the point across though. Dean is hurting – BAD. He just can’t let anyone know it.

Gifs itsokaysammy

And what is the most common ‘cover’ emotion when someone is hurting that badly? You guessed it. Anger.

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Jared and Gen Padalecki and Dream Big Team Up to Help Dreams Come True!

All of us here at Fangasm are especially proud to be pitching in with a charity auction to help Jared and Gen Padalecki raise money through #RunPadsRun for Dream Big, an organization that provides girls from low income households with the equipment and program fees that are necessary to participate in sports and physical activities. Many young women want to participate, but their economic situations prevent it. Uniforms and equipment are expensive, and so are the soccer and volleyball camps, dance classes, sports clinics and gymnastics classes that allow young women to excel in their sport of choice.

Why is this so important that the Padaleckis are running the Boston Marathon to raise money for the cause? With my psychologist hat on, I decided to find out – and it turns out the research is pretty compelling.

Multiple large-scale studies over the past decade have found a gender gap in youth sports, with girls from urban and low income environments the most impacted. Historically, sports have been an area in which women’s participation is sometimes limited, including access for racial minorities, GLBT+ persons, and women and girls. Girls have faced resistance to their participation, and women’s sports have often been devalued.

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Happy Holidays SPNFamily!

A Message to our SPNFamily

In this holiday season, we wanted to take a moment to wish you peace.

It’s the thing we hoped for when we wrote Family Don’t End With Blood – that everyone who reads the book will realize that you truly are not alone, and find the peace that comes with that validation. We’ve all experienced that uncomfortable feeling of being the only one – the only one who’s ever felt a certain way, or struggled with a certain thing, or been unable to do something that the rest of the world seems to do effortlessly. Sometimes the best way to get past that feeling of aloneness is to realize that you’re not the only one – that someone else feels that way too. We need to know that others have stood in our shoes and faced similar difficulties in order to feel validated. When that someone is an actor on your favorite show who you admire, it’s even more powerful. That’s why the Supernatural cast wrote a book that’s so personal and so candid.  The actors opened up when they wrote this book and shared very personal things about themselves, including their most difficult challenges and struggles, because that is the only way for people who read it to know they are not alone. When the “others” who have faced a similar challenge are Jared and Jensen and Misha, or Kim and Briana and Ruth and Rachel, or Matt, Mark, Rob, Gil, Jim or Osric – then that validation is powerful in a different way than what we usually get.

Sometimes we think that the actors we see onscreen are spared from the sorts of things the rest of us struggle with – anxiety, depression, self doubt. But it turns out that we all, both actors and fans, have faced hopelessness, sadness and that persistent fear of not being good enough. We all need to find acceptance and feel like we belong and we all have felt like we didn’t. The cast and the fans who shared their stories in this book have all been there. They shared those stories with great courage – so we hope that when you read FDEWB, you can feel it.

All of us, both actors and fans, wanted the book to reach people and inspire them. We also wanted FDEWB to support some of the charitable organizations that are out there doing good in the world every day, so a portion of every sale of FDEWB goes to Random Acts (spreading kindness and helping those in need worldwide) and Attitudes in Reverse (fighting to end the stigma around talking about depression and suicide so more people can get help). In addition to those donations, we have also been able to donate to some causes very important to the SPNFamily and cast during the past year by auctioning and donating signed copies of FDEWB, with over $5,000 donated to Team Levi, Random Acts, the National Suicide Hotline and the Bad Idea Tour thanks to the generosity of this amazing fandom.

If anyone needs a reminder of what this SPNFamily is all about – to give you the inspiration to keep going through tough times, or a reminder of how much these actors care about the fandom and each other – I thought I’d share a few of the things that Jared, Jensen and Misha wrote in Family Don’t End With Blood, for those who haven’t read their chapters. (And yes, this is why we have the Best. Cast. Ever. And the best fandom too!)

In his chapter, Jared opens up and tells the intensely personal story of his struggle with anxiety and depression – and how the Supernatural fandom taught him what he needed to know to keep fighting:

The fandom has taught me to Always Keep Fighting. More often than not, the fight sucks. But I guess that’s why it’s a fight. The fandom has helped me realize that there will be a brighter day on the horizon. It may be further off than you’d hope, but it’s there, and if you believe that and commit to fighting through hardships, you will find that peace.

