Episode 26: Chess And Winchesters

Television Man by Aidan Morgan

the Winchester brothers

“Where we go one, we go watch television”
—Television Man’s subreddit TMAnon, all about “deep Netflix” and the conspiracy to cancel his favourite shows after two seasons

Wayward Sons

It’s finally here. Or finally almost not here. After 15 seasons driving around America in a Chevy Impala, shooting ghosts with rock salt and wrestling Lucifer, Supernatural comes to end Nov. 19.

Supernatural debuted in 2005 on the WB network as a sort of dirtbag X-Files starring Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles as Sam and Dean Winchester, two monster-hunting brothers who chased down demons and searched for their absent father (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) along the way.

As the series progressed, it split into two or three distinct shows: a hardbitten family drama about brothers who resented and loved each other in equal measure; a cosmic fantasy replete with demons, angels, devils and even a petty and villainous God Himself (Rob Benedict); and most enjoyably of all, a ridiculous meta-comedy in which the main characters were constantly brought face-to-face with their own artificiality. The third strand was often the work of writer Ben Edlund (The Tick), who came on board in the second season and regularly sent the Winchester Brothers into alternate dimensions or trapped them in a ghost-hunting reality show.

In this age of two-season runs, it isn’t often a series is able to keep itself going for 15 years. There are definite doldrums in Supernatural’s course — seasons six to 10 are particularly rudderless, despite some standout episodes — but the most recent season has shown there’s more than enough life left to make the finale worth catching.

Ackles is already booked to play a villain in season three of The Boys, so get ready for more of his growl-and-smirk routine.

Gambit Is My Ambit

Chances are good you’ve never heard of novelist Walter Tevis (1928–84) but it’s likely you’ve seen his work adapted for the screen. Tevis wrote two kinds of novels: lean, focused stories about self-destructive game players and sad dystopian science fiction about alcoholic aliens and suicidal androids.

The Hustler, The Color of Money and The Man Who Fell to Earth were adapted as films. Now comes The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix), a seven-episode series starring Anya Taylor-Joy about an orphaned chess genius who charts a picaresque course through the world of Cold War-era competitive chess, all the while battling an addiction to tranquilizers and alcohol.

Gambit has been an immense success for Netflix, drawing critical praise and persisting as the #1 and #2-ranked program on the streaming service. It’s not hard to see why. The Queen’s Gambit places its singularly strange and captivating protagonist in the frame of a sports story, with its arc of struggle, defeat and eventual victory. But the story is secondary to the characters that inhabit it and the incredible performances from Taylor-Joy, Bill Camp, Marielle Heller and Moses Ingram. The chess matches are staged for maximum tension and excitement. Art direction and cinematography are impeccable but never emotionally distancing.

If you’re a fan of the novel you may find some of the changes difficult to reconcile, particularly with an ending that strikes a much simpler and triumphal note than Tevis crafted, but it’s rare that we get something this uniformly excellent. Watch now, watch often. As a bonus, you can head to YouTube afterwards and find breakdowns of each game.

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