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Supernatural: Special January Preview In Time For The Holidays

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I was going to take this month off but thanks to Warner Brothers, I have a clip to share. It’s a holiday greeting from the editing crew at Supernatural — a preview of what’s to come in January. It’s nothing too spoilery; just enough to spark interest in between getting drunk at the holiday party (assuming your company didn’t cut theirs this year), writing fake sentiments of joy on Christmas cards, using martial arts on grandmas at the shopping mall while wondering why you didn’t try, and getting your fingers stuck to pretty much everything from wrapping too many presents.

For those who have had too much family bonding come 9:00 pm on Christmas Day, the absolutely brilliant “A Very Supernatural Christmas” from season three will be rebroadcast. Just make sure the kids are in bed. It’s a trifle disturbing. And bloody. Human eating pagans aren’t known for their restraint.

Some Fans Drove Me To This

Recently I’ve been working on a retrospective of season one, a season I’ve largely ignored from a critical viewpoint due to lack of time. Also recently, I’ve been on the fan forums seeking lively discussion and have mostly come across griping about character direction and season four in general, even though this is by far this best season of the series. So, put those two together, and I’ve easily got a way to change everyone’s perspective.

I’m going to show everyone what a bad episode is all about. I’m going to point out what happens when a horrible script, bad acting, crappy special effects and editing, substandard directing, and even poor song choices collide.

It’s time to take a gut-turning look back at “Bugs.”


If anyone thinks that any episode in season two, three, of four did not measure up, I dare you to sit down for 40 minutes and try to get through this hideous episode without losing your lunch. It didn’t work for me, but I went through it anyway for the sake of this review to prove my point; because I’m all about proving points.

You know an episode is bad when the weak teaser is actually the good part of the episode. An unknowing gas company worker falls in a hole at a housing development, one where the homes are huge and fancy (???) so no one working for the gas company can afford them. Come on, this is the pre-mortgage meltdown, where jobless alcoholics are getting loans. Plus, the homes aren’t all that extraordinary. Anyway, while the other worker goes for help, the doomed man in the hole has his brain eaten by, well, bugs. Thus the name of the title. Of course the bugs worked pretty damn quick to feast on brain and disappear without a trace, but I’m being petty, right?

Maybe, because it all goes downhill from here.

The script is an unmitigated disaster. Somehow, someone thought the backdrop of flesh-eating bugs set out to destroy a suburb in Oklahoma would be a great plot device to help surface Sam’s resentment of his upbringing. Yeah, it all makes sense. Because of bugs, that’s why Sam complains to Dean about hustling pool, even though that’s been the family’s income his whole life. That’s why Sam whines about his dad after seeing a bland teenager play with bugs not once, but twice. That’s why Dean talks about how great their abnormal upbringing was after seeing a manicured lawn. That’s why a five-minute run-in with bees in an attic all of the sudden gives Sam the healthy new perspective he needs to want to apologize to his dad. The bugs did all that.

Er, no. Any time a + b does not equal c, the script should be tossed.

The dialogue is as flaky as the storytelling, and most of it comes from Sam. When interviewing a gas company worker, Sam rattles off symptoms like dementia and loss of motor control. Couldn’t he just have asked “Was he acting strange?” This is, after all, a dude who works for the gas company he’s talking to, not a doctor. Then Sam meets bug boy and after two sentences says “Well, hang in there. It gets better, all right? I promise.” What, they’re BFFs now? The “bowhunting” vs. soccer thing comes across as head-scratching petty bitching, as does Sam telling the bug boy his family problems can be solved by going away to college in two years (because that so worked for you, Sam). As a matter of fact, just about everything that came out of Sam’s mouth is whiny and annoying. Dean should have kicked his ass.

The bad lines made the poor acting all that more terrible. The actor playing Larry the developer tries too hard, his wife has the personality of cardboard, the realtor Lynda is just plain scary-looking (plus she can’t act), and the teenage bug dude, just… no. Sam compared this kid to Willard? Willard is one creepy mofo (after all, he was played in the film by Crispin Glover, who’s on my wish list to appear on this show). This kid is so insipid the bugs are more interesting, the CGI bugs, since real ones didn’t show up on film.

Joe, the old, wise American Indian, steals the freak show. His scene is the gold standard of what happens when bad acting and bad writing collide. Does every American Indian tell a poorly written legend like that? His pauses, his delivery, his storytelling style (I’ll tell you what my grandfather told me, what his grandfather told him…) — it felt like children’s story hour at the library. His story is so cliché. Evil white man comes, blood is shed, curse is cast, nature will rise up and of course the legend is very specific on the timeframe of when this curse will fall, naturally that night at midnight. Shouldn’t that have resulted in some preemptive action? No, that just means the family will be cockroach food by then. At this point, I thought a total wipeout from the bugs would be the best case scenario.

However, as bad as the guest actors are, the worst acting performance of the episode comes from Jared. If he did an acting job like that on his screen test there’d be no way he’d have gotten this gig. We are so thankful that wasn’t the case. None of his daddy issues come across as sincere, most of the time he overdoes the resentment to where he’s more annoying than believable, and with the exception of one scene with Jensen (when Dean tells him his dad was watching him at Stanford), his lack of chemistry with everyone drains the life out of every scene, much like the fake man-eating bugs. Good thing “Home” is the next episode, for there he redeems himself.

