In its 13th season, Supernatural still manages to deliver new twists — alternate worlds are a thing! — and keep things fun. (Did we mention the upcoming Scooby-Doo crossover?) That’s precisely why the fantasy drama has earned the No. 1 spot on EW’s Must List.
With that in mind, EW hopped on the phone with series stars Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles to talk about what makes a good season of Supernatural.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What are the key ingredients to a good Supernatural season?
JARED PADALECKI: Some of my favorite seasons have dealt with a very real threat, the introduction of a new character, and a little humor spattered throughout — or, as is the case with the Scooby episode, something outside the box. Supernatural since day one with my mom and my girlfriend burning on the ceiling has dealt with some pretty dark subjects, so you have to flip the script and laugh and make fun of yourself.
JENSEN ACKLES: There’s got to be a good struggle with the brothers, either with each other or with a very good foe. Having a good big bad is always key, but also having a clear mission is vital.
PADALECKI: We’ve had a few seasons that went a bit too far left or right, but now the bosses have figured out that there’s a recipe that works. They’ll add new spices and mix it up, but they don’t try and reinvent the wheel. The addition of Alexander [Calvert] this year has just been phenomenal. His character is not someone we’ve ever encountered before.
ACKLES: I’ve always loved when the motivation shifts between brothers: The push and pull of Sam trying to get Dean aboard or Dean not wanting to go that direction, that constant struggle, and them ultimately finding a way to make it work and doing what’s right and fighting the good fight.
At what point into a season do you get a sense of whether the story works?
ACKLES: Probably episode 4 or 5. Because a lot of the groundwork for the season is laid early on in those first five episodes and then 6 and 7 and 8, somewhere in there we start having those standalone episodes, which are always great too. By then I feel like I’ve got a good gauge of tone and where we’re headed that season. And then that gives me an idea of where I need to take Dean.
PADALECKI: Episodes 9 and 10 of the season are where I get a sense of how I feel about it and the arc in general. By the time we’re filming 9 and 10, we’ve aired a few episodes, we’ve been able to gauge the audience reaction and the on-screen chemistry and whether it exists. Right around the midseason finale, it feels like the writers and our editors and producers have been watching the scenes, seen what works, seen what doesn’t, and are really fine-tuning it to figure out where they want to go with it. That’s also when I get a sense of, “Okay cool, this is gonna work.”
What’s been your favorite episode of season 13?
PADALECKI: I loved “Tombstone” and “Lost and Found.” I always love our season premieres. Everyone’s been waiting, including the actors, to find out what’s happening. There’s an almost tangible buzz on set — we can almost feel the eyes of the fans on us. And “Scoobynatural,” obviously.
ACKLES: The “Scoobynatural” episode [which airs March 29] was such a unique experience. I’ve got to go with Scooby.
Looking back, which Supernatural season is underappreciated?
ACKLES: Season 10 had Demon Dean, [who was] underappreciated and underused.
PADALECKI: Season 7 has “Death’s Door,” which might be my favorite episode, but I’ll go to season 1. We went off in so many different directions. The writers really explored a lot of avenues that set the stage for what we’ve been able to do since then. There was a lot of good television that was made because we hadn’t yet made the rules.
Supernatural airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.