"Supernatural" is neither super nor natural -- "Discuss," as "Linda Richman" (Mike Myers) used to say on "Saturday Night Live." But "Supernatural," part of a trend toward frightening and sometimes frightful new fall shows, does deliver genuine shocks and jolts, enough so that one might reasonably call it electrifying.
Or maybe electrocuting -- an inarguably less enjoyable sensation.
Essentially "The Hardy Boys Go Ghostbusting," the series, premiering on the WB network (Channel 50) at 9 tonight, stars likable Jared Padalecki and unlikable Jensen Ackles as brothers Sam and Dean, who were children in Lawrence, Kan., 20 years ago when their mommy, manipulated by malevolent forces beyond their daddy's control, was first plastered to the ceiling as she flailed helplessly and then, along with the rest of the house, incinerated in huge billows of flame.
Huge billows of flame are very big in the new fall shows.
The boys and their father escaped. We encounter Sam in the present, grown up and leading a normal life as a student at Stanford University. He has a beautiful roommate named Jessica and a chance at getting into law school -- until, after two years of separation, brother Dean decides to make a noisy reappearance.
Dean doesn't just call or drop by. Writer and series creator Eric Kripke, to inject a phony scare near the start of the show, has Dean stupidly break into Sam's apartment on Halloween night, thus terrifying the occupants. Asked to explain his bizarre behavior, Dean says smirkingly (which is how he says everything), "I was looking for a beer." Sam should kick his butt back out on the street then and there.
But Dean has a mission. He wants Sam to abandon college and go off on a wild ghost chase or two -- attempting in the process to track down Dad, who has devoted his life to finding the evil force that killed Mom but now has vanished himself. Sam is reluctant to leave, but if he stayed put, there'd be no show.
Soon he and his tiresomely smart-alecky brother are in Jericho, Calif., where they run smack into the local legend of the "woman in white," who lures men to fiery and bloody doom with her frequent appearances as a tattered hitchhiker.
We're told that everyone for miles around knows of the tale, but that doesn't stop a young man, on his way home, from stopping to give Ghostie Girl a ride and ending up going straight to Hell himself. As with many of the fright shows proliferating this season, the special effects on "Supernatural" are easily as graphic and gory as those in a PG-13 horror movie.
The details of the woman in white's saga, whether shown or discussed, are ghastly. She is a member of a spook subculture, we are told, made up entirely of women who went mad and, during unspeakable rages, murdered their own children. Now their spirits wander the world seeking some kind of reconciliation.
There isn't much in "Supernatural" to engage viewers older than Sam and Dean, but it's certainly not the worst of the new troop of spookers. Dean may be an obnoxious boor, but he does get some of the better lines, as when Sam scoffingly remembers Dad long ago telling him not to be afraid of the dark. "Don't be afraid of the dark?" says Dean, who's now doing the scoffing. "Are you kidding me? Of course you should be afraid of the dark!"
Yes. And there's so much of it -- especially on TV.
Naturally the lads help close the book on the woman in white and her homicidal hitchhiking. Now Kripke needs an excuse for Sam to stay with Dean and continue their nomadic brotherly misadventures. Dean apparently can't get Sam to commit to that just on the basis of locating their father, so Kripke throws a big fireball into his life that virtually forces him to reenlist. It's a pity that this involves removing Jessica, the only truly attractive character in the group. A Smurf T-shirt never looked better than it did on her.
"Supernatural" definitely gets the job done, but it's highly debatable that it's a job worth doing.
We can safely assume that, given the great success CBS has had with its collection of "CSI" crime dramas, executives at other networks have been wondering aloud, "Why don't we have a CSI show, too?" Now, Fox does: "Bones," a dizzy and grisly bummer set in Washington, premiering tonight at 8 on Channel 5.
As the title suggests, the principal crime solvers on this show confine themselves primarily to the skeletal remains of victims, not their severed ears or toes. The heroine, unlikely in every detail including her name, Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel), goes about reassembling corpses and then divining how they got to be that way. It's precise, tedious work and so is watching this show.
Deschanel is a bland transparency in the lead role, and Temperance has been intemperately conceived as among the most super of the season's army of superwomen. It's not enough that she is the world's leading forensic anthropologist (and how many of those are there, really?), she also has to be a best-selling crime novelist, a crack shot with any kind of gun and a bullying master, or mistress, of martial arts. There's nothing she can't do except be believable.
She teams up with an old-fashioned, earthy FBI guy played by David Boreanaz, alternately leaden and wooden, and sexual sparks start to fly almost at once. Of course, there are other sparks, since the drama depends on special effects in the way the "CSI" shows do. One that's genuinely nifty is a machine that makes revolving, golden-hued holograms representing the dead people, as indicated by those skeletal remains.
The first featured corpse is a pregnant Senate intern who all too obviously was murdered by the senator she worked for. When he first appears, he practically sneers out his guilt and all but asks, "Whaddayou gonna do about it?" Here's what she's gonna do about it: When the senator tosses a wad of chewed gum into an ashtray, Temperance dives for it, hoping to obtain the senator's DNA. She absconds with the goo while the senator's aide shouts, "You'll need a warrant for that!"
Eight o'clock seems too early for a show featuring long, loving shots of desiccated corpses, but network TV doesn't abide by many genteel rules or good manners anymore. Even adults may feel the director is way too generous with views of rotting remains. And later we are treated to a holographic reproduction of a man bashing the poor woman's skull with a sledgehammer as she lies on the ground.
As often happens with shows set in Washington, this one commits a couple of geographical howlers (though they might be repaired by air time). We see a plane landing in an early shot captioned "Dulles International Airport," but this Dulles International Airport has a lovely close-up view of the Capitol dome. Meanwhile, the Senate intern must have been very, very important, because in closing shots it looks as though she has been buried on the Mall.
Where, one wonders, are the heads of state from around the world who would likely attend such an auspicious affair? "Bones" itself is definitely not an auspicious affair -- nor even an enjoyably preposterous one.
Bones (one hour) airs tonight at 8 on Channel 5.
Supernatural (one hour) airs tonight at 9 on Channel 50.