As Misha says in his chapter:

Not everyone has a supportive family around them to help get you through the hard times. But luckily, in this SPNFamily, you may have landed in a supportive and loving community – a community that has your back.

That’s also why FDEWB benefits Random Acts and Attitudes in Reverse – because we are a community, and we do have each other’s backs.

Jensen puts it this way in his chapter:

You see, we’re not strangers anymore. You’re not strange to me. Of course we’re all a LITTLE strange – and we take the little bit of strange in each of us and mix those little bits all up together, all of us, and that’s why we love the relationship we have. You’re family.

Now that we’ve seen the Ackles family’s eccentric and utterly awesome house, what Jensen wrote about the little bit of strange in each of us seems even more heartwarming!

We hope that every time you read Family Don’t End With Blood, you remember just how much difference this little television show and its unique family have made in so many lives, both cast and fans. And we hope it brings you some peace and joy.

Happy holidays from all of us at Fangasm, and we look forward to seeing and hearing from all of you in 2019!

FDEWB23

Lynn

If you’d like to read Family Don’t End With

Blood, and benefit Random Acts and AIR, it’s on

sale on Amazon at the links on our home page!

What The Hell Did He See In Dean’s Head? Supernatural 14.05 Nightmare Logic

 

This week’s Supernatural episode didn’t leave me jumping up and down and squeeing to the rooftops – but that’s not actually a complaint. Instead it left me scratching my head and wondering where the hell we’re going from here and what the hell the Djinn saw in Dean’s mind. That’s a feeling I often had in the early seasons of Supernatural, so once again, that makes me a happy fangirl. (Not that I don’t have things to critique, of course…)

The episode started out slow, and at the first break I was feeling a bit meh about it. This surprised me because I usually enjoy Meredith Glynn’s writing quite a bit. It took me a little while to realize that the pace was slower than I’ve grown used to – but once again, that turned out to be a good thing. Instead of ten different plot lines zigzagging through the episode, Glynn and director Darren Grant took their time, following each scene and letting the anticipation or suspense or fear or whatever emotion build before bringing it to a climax. The pace was slower, so you could savor moments like Dean and Sam exploring a dark and scary crypt or Sam fearlessly going up to the attic or Dean quietly bonding with Sasha. I just have gotten used to a faster pace on this Show, so it took until the halfway point for me to realize I was actually appreciating the Show taking its time for a change.

The beginning scene is Maggie, whose name half of my timeline can’t remember, which says something that isn’t good. She’s hunting alone for some reason, and not very competently. Sure enough, she’s attacked and taken down by something that looks like a ghoul. I scratch my head. That’s not the reaction Show was going for most likely, but I honestly cannot manufacture much feeling about the AU hunters. There are way too many of them and I don’t like them in the bunker and that all translates into me just not caring very much what happens to them. Maggie has never seemed like someone who should be a hunter, and we haven’t been given any reason to care about her. It’s like she’s the only one of the random AU people who has a name, so she keeps getting tossed into the story. Sorry, Maggie. At least I’m remembering your name.

Then we’re in the overcrowded bunker, Chief Sam briefing a bunch of AU hunters. He’s all awkward when Dean walks in, which is telling – Sam is clearly not comfortable being the leader when Dean is around. I’m not sure I’m all that comfortable with this new dynamic either, but Dean seems more at ease than either me or Sam.

Dean: You kids have fun out there.

He teases Sam to break the awkwardness, telling him that he did a great job with the whole camp counselor vibe and offering to get him a whistle.

Dean: And they’re checking in? That’s adorable.

It’s not, however, adorable that Sam isn’t getting enough sleep. Protective big brother Dean gets on his back about it, clearly worried. Dean stays in this mode when Sam gets upset that Maggie (Katherine Evans) didn’t check in, trying to reassure Sam that she might still be alive. Poor Sam, his reserves clearly on zero and feeling the burden of responsibility, immediately starts catastrophizing and falling into hopelessness, so it’s a good thing Dean is back to pull him out of it. The brothers are always a good team when they’re together, always knowing what the other one needs to hear in order to keep going. There was a lot of that in this episode, and I appreciate every moment.

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