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TV Review: Supernatural – “Changing Channels”

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Whoa. [Still staring at the TV in stunned disbelief.] I'm sorry, you here for a review? Okay, it'll happen as soon as I pry my jaw off the floor.

Just wow! There's so much to swallow. Remember when Sam and Dean found… and then they got trapped in… and we laughed hard when they had to… then Cas… oh, but what about the time they… then the Trickster… oh, how do I review this? How do I review a hysterical yet stunning classic that can only be compared to my favorite episode of all time, "Mystery Spot?" With several deep breaths and a shot of whiskey, that's how.

[Deep breath, better now.] Just like the aforementioned "Mystery Spot," the brothers in "Changing Channels" find themselves in a precarious alternate reality courtesy of the Trickster. Yeah, calling their TV land nightmare "precarious" is like calling the apocalypse "threatening." They’re trapped in a private Hell. For us though, it's pure side-splitting entertainment! This show is so good at switching from funny to grim in a flash and by the end, grim becomes an understatement.

TV Land

As in the past, when the Trickster is involved, the Winchester brothers have to endure an elaborate lesson. This time it’s a trip through TV land, where there’s no shortage of imagination. No surprise since this week’s writer, Jeremy Carver, has provided in the past entertaining scripts that have been plentiful in pop culture references and parodies. In skipping through the various shows, it’s clear he’s again outdone himself.

Dr. Sexy MD:  You know what's funnier than throwing these guys in a Grey's Anatomy spoof? Dean being a big fan of the show. Sorry, guilty pleasure. After all, it's based on a book. I have no idea what’s funnier, the melodramatic nurse who keeps slapping Sam and emoting through her "brilliant coward" speeches, the ghost patient a la Jeffrey Dean Morgan's character in Grey's, Dean through his man crush figuring out Dr. Sexy is the Trickster because he isn't wearing the cowboy boots that make Dr. Sexy sexy, or Sam's improvised surgery on Dean using a pen knife, dental floss, a sewing needle, and a fifth of whiskey. Stat! No, the best part is the perplexed facial expressions of both brothers throughout the whole thing, especially Sam. It's obvious he never watches this type of show and Dean does.

Nutcracker:  No, it's not a ballet. It's exactly what is says, only in Japanese. Sam and Dean are strapped by their feet to a platform and a strategically placed stick topped with a ball looms nearby. Since Sam seems to be the main target of the Trickster's jokes just as he was in “Mystery Spot,” he's getting the first blow. I'm not even a man and that made me turn white. The questions dig on Sam too, like "What was the name of the demon you chose over your own brother?" and "Would your mother and father still be alive if your brother had never been born?" Of course the brothers have no idea what's being asked which makes their whole experience only slightly less disturbing.

Herpexia: “Seriously?” One of the best Trickster jokes yet and again it’s at the expense of Sam. He must struggle through a drug ad to talk about how he's treating his genital herpes. Oh man, two STDs in two weeks? Shouldn't he be getting laid to get these things? (I know, one wasn't real but still.) What makes this howling bit even funnier is Dean running through at a fast pace all the nasty drug side effects. The best part though is the uncomfortable looks on Sam’s face. “I’m doing all I can to slightly lessen the spread of… (face clench)… genital herpes. And that’s a good thing.” Yeah, it took me five minutes to peel myself off the floor after laughing myself into full body convulsions.

Supernatural – The Sitcom: If you're gonna write a sitcom based on Supernatural, might as well throw in every cheesy Sitcom 101 trick. "What's happening Sam?" "Oh, just the end of the world." Funny, no, but throw Sam and Dean in a bright and cheery set, use ill-timed laugh tracks, display a giant sandwich made with something called "smeat," and watch the brothers ham it up and it's absurdity personified. Even Dean's "son of a bitch" is turned into a laugh tracked tagline. That’s so wrong it's right.

It's easy to see why the show started with the sitcom and went back to it later — so they could do that absolutely insane opening montage come credits roll. That is the craziest damned thing ever seen in this show. I heard the clicks of millions of DVRs going through that countless times, freezing on the two brothers on a tandem bike. Not to mention the so-bad-it's-good opening theme song. Kripke, you magnificent bastard.