All the blame can’t fall on Jared though, considering the pile of crap he was given. I believe at the time he was still trying to find his footing and wasn’t experienced enough to do much with really bad material. Also, too many other things went wrong. I gave the disastrous special effects a pass after reading the real stories behind filming this episode. Jensen, Jared, and the actors playing the family had to go into a small set with 65000 real bees while the crew wore protective suits. After multiple takes which ticked off the bees and everyone was stung a few times, none of bees showed up on film. They had to be done digitally. Still, the spiders coming out of the shower is weak. My six-year-old son could do better graphics on his computer.

Nothing though, nothing, I’ve blasted so far can match up to the “what the hell was Kripke thinking?” moment, aka the final run-in with the bugs. Just look at the half-assed scene construction. At the 34 minute mark, the insects arrive in massive swarms of biblical proportions right at midnight, just like Indian dude predicted. I know this shot is an homage to The Birds, but visually it didn’t work as well. The bugs blanket the house, so Sam, Dean, and family have to wait it out until sunrise. By my calculations, that’s about six hours. At 36 minutes the bugs come through the fireplace. Come on guys, you check the doors and windows but not the fireplace?

So, for those keeping score, bugs are in the house after two minutes. How are they going to last six hours? Go to the attic. Not a bad idea, except that after the commercial the scene comes back at the point where they left off. Wouldn’t five hours, 57 minutes later have worked better? At 37 minutes, the bugs are eating through the roof. Bugs get through at 38 minutes. So, Dean fights the massive swarm with a flame-throwing can of bug spray? When Jeff Daniels did that in Arachnophobia, he was fighting off one spider. Come on Sam and Dean, where’s the cunning plan? Then, at 39 minutes, THE SUN COMES OUT. How in the hell is that six hours? Where’s my TV brick?

To add insult to injury, I hate Sam’s hair in this one. Heck, the music even sucks. Def Leppard plays while Sam waits in front of the bar. Oh yeah, ’80s hair metal. I’m feeling it. Then, at the end, a rocking Scorpions tune plays after Sam’s less than heartfelt announcement about finding his dad? This is not a kick-ass ending. We got that crap after we got “Laugh I Nearly Died” in “Bloody Mary,” and “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” in “Skin.” It’s my theory that in post production, Kripke realized he had a stinker and gave up.

I only found two positives in the whole episode, and both came from Dean. First, the steam shower bit is hilarious, but way too short. Plus Sam is too bitchy in it and brings the scene down. Second, Dean’s speech about John checking in on Sam at Stanford. The dialogue is okay, but Jensen actually adds emotion (something missing from the rest of the episode) and it’s the one part where I didn’t want to slap Sam. It’s the only scene in the entire episode where I believed the story behind it. I even ignored the fact that they were having that talk while holding a box with Native American bones in it.

So, next time you think you’ve seen an episode that didn’t live up to your standards, pull out the season one DVDs, put on “Bugs” and take 40 minutes out of your precious life to remember what bad television really is. You’ll realize how good you have it now, and how that’s 40 minutes you’ll never get back.

Happy holidays, everyone! It’s been an amazing year, and I’ll be back in January with plenty of new and exciting stuff.

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About Alice Jester

  • Julie

    The more I read your article the more I disliked the episode! It’s true that the episode is one of – if not – the worst episodes ever. But I’m grateful that the crew and the cast (yes, poor Sam was… poor in the eppy) learned a lot from the bad experience and worked their way up!
    But being a Sammy fan you totally brought my mellow down :( I know the episode wasn’t his best (heck, he did a better job in In The Beginning where we only saw him for 25 seconds) but maybe a great New Year gift would be to have a little retrospective on the good things from both characters……………..

    Happy Holidays and I hope you have a wonderful 2009 !!!

  • Rachel Elisabeth

    Bugs is bad, but I like the brother stuff in it. For me the worst episode is Hookman. Awful.

  • Alice Jester

    Julie – I was actually working on a review for “Home”, which is one of my favorite episodes from season one. That one is definitely a home run for both characters, and in my mind the turning point for season one. I’ll shoot to post that one next, hopefully before the New Year.

    Rachel – “Hookman” was awful, but that actually comes in number 3 on my worst list. The one I thought that was almost as bad as “Bugs” was “Route 666.”

  • Suze

    I hate bees. My Dad has loads of hives and they’re really unpleasant. Stroppy, aggressive gold-standard grudge-bearing little buggers. It’s all down to pheremones, apparently, and they can’t act either. Sam was having a bit of an off day too. So a total downer all round.

    Mind you, at least it didn’t have pointless posho Bella and her foul beige trench coat mincing around the place as well, so it could have been worse!

  • mindy

    Yeah I hated this episode as well. But I honestly thought “Dead Man’s Blood” was worse! Combine the hooky vampires who can’t really act, the filler storylines & let’s face it, the just plain annoying & you get that episode. After actually sitting through “Dead Man’s Blood” I almost began to doubt my sanity for watching it in the first place. You could practically understand all of the mythology introduced in that episode just by watching recaps.

