As my friends and I make our way through a Supernatural series rewatch, I am so struck by the quality of these first few seasons. Season 2 is one of my favorite seasons – maybe my favorite of all. There are very few episodes that don’t feel like classics now, and this is certainly one that fits that description. Hollywood Babylon is extra special because it’s the first “meta” episode of Supernatural – something that the show would become known for over its 15 year run. I LOVED its wink wink nudge nudge making fun of itself and the industry when I saw this episode then and I loved this episode just as much rewatching it now.
Written by the brilliant Ben Edlund, also the mind behind ‘The Tick’, and directed by the venerable Phil Sgriccia, of course Hollywood Babylon was going to be both entertaining and creepy and just plain weird. Which is ALL good in my book!
The opening teaser is a stereotypical horror film, so dimly lit it’s almost black and white, a young woman (Elizabeth Whitmere) with a flashlight searching for her friends in the woods in front of a creepy looking house, the porch swing swaying, scary music playing.
And pretty terrible acting as the woman (searching for her sister, because Supernatural) is deserted by her cowardly male friend and then hears a twig snap behind her. Slowly she turns….and unleashes a bloodcurdling scream into the camera.
We hear a rather annoyed “cut” and realize we’re on a film set as the camera pans out. She’s been screaming at a suspended tennis ball, which at least partly explains the lack of conviction in her scream.
The meta kicks in instantly, as we meet the director, named McG after the very real producer of Supernatural and many genre shows. He’s as insincere as can be, critical behind her back and then fake oh that was great but let’s do it again and dial up that scream to Tara Benchley’s face. He assures her that the tennis ball will be replaced by a monster and look great “once Ivan and the FX guys are done with it” – an in-group reference to Supernatural’s real life VFX supervisor Ivan Hayden.
For fans who were paying attention, the episode was already leaving us grinning – and I have no doubt it did the same for the cast and crew who were also in on the jokes. Showrunner and creator Eric Kripke has loved playing with meta and in-jokes from the start, and he’s still enjoying doing that on his new show The Boys – and I’m still enjoying it too.
A long-haired crew member named Frank wanders around the set spreading suspicion that there’s some kind of real haunting going on, adding to the fun. At least it’s fun until poor Tara is walking through the fake woods trying to master that scream and is confronted with a dead and bloody Frank up in the scaffolding.
She screams for real, and on the other end of the set, McG happily announces “now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!”
Enter Sam and Dean and our title card. The meta picks right up again, Sam and Dean on the Warner Brothers studio lot taking the trolley tour that many of us have taken in real life, myself included. Dean is in excited fanboy mode, telling the unimpressed kid next to him that ‘Creepshow’ was filmed over there.
The camera pans up to Sam as the tour guide announces that Stars Hollow is to the right, the setting for the TV show, Gilmore Girls.
Tour guide: And if we’re lucky, we might even catch one of the show’s stars.
Close on Sam, who looks suddenly wary and hops right off the trolley.
The joke, of course, is that Jared also played Dean on Gilmore Girls, so he could have been that star she was mentioning. Poor Dean is upset not to be able to finish the tour, but reluctantly follows his brother. He’s convinced he sees Matt Damon on the lot, undeterred when “Matt” is pushing a broom and insisting he’s probably researching a role while Sam rolls his eyes. Sam’s trying to work the case while Dean just wants to have fun, saying he wanted to come to LA for a vacation, swimming pools, movie stars.
Sam: Does this seem like pool weather to you, Dean? It’s practically Canadian!