I put off watching Syfy’s new monster-of-the-week series Superstition for one very simple reason: I really don’t like the CW’s Supernatural. Though it isn’t always fair to compare TV shows simply because they share a genre and premise, the parallels between the two are impossible to ignore. When I finally watched it, I discovered it was much more compelling than its counterpart.
Like Supernatural, Superstition follows the story of a family that’s intimately familiar with the paranormal and has taken it upon itself to hunt down the mysterious things that go bump in the night. And that’s really where the important similarities between the two shows stop, because as much narrative DNA as Superstition shares with Supernatural on paper, the Mario van Peebles-helmed project is attempting to tell a deeper, slower story.
Superstition opens with a flashback set in 2001 when the Hastings, a black family then living in Louisiana, were forced to retreat into their house as a group of the undead threatened to kill them all. While the threat they’re about to face isn’t explained, Isaac and Bea Hastings (Mario van Peebles and Robinne Lee) arm themselves with guns and mystical objects as they instruct their sons Calvin and Argo (Brad James and Myles Truitt) to go upstairs and hide. Fighting the occult, we’re meant to understand, is what the Hastings do, and despite the tension in that first scene it seems as if this night isn’t exactly out of the ordinary for any of them. But that impression is cut short when something (i isn’t made clear what) manages to get inside the house and attack Argo.
Rather than go into details, Superstition cuts to 16 years in the future and begins to give us a better sense of who the Hastings have become in the wake of Argo’s apparent death. Calvin’s gone on to join the military and come home to visit his family, while Isaac and Bea’s funeral home has taken on new responsibilities in their town from the local police. When the Hastings are preparing bodies for funeral services, they’re investigating the supernatural activity that everyone in the town is vaguely aware of, but never quite gets around to addressing openly until it’s too late.
Superstition‘s first episode revolves around Calvin’s homecoming and realising that the “family business” has evolved, but even as it hits all the hallmark beats of a first season pilot, the show’s larger ambition shows through in fits and starts. Were the show entirely about the Hastings hunting demons on their own time, it would be entirely fair to call Superstition your average monster show. But because the Hastings work somewhat closely with the police department and the town medical examiner who moonlights as a mythologist, Superstition ends up incorporating elements of police procedurals.
When an infernal (the show’s shorthand for “demon”) shows up in town with an ancient Macedonian amulet that turns people into snake-like lunatics, it isn’t until the Hastings tap into their network of colleagues in the city that they’re able to piece together what’s going on.
On another show, getting to this conclusion would involve spending time researching and perhaps tracking down a grizzled, wise character actor who can explain the snake demons’ connection to the amulet. But in offloading some of that footwork to its ancillary characters, Superstition is able to take the time to delve into the complicated dynamic that the Hastings find themselves in. Isaac resents Calvin for leaving, Calvin resents Isaac for pulling his brother into a life that led to him being murdered, and Bea is busy trying to logic her way through the newest mystery facing the town. Though Superstition is setting up prodigal son Calvin to be its primary hero who comes back into the fold, his return is further complicated by the fact that he has a teenaged daughter he’s only just met after coming home.
The introduction to Superstition‘s family drama is dense, to be sure, but that density telegraphs (hopefully) that the show will take the time to dig into the messiness of it all while the demon-hunting becomes more of its background scenery.
What’s perhaps most promising about Superstition is the fact that, so far, it’s stayed fairly stationary in its focus on the Hastings’ hometown. Roadtrip-y monster-of-the-week shows make it easier for shows’ worlds to feel physically larger, but oftentimes that comes at the loss of an emotional centre for characters to tap into. By giving the Hastings roots in town, Superstition is able to give them a proper reason for fighting demons beyond the fact that they’re, you know, evil. The Hastings aren’t just following through on a duty they have been sworn to, they’re protecting a community of people that they know and care about, something that makes it easier to appreciate some of the show’s cheesier moments.
There’s no real way to put this eloquently, so I’ll just come out and say it: It’s honestly so great to see a supernatural-themed television show with a predominantly black cast that makes a point of giving its female characters fully-fleshed out personalities and things to do and say. Midnight, Texas gets an honourable mention for at least trying to give its resident witch Fiji a reason to be on the show, but the same has never been true of Supernatural.
Though Superstition may be conceptually more interesting than other shows like it, it’s coming into a playing field of Very Good Television™. It has all the makings of a show that could become a hit with certain fans, but now, Superstition has to show whether it can sustain itself for an entire season in a Friday evening timeslot in the US. An Australian broadcast has not yet been announced.