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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It’s the Last Supernatural Season Finale – And I’ve Got Feelings! (14.20, Moriah)

 

Last week was the Season 14 finale of my favorite show, Supernatural.  The last Supernatural season finale, ever; the next one will be the series finale. As season finales have done for over a decade, the ‘Road So Far’ was accompanied by the song that’s become the unofficial theme song for Supernatural, Kansas’ Carry On (Wayward Son). I immediately burst into tears, which isn’t the first time. I don’t even want to think about the state I’ll be in when Carry On starts to play a year from now and we all know it’s the last time.

Two days later, I’m still conflicted about the episode – and damn, do I have a lot of questions! I was not alone in my split opinions.  My timeline literally alternated between “Genius OMG!” and “Stupidest episode ever how dare you!”  I had whiplash just trying to skim through Twitter. The confusing thing is, I get it. I get both reactions. As often happens to me, I’m caught somewhere in the middle instead of being firmly all in with one group or the other. You can look at this episode from multiple perspectives, and each sends me to a different emotional space. One thing is for certain – I still care about this Show just as much as I always have, because it kept me awake half the night and was the first thing I thought about when I woke up this morning. That in itself is pretty amazing.

So let’s walk (or run, really, because this was a fast paced episode) through ‘Moriah’, and see what worked and on what level – and what didn’t.

I love ‘The Road So Far’ in every season finale. This one recapped pretty much all of Season 14, from Michael to the return of John and the epic family reunion in the 300th episode. There was some epic VFX and some emotional moments, and then we pick up right where we left off – with Jack having blown up the Ma’lak box and escaped.

He confronts Sam, Dean and Cas, eyes glowing ominously.

Jack: You lied to me!

He throws them across the room, but at least he didn’t incinerate them. And then he’s gone.

Dean and Castiel are still very much at odds in this episode, Dean arguing that Jack is dangerous and needs to be stopped.

Dean: Now he’s just another monster.

Cas: (shocked) You don’t mean that.

Dean: The hell I don’t.

Fandom was still split about Jack and whether he’s still a misunderstood nougat loving boy trying to do the right thing or a soulless dangerously powerful being who’s killed people. Logically I think it’s pretty clear the latter is true, but emotionally the Show keeps making sure we remember the former version of Jack and thus feel for him. So Dean still comes off as pretty harsh, and very very angry.

Director Phil Sgriccia makes the emotional scene between Dean and Cas jump off the screen with its intensity, and Jensen Ackles and Misha Collins both bring it. They are both angry, both convinced they are right and the other is wrong – and that the stakes are high because someone (Jack or other people) will die if they don’t do what they feel they need to. Sam is the emotional core of the audience in much of this episode, cringing as the two people he’s so close to have it out but unable to intervene.

One of the things I haven’t liked in Season 14 is the lack of interaction between Dean and Sam, which is why I started watching the Show in the first place. In this episode, they actually get to talk, so that goes in the win column (though their conversation is uncharacteristically awkward). Dean wants Sam to know that he realizes how hard this is for Sam and what Jack meant to him.

Dean: Hell, he meant a lot to me too, he was family. But this is not Jack anymore. We have to do the hard thing, the ugly thing. Not like it’s the first time though, right?

At the time I thought that was an odd thing to say. In retrospect, I see that Andrew Dabb (who is both the showrunner and the writer of this episode) was trying to foreshadow the eventual reveal that the Winchesters have been manipulated their whole lives into doing all kinds of hard and ugly things – for the amusement of God. I mean, Chuck.

It was interesting that Dean continued to refer to Jack as “the kid” throughout this conversation with his brother, even as he’s trying to convince Sam that he needs to be killed. I saw this as evidence of Dean’s ambivalence. I said in my last review, Dean is not as certain about this course of action as he seems. It’s there in little tells like that. He likes to bluster and present his decision as something he’s absolutely certain about, but Dean is a much deeper thinker than that – and he feels things more deeply than he lets on too.

Meanwhile, Jack is hurt that he was lied to by the father figures he trusted, and hypervigilant for all the lying that humans do all the time – which of course he finds evidence of everywhere. Jack’s temper gets the better of him again, and he orders everyone to “Stop lying!”

Which they do.

Sam and Dean put on their fed suits (momentary detour to say that yes, the boys do look damn good in their fed suits) and head out in the Impala to look for Jack. They drive to a company called Mirror Universe which looks like it must be in California (and seems like some sort of call out to every science fiction episode ever that had one, including arguably Supernatural’s own AU). Either that or it’s a hint about what eventually happens in this episode.

Dean scoffs at the “nerds” but Sam isn’t having it. (Because Sam Winchester as we head into the last season has had it up to here with not speaking his mind, and he’s doing it – and I am here for it!)

Sam: Takes one to know one.

