Thursday, 15 September 2011

The Mistake

A few hours ago I sat down and watched "The French Mistake", the fifteenth episode from Season 6 of Supernatural.  I know plenty of people who've raved about it - terms like "funniest episode ever" have been observed, though at a distance, as a hunter might observe a gazelle as it told its gazelle mates about the TV shows it's been watching in-between smelling musk glands and fleeing from lion prides.

I was pretty much expecting to hate it, actually.  Not because I'm a knee-jerk contrarian (not on this topic, at least), but because I couldn't see any good coming from the episode's conceit.  A more conceited conceit would be hard to come across, actually, and this is coming from a guy who once wrote a story about an army of his own clones taking over the world (it was for a writing assignment; long story.)

Below the fold; spoilers.
The basic idea behind the episode, for those that don't know, is that Sam and Dean, for reasons that we don't need to go into, find themselves in the "real world".  Which is a pretty old idea, but OK.  They also discover that Supernatural is just a story to everyone around them, which is a pretty old idea for this show, but again, fine.  The point where things become unglued is when it transpires that not only is Supernatural a TV show, but they are its stars, Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki.

Even that is an old idea - Eerie, Indiana did it back in 1992, for a start - but that's not really my problem with it.  It's just all too hideously back-slapping.  Too self-conscious in it's attempt to seem laid back.  Which is fine, of course.  This show has a long and glorious history of sly winks to the audience, most obviously in the form of the Prophet Chuck ("You guys sure do cry a lot").  Nobody who watches "Ghostfacers" or "Monster Movie" is going to be unaware of Supernatural's self-depreacting streak.

But telling us they're not taking it seriously is something else.  Watching "Robert Singer" and "Eric Kripke" show up and act like total douchebags is a giant neon sign saying "We don't take ourselves seriously, honest!".  As though I care what they think of themselves or what they're doing, as oppose to just wanting to experience the story they're telling.

Remember that episode of the X-Files, "Hollywood A.D."(written by David Duchovny) in which one of Mulder and Scully's cases was made into a film, and Mulder is furious to learn he's being played by Garry Shandling?  That's how you do something like this.  That's using another story to highlight the absurdities in the one you're following.  Further, casting Duchovny's real-life wife Tea Leoni as "Mulder's" love interest in the film is a nice little nod.    Casting Jared Padalecki's real-life wife Genieve Cortese as Padalecki's real-life wife is a headbutt from a drunken Glaswegian who has conspired to set himself on fire earlier in the bar fight.

And whilst "Hollywood A.D." was deeply silly, it respected the logic of its show.  "The French Mistake" makes no sense at all.  Why those names?  Why those relationships?  It's not even particularly funny for much of it's run-time, partially because it's too reliant on what it thinks is the automatic humour of having Sam and Dean lead Jared and Jensen's lives, and partially because the amount of knowledge about the show and its actors required to get some of the jokes (Sera Gamble is just a voice on the phone, Misha Collins has a massive Twitter following) means that, once again, everyone just looks like they're trying too hard (to be fair: there were two moments that had me laughing so hard I almost choked. "Ola, Mishamigos!")

It doesn't help that the show did something similar all the way in Season 2 with "Hollywood Babylon", in which Sam and Dean pretended to be stage-hands in order to investigate a possible haunting of a sound stage on which a horror film was currently being filmed.  And that's where the problem really lies.  If this episode had just been about Sam and Dean becoming actors, either as an undercover gig or due to some "Changing Channels" style shenanigans (a Season 5 episode in which Sam and Dean find themselves trapped in a series of TV shows - starting to sound familiar), it would have been obviously derivative.  By adding in the "they play themselves playing their characters playing themselves" idea, it does at least become something different.

But because something is different, of course, does not necessarily mean it's something particularly good.  Ironically, given that "Robert Singer" spent this episode muttering "Season 6" as though it were a curse, this is the first time this year that Supernatural really seemed to be showing its age.

However, since I am at heart a fair man, I have tracked down a clip of the best scene in the episode, which is not only one of the funniest three minutes of television I've seen in a while, it also - crucially - doesn't rely on Sam and Dean being Jared and Jensen to work.  All you need to know is that Sam and Dean are impersonating actors, and that means trying to act out a scene whilst the camera rolls.

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