This week’s “Dog Dean Afternoon” was notable in a few ways. The show apparently is determined to keep whacking away at a dog-themed episode, despite the all too fresh memory of “Man’s Best Friend With Benefits.” The team taking on the latest attempt is comprised of Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder, penning their first episode since returning to Supernatural’s writing room. So, how successful was this match up? I’ll give it a B+.
The premise of the episode raised a red flag for many viewers, given previous canine-themed misfires, and a lacklustre promo didn’t help matters. Fortunately for the show, Jensen Ackles can handle anything the writers throw at him. So far this season, he’s been showing Dean’s desperation at losing his family and his guilt over lying to his brother. In “Dog Dean Afternoon,” he got to show off his impeccable comedic instincts.
The concept of talking animals slid the show into Disney territory, so there was a real danger of taking Dean’s doggie moves over the top—but not in Ackles’ capable hands. Whether playing fetch with Sam or barking at the mailman, he nailed the canine mentality and physicality without descending into caricature, and the result was hilarious. I laughed out loud at every scene of Doggy Dean, with the sight of Dean happily hanging out the window as the Impala cruises into the parking lot a particular favourite.
If the rest of the episode matched the success of Ackles’ physical comedy, the result would have been an instant classic. Unfortunately, there were some issues, beginning with the voice acting for the animals. Generally, Supernatural nails its guest casting, but not this time. It’s a testament to Jensen Ackles’ comedic chops that the episode is as funny as it is, because his screen partners for the most part fell flat.
None of the voices captured the personality of the animals and most of them felt like they belonged in a cartoon, which given that Ackles played his part with subtlety, was jarring. And when you invite your viewers in to a Disney movie with talking animals, it’s a poor choice to then subject them to feline murder—there was some serious tonal dissonance in the cat killing scene.
Steve Valentine was fine as the murderous chef, and his story line gave the episode some dramatic heft, as Dean was forced to see the danger of a man’s core being consumed from within by his invocation of greater powers to save his life. It’s not that Dean’s been comfortable with his decision to manipulate an unknowing Sam into accepting Ezekiel’s possession, but there’s nothing like the words coming out of his own mouth to drive the point home that Sam is still in danger, just of a different kind.
Poor Sam spent a good deal of the episode knocked unconscious as Zeke healed him from another fatal wound. This has happened often enough this season to make me wonder why Sam hasn’t suffered permanent brain damage, which means it shouldn’t happen again any time soon. I didn’t mind the scene in this episode, because it did serve to show Sam’s growing suspicions and Dean’s realization he has a tiger by the tail, but at this point, show, we get it. Time to move the story on.
I did like that Zeke made only a brief appearance—and that Jared Padalecki showed again the confidence with which he’s switching between personalities. Like Ackles, he’s taking everything the writers are throwing at him and running with it. I hope Supernatural’s creative team toasts Jensen and Jared every week, because they elevate flawed episodes like this one.
“Dog Dean Afternoon” was never destined to be everyone’s cup of tea; the off-beat stories never are. I don’t think the plan to schedule two off-beat episodes back to back paid off. Viewers who didn’t like visiting Oz last week probably didn’t like watching Disney this week. The poor promo and lacklustre voice acting added to the negative balance, so I wasn’t surprised to see the ratings take a slight dip.
Nonetheless, Ackles’ knack for physical comedy saved the episode for me, and I suspect Doggy Dean scenes will join other classic funny moments from the show. The decision to end the story on a sombre note rife with foreboding was also an excellent choice, as the inevitable exposure of Dean’s lie looms closer.
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