The Winchesters: A Scooby-Doo Throwback Made for New Fans and Diehards Alike

TV Reviews The Winchesters
The Winchesters: A Scooby-Doo Throwback Made for New Fans and Diehards Alike

If there’s any TV series that defied expectations, it’s Supernatural. Starting life on The WB and going on to become one of The CW’s longest-running shows, the relatively simple horror-action vehicle starring two brothers roaming the flyover states and killing monsters just absolutely refused to die. But after 15 seasons and 327 episodes of hunting, it finally did just that in 2020. With the network desperate to keep those fans engaged, that reprieve has proven short-lived, and now the franchise returns just two years later with a sepia-tinged, 1970s-set prequel The Winchesters, following the young parents of the Winchester duo at the heart of the original series.

So is there more demon blood left to squeeze out of this beloved horror turnip? Surprisingly, kinda(?)—at least, depending on what you’re hoping to get out of the new series.

As has been well-documented, the new show follows young Mary and John Winchester in their early-20s, as they first meet and get roped into the world of demons, monsters, vampires, werewolves, and all kinds of scary chaos that should be old hat to fans of the franchise. That choice in itself is an interesting one, as the creative team behind Supernatural spent almost a decade trying to seed a spinoff series in the first place, with the achingly bland, Twilight-esque Supernatural: Bloodlines never making it beyond a backdoor pilot, and the network passing on the fan-favorite pitch Wayward Sisters, which would have followed some beloved female hunters introduced over the years during the mainline series.

Instead, we get The Winchesters, which aims to channel much of what worked about the original series, remix it with a prequel setting, and still carve out a niche within the wider lore that fans know and love. The throwback aesthetic does have its charm, and it’s clear the creative team is trying to toe the line of keeping this show familiar for fans while creating something new enough to hopefully bring in new viewers in the process. The biggest change? Instead of focusing on the brotherly pair of Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles), we pretty quickly establish an ensemble around John (Drake Rodger) and Mary (Meg Donnelly), which creates a different vibe that should help with the direct comparisons to Supernatural. They’re joined by fellow hunter Carlos (Jojo Fleites), a free spirit living his best life; bookish, aspiring hunter Latika (Nida Khurshid); and occult bookstore owner Ada (Demetria McKinney).

The new team has some true blue Scooby-Doo vibes, and at one point literally set off in a 1970’s shag-carpet van as they chase answers on the mystery that launches the series. It’s a choice that feels natural to the setting and mostly works due to the strength of the young cast, though also comes off a bit earnest and on-the-nose for a franchise that has reveled in the meta-corners of genre storytelling over the past decade, with Supernatural literally doing a straight-up animated Scooby-Doo crossover episode a few years ago.

As for the narrative that drives the action, it’s steeped in the lore of Supernatural while still painting with a broad enough brush for new fans. For longtime viewers, the twists will be pretty obvious to telegraph, though the story itself works well enough on its own for the most part. And therein lies part of the problem with a show like The Winchesters, as it tries to carve out its own corner of this universe that has already been so explained and exhausted over 15 years of TV. As fans know, Sam and Dean traveled back in time fairly often over the years, and have crossed paths with their parents in their younger days, as well as grandparents and former family members. It’s that expansive, house-of-cards type of lore that could make the new show a hard sell for hardcore fans looking for every Easter egg and canon-breaking choice, trying to find a through line for how It’s All Connected.

To make sure fans know the series is definitely in the Supernatural-verse, original co-star and now-producer Jensen Ackles provides some occasional voiceover as Dean (and a few fleeting appearances driving his trademark muscle car from the original series). But even that connective tissue has divided fans, who wonder where former Supernatural co-star Padalecki’s character Sam is during these narrative moments (in reality, Padalecki isn’t involved in this new series, a fact that caused a bit of behind-the-scenes drama between the former co-stars when the series was first revealed).

At least in the pilot, The Winchesters feels like it’s trying to serve a few different masters, tapping into the early seasons monster-hunt mystery vibe of Supernatural while also trying to be a good-looking, young ensemble supernatural show that can attract general CW fans of former hits like Vampire Diaries and The Originals. It does both amicably enough to probably lure in folks from both camps, at least to check out the pilot. It can be a bit paint-by-numbers at times, but it’s still fun enough to keep the thrills and action moving. Which could be good enough for a show like this to get started—but only time will tell if the young Winchester parents can have the same staying power as their future kiddos.

The Winchesters premieres Tuesday, October 11th on The CW.

Trent Moore is a recovering print journalist, and freelance editor and writer with bylines at lots of places. He likes to find the sweet spot where pop culture crosses over with everything else. Follow him at @trentlmoore on Twitter.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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