CSI: Supernatural: The boys are fraying at the edge now, which leads to be best rant of the night from a not happy Dean. "I’m wearing sunglasses at night. You know who does that? No-talent douchebags. I hate this game. I hate that we’re in a procedural cop show, you want to know why? Because I hate procedural cop shows. Three hundred on television and they’re all the freaking same. It’s 'ooh, plane crashed here.'”

After Sam and Dean roll in with the "Won't Get Fooled Again" theme song, each one tries to outdo the other with their best Horatio Caine impersonation, complete with bad puns and removal of sunglasses. I give the victory to Jared, who needs to do comedies when this show is done. Dean stakes the sweet tooth investigator and I fall off the couch in hysterics (something I did a lot in this episode) when the inside view of the wooden stake going through the heart is shown in slow motion detail. The script's attention to detail in each one of these spoofs is what makes them work so well. Sam ends up staking the real Trickster, and they're out of it.

Knight Rider: Okay, maybe not. Sam disappears. Dean hears Sam's voice when he climbs into the empty Impala and finds it's coming from his new KITT console straight from Knight Rider. The Impala and Sam join together to become KITT? Bwah! The Trickster still won't give Sam a break. (“Sam, get a load of the rims on you.” “Eat me.”)

Of course they can't continue without a brilliant opening first. The theme music from Knight Rider plays, Dean drives with his best Hasselhoff profile (and looks great doing it), and the Impala even has the same rolling red lights on the front grill. A dead ringer for the original and far better than the remake. Sam and Dean have their problem-solving session while driving, a la Michael Knight and KITT. They finally figure out what they're up against.

The Trickster

Throughout the episode it’s clear this journey through TV land is not all fun and games. It's happening to deliver the bigger message to Sam and Dean — play your roles. "Sam starring as Lucifer, Dean starring as Michael. Your celebrity death match. Let’s light this candle.” Sam mentions doing that will end the world. The Trickster brings up that because Sam let Lucifer out of the box, it's happening anyway. Ah, the reason for the Sam resentment surfaces.

Also, the Trickster knows Castiel, who manages to pop in only briefly enough to feed the brothers clues before he’s zapped away. I don't object to them using Cas this way. This episode is already loaded. Cas serves his purpose, warning this might not be a Trickster they're dealing with. It's way too powerful. Another clue, the Trickster loses his temper with Dean when he asks whose side he's on. “No, you’re somebody’s bitch.” “Don’t you ever presume to know what I am.”

If you're gonna drop two major bombshells on a show's mythology, this is the way to do it. Dean brings out the Trickster by offering surrender. ("Should I honk?" KITT Sam is funny!) After Sam is restored to normal form, the brothers get down to business. They trap the Trickster in a ring of fire, a la Raphael in "The End." He can't escape, so the Trickster is really an angel! Dean gives the defining clue. “Call it personal experience. Nobody gets that angry unless they’re talking about their own family.” Oh, but he's no ordinary angel. He's the archangel Gabriel! He's been living in exile on earth all this time. Holy… you get the point. Bombshell number one has just dropped.

He's not done. Gabriel's upset because now that the brothers have started the apocalypse (a point he doesn’t stop rubbing in the entire episode), he has to watch one brother kill another. “That’s why there’s no stopping this, because this isn’t about a war. It’s about two brothers that loved each other and betrayed each other. You think you’d be able to relate.” Dean is Michael, the dutiful son of the absent father. Sam is Lucifer, the rebellious little brother who defies Daddy's plan. "As it is in Heaven, so it must be on earth." Just like Michael and Lucifer, one Winchester brother must kill the other. Ever since the beginning of earth, these angels knew it would all end with those two. Bombshell #2. Sam and Dean are stunned. Me too!

This is where free will vs. destiny collides at 90 mph. Dean insists that won't happen, Gabriel insists it will and cannot be stopped. Dean leaves Gabriel with words that clearly draw the battle lines to come, just before setting off the sprinklers in the warehouse to set him free. "And for the record, this isn’t about some prized fight between your brothers or some destiny that can’t be stopped. It’s about you being too afraid to stand up to your family.” Despite the show of defiance, Sam, Dean, and Castiel all leave at a loss over what to do next.

Burning Questions

So, all this time our fun villain the Trickster has really been the archangel Gabriel? Fascinating twist! It makes sense especially after his actions in "Mystery Spot." Teaching Sam a lesson introduced the idea to Sam of letting Dean go. Maybe the motivation was to get him in the right frame of mind for the so called "death match?"