He proceeds to prove it by rattling off all the totally nerdy things that fanboy Dean does, including watching Jeopardy every night just like me; Dean doesn’t deny any of them. Jared and Jensen were gold in this entire scene, their expressions on point and their brotherly chemistry lighting up the screen.

Dean beelines for the attractive woman at the desk, assuming he can charm her (not a bad assumption).

Dean (flashing his badge per usual): I’m Dean Winchester and I’m looking for the Devil’s son.

Receptionist: What?

Dean: What?

He tries to correct himself and blurts it out again, ending with “And this badge is fake.”  Ackles and comedy never cease to amaze me.

The formerly peaceful employees of Mirror Universe are also suddenly unable to lie, which results in confessions of affairs (and unexpected voyeurism), accusations of yogurt theft with resulting violence, and someone walking around exclaiming “I hate everyone!”

Dean proves that they can’t lie either by demanding that Sam tell him who his favorite singer is, because he knows Sam is lying when he says Elvis. (In fact, I’m pretty sure he knows what the real answer is, he just wants to hear Sam say it).

Sam says Celine Dion every time he tries to say Elvis, which I admit annoyed me. Celine Dion? Oh come on, really, Show?

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Supernatural Brings Some Laughs with ‘Peace of Mind’

 

I watched this episode of Supernatural from an unusual perspective (for me, at least). I wasn’t able to watch Peace of Mind live, nor was I able to watch it for almost an entire week thanks to being on family vacation. (Despite what most people would probably assume, I actually do prioritize the kids over my favorite show. Okay, maybe I did sneak off and try to watch a bit of the episode on the CW app on Sunday, but that lasted about five minutes, so I gave up after only a single attempt. Pretty respectable, I think.)  This meant that I was partially spoiled for the episode, but more importantly, that I already knew what most of my social media timelines thought of it. I intentionally have a wide range of friends and acquaintances on various platforms, and they have a wide range of reasons why they love Supernatural, so it’s not surprising that some people loved the episode and some people hated it.

If you really needed a break from the angst and a good laugh, you probably loved it. If you watch for quality Misha Collins content, you were pretty pleased. If you ship Sastiel or are amused by Misha Collins and Jared Padalecki’s real life (adorable) teasing friendship, you got way more than you ever dreamt you would and were probably over the moon. If you watch for Sam and Dean and expect them to be interacting alot, maybe you weren’t. In other words, as in most things fandom, your mileage may vary.

When I tweeted that I hadn’t been able to watch and had no clue whether I’d like it or not, I had a lot of predictions from people in all those contingents about how I’d feel when I finally sat down to watch, which was also really interesting to hear. That watching thing finally happened last night, and guess what? Even I didn’t predict my reaction very accurately!

I didn’t have a strong emotional reaction in either direction, perhaps because I was already prepared for what the episode would contain. That allowed me to look at it with two different lenses, which is not the way I would usually do a review, but I think it’s helpful here. As a 42 minute piece of episodic television, I think Peace Of Mind was well done – and very enjoyable. Collins and Padalecki together in Charming Acres were comedy gold, both of them hitting just the right notes, and Meghan Fitzmartin’s teleplay giving them all the right dialogue to play with. They looked like they were having the time of their lives and that enthusiasm carried right over onto the screen. That story line – let’s call it the A story line – was particularly well done.

Misha shared at the Nashville Supernatural convention last weekend that there had been a scene where Sam lands on top of Castiel, and that Jared had way too much fun with that, including making “an impact”. That little tease primed me for the scene, and when it actually happened I laughed out loud, imagining all the fun Padalecki must have had with a trapped Collins who’s trying to stay in character. I’m crossing all my fingers and toes for lots of gag reel content from that one, because Phil Sgriccia was directing and he definitely knows when to let the cameras keep rolling!

I loved the set dec and locations that transformed a part of Vancouver into the idyllic and picturesque (according to Cas) Charming Acres, and the campy music and back-in-time costumes. Supernatural never cuts corners and it shows.

The B story line, as Dean tries to figure out if Jack is in the angel or devil camp (at times with a Twinkie choice test), worked less well for me, but perhaps that’s inevitably colored by having expectations for how these characters would be feeling after recent canon events. There was humor there too, but it didn’t work as well for me in the B story line. That may be because there just wasn’t as good a reason for the departure from the Show’s usual angst and darkness, like there was in the A story line. Alex Calvert and Keith Szarabajka (Donatello) had some lovely scenes together, but I think the back and forth between what was happening in Charming Acres to Cas and Sam and then to what was happening with Jack and Dean kept jarring me. I was more invested in the Sam and Cas story and didn’t want to keep being yanked away, which is a recurring problem with me and Supernatural when they have two separate story lines running.

