Small Screen Girl Confession: I hate backdoor pilots. I can appreciate the brilliance of the concept of using an existing television show to set up a new series, but the execution can be about as clunky as paint mixer.
However when done well, good backdoor pilots can build a fanbase before the series is even greenlit. To be successful, they have to do three things: 1. Establish a connection to the original show. 2. Build entertaining and engaging characters that parallel the dynamic of the original heroes. 3. Create situational tension that can drive the series forward.
I would bet my car that this week’s episode of Supernatural, “Don’t You Forget About Me," is an top secret backdoor pilot. And if it is, it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen, lightyears beyond the failed attempt at a spin-off, "Bloodlines." By integrating characters that were sparingly used throughout the series and taking (huge) suggestions from fans and guest stars Kim Rhodes, Brianna Buckmaster and Kathryn Newton, the show inadvertently created the compelling and kickass women to continue Supernatural’s reign.
So how does “Don’t You Forget About Me” fare as a backdoor pilot? Grab your favorite sword, and let’s dive in shall we?
Establish a connection with the original show. | Done and done. If you think your life is hard, meet Jody Mills, Souix Falls sheriff, whose zombie son ate her husband. She also a blind date with the King Of Hell that ended with her coughing up blood. Singledom doesn't look so bad, right? In the six seasons since her introduction, Jody has become a surrogate mother to the boys and a few wayward orphans and managed a tragic crush for the late Bobby Singer. She’s also a badass that escaped from that relishes in killing monsters, and helps her family as much as she can even if that means giving awkward safe-sex talks at the table.
Jody's first official adopted daughter is Alex Jones (Katherine Ramdeen), a beautiful girl who spent her formative years forced to work as a lure for a pack of vampires. Jody rescued her in the bloody and brutal season 9’s “Alex Annie Alexis Ann.” They have been living as television’s most dysfunctional family for a year.
Claire Novak was just a little girl when she was introduced in season 4’s “The Rapture” as Castiel’s meatsuit’s daughter. “Supernatural” pulled her back in the fold last season as a reckless foster child searching for her missing mother. After her mother's death, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) sent her stay with old friend, Jody.
Build entertaining and engaging characters that parallel the dynamic of the original heroes. | Claire has changed from a girl who was blindsided by the supernatural to a young woman who seeks it out with a sword and a smile. It’s clear by Claire's impulsiveness and flannel, that she’s a parallel to Dean. She calls the boys to help on a case of strange disappearances after terrorizing the neighborhood.
Sam wisely tries to talk her down: “Monsters are going to be there, on and on forever. But a chance at a family, a home, a school…that won’t be.” Of course, Claire has to get a little kidnapped and beaten up by vampires before his advice even begins to sink in. There's that Winchester-esque stubbornness.
Alex is the moonlight and night sky to Claire’s noon-in-the-desert sunshine. She tucks her darkness away and tries to become what she—after eight years of being forced to live and obtain living food for monsters—never thought she could be: the homecoming queen, the athlete, and the star student. Like Sam, she's been dogged by evil since birth. In “Swan Song,” it was revealed that key people in Sam’s life—prom dates, teachers, best friends—were possessed by demons to keep on the sulfur-brick road.
When the janitor reveals himself to be a vampire Alex’s nest turned (who then went on to drink his family), and her boyfriend is in on the mysterious disappearance (which I totally called), Alex's knee-jerk is to sacrifice herself up to save her family by volunteering to her worst nightmare as a lure and vampire rations. Just as Sam recently did when he willingly walked into Lucifer’s trap in "O Brother Where Art Thou" and countless other times.
If Jody's role is a mirror of Bobby Singer. She’s brash and brave, and willing to break the law to save lives. She’s not hollering “Balls!” yet, but I’m sure another few months with machete-wielding teenagers and she will be.
Create situational tension that can drive the series forward. | “Don’t Your Forget About Me” ends with Claire, Alex and Jody becoming more bonded as a family. Though Claire still wants to hunt, she’s willing to slow down and learn the basics before becoming a full-fledged hunter. Alex, who seems a bit more effected, pragmatically decides to finish school and leave town to make sure she doesn’t attract anymore revenge-seeking vampires to her family’s doorstep.
Two siblings, one dedicated to the crusade, one seeking out normalcy, going in two different directions despite their shared tragedy. Sound familiar?
Though the end of the show sounds more terrifying than disco-dancing with the devil, it's an inevitable reality. However, the spirit of Sam and Dean could live on in Alex and Claire. The potential show has visceral action (the abduction and fight scenes were actually better than Supernatural's thanks to an epic intensity and realism) relateable issues, twisted comedy and some girlpower.
The best thing about backdoor pilot is that they can improve on the original. One note: Add in some young women of color to the core cast, because the lack of diversity one trait of Supernatural's no spin-off should inherit.
What did you think of the episode? If greenlit, would you watch the Wayward Daughters series? Hit up the comments below.
Small Screen Girl
I am an unabashed pop culture and TV-aholic with no plans to ever seek treatment. Explore this blog and see just how deep my obsession goes.