Will Gabriel jump in and help the boys in their little fight? Couple him with the Antichrist and who knows. Maybe free will can triumph over what has been foretold. So who's right, Dean or Gabriel? I think both. As Sam said, he believes it. Can people really change destiny by believing in a different outcome?

What role, if any, will God play in all this? I would think none since "Paradise Lost" (which this show heavily borrows from) has God washing his hands of the consequences of the free will of man. It sounds like he’s doing the same for Heaven as well. However, who did put Sam and Dean on that plane in "Sympathy For The Devil?" I'm placing bets that God isn’t going to sit back quietly.

Have Sam and Dean been chosen to do this from birth or did they turn out to be the best candidates after all the events? The way I see it is only the higher level angels (including Lucifer) have been privy to the plan and have taken the responsibility to nudge things along. Azazel probably had no idea that Sam was the chosen one for Lucifer. Who knows, maybe he wasn’t until he became the sole survivor of the psychic kids. Maybe that’s why Castiel was ordered to pull Dean out of Hell at the opportune time. Everything is going according to plan. Sam and Dean refusing to be vessels and getting Castiel's help are seen by the angels to be only delaying the inevitable. No matter what happens, all roads lead to the same destination. Yeah, a brain twister.

“I’ve been wanting to gank that mother since Mystery Spot.” So, is that a hint that Dean knows how much torture Sam went through in "Mystery Spot?" Judging by his anger, I'm thinking he knows.

Other Stray Thoughts

The attention to detail in this episode is incredible and everyone involved outdid themselves. The set design, the direction, the writing, the music, the acting, the cinematography, it’s all just splendid. The most impressive feat is all that original "eclectic" music during Dr. Sexy MD. The story is the music director for Supernatural is the same person who’s worked on Grey's Anatomy. Awesome!

I especially admire the set designers since they had to do all those shows. I'm quite taken with the contrast between the motel room in the sitcom and in the real world. The layouts are the same, but in the sitcom world the colors are way brighter, the cabinets and door bright white, and the refrigerator is full. In the real world everything is dingier and run down. Not a happy accident.

The direction of Charles Beeson here is phenomenal, for switching from one TV show parody to another and making them all look brilliant without losing the flow is no easy feat. The entire confrontation with the Trickster too is an extremely well shot scene that manages to spike the tension from the script even more.

The Trickster obviously needed to trap Sam and Dean since they can’t be found by angels and the Hulk incident is inspired. Not the bad movies Hulk but the Lou Ferringo 70's TV show Hulk. Dean's line is priceless. “Is there any reason Lou Ferrigno, the Incredible Hulk, would have a grudge against your husband?”

How about these lines:

“You might say you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.”

“Ally with the Trickster. A bloody, violent monster and you want to be Facebook friends with him?”

“This show has ghosts? Why?” Ha! I know many Grey's Anatomy fans were asking that one.

“Dean, this feels really uncomfortable. Ow.”

“You might say we pulled it out of Sam’s ass.”

“So which one are you? Grumpy, Sneezy, or Douchy?”

“What did Daddy say when you ran off and joined the Pagans?”

Overall grade (yes, I'm going there), an A+. A flawless script, brilliant story, top notch directing, set design, music, and of course, great acting. One of the best of the series. It had it all. I hope you all enjoyed the best episode of the season as much as I did. I end with some uplifting lyrics courtesy of the new Supernatural theme song.

Town to town, two lane roads
Family business two hunting bros
Living a lie just to get by
As long as we’re moving forward
There’s nothing we can’t do
Together we’ll face the day
You and I won’t run away
When the demons come out to play
Together we’ll face the day

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About Alice Jester

  • Christi

    You know I never knew dean was holding a grudge against the Trickster over Mystery Spot until this ep. either. I loved this ep. It so rocked. Man-crush, ruled. Confession: I haven’t yet been able to stomach listening to the openintg song of the sit-com. I try but just end up cringing.

  • Scott

    I actually liked how they tied the Trickster into the mythos, cause when you go back to previous seasons (before we were even introduced to angels), the Trickster was a league above the rest. Every other pagan god we’ve been introduced to (like the Rakshasa or even the Paris Hilton clone) turned out to be nothing more than some soul-feeding monster that could die a normal (supernatural-normal) death, yet here we had a pagan demi-god that killed Dean 1000x and never seemed to actually die, as early as S1 or 2. I’m glad they tied it back because in this supernatural world, it made little sense how a master of illusion seemed more powerful than several of the angels and demons who we’ve come to know later.