From purely the perspective of an episode of television, the bookended brief Winchester brothers moments at the start and end were a separate thing too. They worked for me, and I was glad they were there, but perhaps that’s largely because I was waiting for them as a Supernatural fan.

So that’s the first perspective. Congrats to Meghan for her first episode as a writer and to Steve Yockey for his co-writing, especially for the entire Charming Acres story line. I literally laughed out loud – more than once!

The second perspective is of someone who has watched Supernatural since the beginning and is emotionally invested in this season’s story line as well as in the individual characters. From that perspective, I wasn’t quite as happy with the episode. Did we need a break from the angst? I know some people did, but I was in my happy place after the emotion-drenched episodes we had in the middle of the season and craving nothing more than a continuation of that angsty Winchestery goodness. I do enjoy the “funny” episodes, and I did enjoy this one, but I was also a little frustrated that it popped into the middle of a pretty serious overarching story arc.

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Supernatural ‘Beat The Devil’ – Yes, I’m Still Emotional!

 

This week’s Supernatural episode was one of those episodes that everyone had a strong opinion about – but, as often happens in this fandom, not necessarily the same strong opinion. The one thing that everyone did agree on was that the acting was off the charts incredible – and nobody was left unemotional, that’s for sure.

For me, I think the emotions were especially complex because I was fortunate to be able to watch some of the episode be filmed, including some of the most intense moments. I thought that maybe, since I had already watched those horrific moments when Sam dies and Dean has to watch it, maybe it wouldn’t hit me so hard when I saw it onscreen. But no. It just meant that I got all emotional watching them film it, and then got emotional all over again watching the final product. I knew that Jensen and Jared had killed it in those scenes, but I don’t even have words for how much they broke my heart now that I’ve seen the episode.

So I agree with everyone else – the acting was off the charts. There was plenty to love about this episode, but there were also some things that bothered me, so here’s a bit of both along with a few behind the scenes tidbits.

The opening scene starts right in with the heartstring tugs – a scene of domestic family bliss, Cas and Jack and Mary and Sam around the table and teasing Dean about eating too much pizza, Mary saying she and John called him “our little piglet”. (This is Sam’s perspective, so it makes sense, but I’m pretty sure Dean’s love of food is a result of the deprivation that came after Mary died). Then Sam and Mary having the heart to heart that Sam has longed for, finally hearing Mary express her faith in her sons, how she knew they’d save her and they did. It’s Sam’s most wished for fantasy come to life – and of course it’s a dream.

Break my heart right at the outset, why don’t you? I sort of wanted to employ my dream interpretation skills, because that’s what psychologists do sometimes, but I’ll try to stop myself (would I just be psychoanalyzing writer Robert Berens? Hmmm. Tempting, Bobo…). I did love that in Sam’s fantasy, everyone is teasing Dean – it’s such a little brother fantasy. And everyone is together, family by blood, family by choice. Everyone is safe and happy. Oh Sam.

First quibble though – does Sam really sleep fully clothed in a long sleeve shirt even?? Really??

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It’s Hellatus – So Of Course Supernatural Leaves Us In ‘The Bad Place’!

 

 

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I LOVED last week’s episode of Supernatural, so I went into this week’s with high expectations, especially because this was the lead-in to the Wayward Sisters pilot episode that happens when we return from Hellatus. ‘The Bad Place’ turned out to be a wild rollercoaster of a ride that kept me on the edge of my seat – it literally looked and felt like a feature film crammed into 42 minutes! That’s not to say I loved all of it, but it definitely did a great job of setting up the possible spinoff while simultaneously entertaining me throughout.

So, what I liked?  Well, I really liked Jack. It was nice to meet Alexander Calvert at last weekend’s Supernatural convention and to be able to tell him in person what a fabulous job he’s doing on this show, because DAMN. I have been rooting for Jack since the beginning, which says a lot about Calvert’s acting and the way he’s been written considering he’s Lucifer’s son. I didn’t think I’d like him at all before Jack was born, so I wasn’t even prepared to care about the character – but I do.

We open with a young Native American artist, Derek, and his girlfriend discussing the difficulties of making a living through art, which, YES.

Enter Jack, a prospective buyer.

Derek: You’re young.

Jack: I am.

I laughed out loud at Calvert’s delivery, and the fresh faced expression on Jack’s face. He manages to make Jack entirely likable while also playing him with a hint of wait-is-that-a-menacing-look so I’m always a little off base and unsure. I was so horrified when we thought that Jack killed Derek, it actually made me a little sick to my stomach. I don’t WANT Jack to go dark side, Show! And that says something very good about how the character is being written and acted, because I actually CARE about him.

Writer Robert Berens does a good job of incorporating a bit of Native American lore and casting does a good job as they almost always do with finding an actor  (Nathaniel Arcand) who makes us care about him even in the four minutes he was in the episode! Arcand is not just very good looking, he invests Derek with personality too.

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