“Supernatural” Promises an Unpredictable Apocalypse

The CW series “Supernatural” kicked off last season with a man flipping on a cigarette lighter in the dark, to reveal he’d been buried in a cheap wooden coffin. Thursday night at 9, the cult hit about two demon hunting brothers returns for Season Five with the promise of an even grander escape: Lucifer punching his way out of Hell.

“We’ve decided to go through with it and stage the apocalypse,” says Sera Gamble, a key writer and co-producer for the show. “The pressure is that we have to do it on a TV budget, so it is like the K-mart version, not the $100 million ‘Lord of the Rings’ version.”

It’s a risky choice at a time when “Supernatural” is riding a wave of increased viewership and critical acclaim. Last week, Rolling Stone magazine cited it among the 50 reasons to watch TV this season, comparing lead characters Sam and Dean Winchester to the “Bo and Luke Duke of demon hunting.”

Details about the upcoming season have been leaking via the internet for weeks, including such controversial choices as featuring the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as a gang of muscle car drivers and Paris Hilton as a demon.

Show creator Eric Kripke has promised to pull out all the stops, as part of a story arc that he intends to conclude this season. Gamble says he has given the writers a license to experiment, and their first decision was to go with a premise that the apocalypse is really happening, but most of us aren’t paying attention. “It’s sort of a low level hum that the average guy sitting on the bus next to you is not aware of, but all the signs are there: pandemics, natural disasters, genocide.”

They also decided to go a different route in depicting Lucifer. He’ll be empathetic, reasonable and “the nicest guy in the room,” Gamble says. The character will be played by Mark Pellegrino, who “Lost” fans will remember as the character Jacob.

“He’s still a bad guy for sure. What he wants for humanity is not necessarily good for us,” says Gamble, admitting there could be some controversy. “I think religious and non religious people can tell we have sincerity about the way we’re telling it. We’re aiming to entertain. There’s a fair amount of Judeo-Christian mythology, but we’re not a fundamentally religious show. We make room for doubt.”

The show’s creators long ago reconciled themselves to the fact that “Supernatural” is a cult hit not unlike “Star Trek” or “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” It has a small, but fanatical fan base that has prompted a series of “Supernatural” books, magazines, a role playing game, action figures and countless web sites devoted to the show and its stars, Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki.

More than once in the past four years, it appeared as if “Supernatural” might be cancelled, but the CW remained convinced its ratings would improve. That finally happened last season, when the show introduced angels to its character line up.

Gamble says it is only natural that higher powers follow this season. The one big question is whether Sam and Dean Winchester can stop Lucifer in time, she says.

“We are not holding back anything,” says Gamble. “We always assume we’re about to get cancelled, so we always act like the party is about to be shut down by the cops.”

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