    But yeah, this episode is bad too. Thank goodness that season 4 has been so awesome!

  • Sal

    Honestly “Bugs” I can handle. It wasn’t too bad for me. Ok so the sun comes out 5 minutes after midnight and Jared wasn’t all too great in the episode.

    But I’ve made it my mission to watch all 70 episodes this haitus amd the one episode that almost made me give up was “Route 666″.
    I drifted into my world of imagination during “Bugs” but when even half naked Dean can’t get me to pay attention to the TV, you have a problem.

  • elle2

    First off, Alice, I’ve missed you. Secondly, I’m glad you’re taking a break.

    Seriously though, right on in your analysis, although I argued in a post on a site we mutually go to, that both Bugs and Scarecrow, two eps that get lousy raps (and in the case of Bugs, deservedly so) still add something. For me the brotherly moments between Dean and Sam w/the box of bones makes that eppy worth something — although not much. Route 666 similarly has some moments as I watch Sam discover some things about Dean that cause me to say — see, even this clunker has something good in it, again, not much.

    I love this show and am glad you’ve “Stood up” against the unceasing tide of negativity: The show is too funny, the show makes Dean look like an idiot, the show is too Deancentric, the show is too Samcentric, Sam is evil, Dean is an angel, blah, blah, blah…my favorite complaint to dislike these days is: It’s changed…I want S1 again, Season 4 stinks, the brothers have changed, changed, changed — yeah, that’s what’s great. These characters grow and evolve sometimes it’s messy and sometimes it’s really great.

    I fully expect we’ll have some episodes this season that are clunkers, it’s to be expected but out of the 10 already shown there isn’t one that belongs on the bus with those failures from S1 when EK and crew were still figuring some things out. Bugs, Route 666, Hookman they’re all in a class by themselves (and I think Wendigo, Sin City, Red Sky in the Morning all ride on that bus in various places of illrepute)

    Anyway, I’m eagerly looking forward to new episodes in four, four, count them four weeks (*cough) and three hours and 17 minutes…yes, I’m counting…

    Merry Christmas and a safe and happy New Year.

  • vichi

    Hi Alice, I’m glad you didn’t forget us:)
    As for your article, wow, we think the same:) I made a top ten worst episodes, a week ago and the top of the top is, of course, Bugs. For the same reasons you said:) Indeed, in this episode, teh only chemistry onscreen was between Jared and Jensen. Once Jensen was left away from a scene, Jared sucked. He is a good actor, evolved a lot from his beginnins but in this episode, his act was awful.
    As for the clip of new episodes, personally, I am dying to see ep 11 adn 13. I love to see Dean in shorts:) “I don’t do shorts” said Dean in Wendigo:) As we can see, he do it!

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Alice.
    Happy Holidays, everyone:)

  • Sasha

    While Bugs is cheesy and the insta-morning laughable, to me it is still entertaining cheese to me. It’s bad but it doesn’t really bother me.

    There are numerous episodes, namely from Season 3 on the other hand that had better production value and a better plot than Bugs but that I found absolutely infuriating at a character level and as such much, much worse than Bugs. Honestly, I’d rewatch Bugs ten times before Magnificent Seven, Red Sky at Morning or my personal clunker Yellow Fever.

    I think the worst episode moniker depends on one’s personal likes and dislikes just as much as the favourites.

  • -lauren

    I’d gladly take bugs in an attic over grace in a bottle and angel food cake sex in the Impala.

    Bugs was cheesy enough that it didn’t bothe rme so much. It was bad, but bad in a plastic-y cheap horror movie way. With this season’s bad episodes (and there have been bad episodes) there’s no cheese for me to have fun with. Ah well, everyone’s different right?

  • Donna

    Cheezy plastic spiders and time-compression mistakes I can live with and re-watch. Demon hate sex and angel grace in a bottle are, to me, unforgivable sins which easily outdistance the simple badness of “Bugs”.

  • shamangrrl

    You know, I agree with pretty much everything you said about this episode. But I have to say that the episode that disappoints me the most, would be Magnificent Seven. At least there was the limited excuse of the series (and Jared) still finding their way, since Bugs was filmed so early on. What was the excuse with Mag7? And to make it the season opener was almost unforgivable. Jensen, Jared and Jim really elevated sub-par writing with that episode. It’s funny, because I’ve had other episodes bother me with the clunky dialog, bad directing/editing, horrible guests or lame monsters. But that one disappoints the most, since I was so jazzed for the premiere. The fact that such a rich idea was totally wasted also didn’t make me too happy.

  • Anna M Nappo

    Alice you are an amazing writer!

    I knew from the week before that the premise was a weak one, but I still watched and enjoyed most of it. I agree with your comments, especially the spider in the shower, and the ‘lost time’ at dawn. These are the only times that I’ve watched SN with suspicion and incredibility. I’ll believe the boys that the ghosts are ‘real’ and the demons are really after them, but how can they get a spider so wrong??

    Merry Christmas,