  • Glad to see so many other people think that “Changing Channels” was brilliant. It’s my theory that it was actually the secret series finale. You can read my entire decoded message on my blog. I’d be interested in your thoughts.

  • Jasminka

    Hi Alice,
    I’m always in awe when I find your reviews here – as you put so much into them, despite a confined quantity of words. Thank you again for a most amazing review!

    My fave episode of this season, yes, I re-watched it a few times by now and I still can’t stop laughing… Sometimes, though, a feeling comes crawling up my back like a venomous snake… that there is a bittersweet note to be expected. Your reference to Milton tipped that nicely… All is not well by far, and I’ve become even more curious about where this season might be headed. I believe the next two episodes before the big holiday hiatus will probably point to things to come (and leave us biting our nails till January….?)

    I second your praise of the creative bunch behind the camera, the set decoration alone was hilarious and impeccable, the music, and expecially the fantastic way they used light in this episode to accentuate and veil. I love it when we can watch masters at work!

    Inspired by this episode I rented the first two episodes of Grey’s Anatomy (I’ve never seen it before) and was instantly taken aback by the accuracy of the parody here… Didn’t surprise me, though, as the other shows I’ve seen (used to watch Knight Rider with my dad when I was a kid, and I’ve looked at CSI MIami just long enough to be able to praise the incredible Horatio Caine impressions we find here – and, I agree, Jared was fabulous here… I would certainly watch any comedy he might (hopefully) shoot some day, the man is vastly talented…)

    Cheers, and thanks again !! Jas

  • Sablegreen

    Great recap Alice. I loved this epi! The parodies were great! I can’t imagine how they came up with this idea, but kudos to them!

    As for Dean and the mystery spot. Sam told him all about it. After all Sam went through, can’t see why he would even consider talking to the trickster. Of course now that the triskter is an archangel, it makes sense. As a pagan god…he couldn’t of cared less.

    Seems to me that if all the angels dislike hunmans so much…what do they keep coming here for? The keep knocking humans but keep hiding here! At least that is what Gabreil did. Raphael appears top have stayed with family until Lucifer was out. Why leave now? He has my permission to go back…any time!

  • Deej1957

    Dean was angry about the Trickster ganking him hundreds of times in Mystery Spot. He never said a word about all the horror Sam went through in that episode, which was a shame becuase it would have been a perfect moment for it.

  • JessD

    I liked the episode. The Grey’s anatomy spoof made me laugh so hard, my mom thought i’m nuts. And the one about CSI with sun glasses is awesome =)) I guess guys had lots of fun filming this episode.

  • jazzjulie

    I loved episode too. Huppy, I don’t think the angels like humans at all as they are jealous of them as God prefers them. They don’t bother to get to know humans as they think they are far superior.

  • Huppy

    I really liked the parodies, but I didn’t like that the Trickster was really Gabriel all along. I liked the Trickster as the prankster pagan god. But now he is Gabriel, which is a retcon that doesn’t work for me.
    And I was disappointed that Gabriel showed as little understanding and compassion to humans as Raphael did in “Free to Be You and Me,” (not “The End” which is the episode you mentioned in your review, Alice). If Gabriel is the Trickster, he’s been on earth a long time, and you would think he would know humans better. But no, he just goes on about destiny and the need to have the Apocalypse just like Raphael did. It seems like Castiel (and maybe Anna) is the only angel or archangel who is not anti-human. I would have liked to see angels and archangels not all having the same mindset.

  • Emma

    I am in total agreement. This episode was AMAZING. Everyone involved should be very proud indeed. One of the series’ best.
    Alice, I’m glad you mentioned the contrast between the Sitcom motel room and the real life one because its something that caught my eye as well. It’s one of the things I love about the show is going back and re-watching an episode just to check out the motel set decoration and this week’s was no different. It was a great contrast. As we’ve seen in It’s A Terrible Life Supernatural light their alternate realities brighter than normal and return to the filter once back in the real world, making the real world look darker which helps heighten the danger. With this AU being TV land the Sitcom motel room was over the top bright and the faded paint, rug and overall darker feel in the real world was achieved effortlessly. Great job everyone 😀