Photo: The CW

“Growing up on the road, no matter where Dad dragged us, no matter what we did, there was always a TV. And you know what was always on that TV? Scooby and the gang! These guys—they’re our freakin’ role models, man! ...Except for Fred, he’s a wad.”

It may surprise Sam, but Dean Winchester’s unabashed love for Scooby-Doo makes complete sense. The elder sibling has always has a powerful sense of nostalgia when it comes to the comforts of his childhood, and a cartoon that exerted such a strong hold on his imagination back when there was precious little else he could dependably count on would understandably thrill him—especially when he gets to live inside of it. Myself as well: I was always watching Scooby-Doo as a child, and the idea of a Supernatural/Scooby-Doo crossover undeniably unearthed a childlike, unironic enthusiasm in me the moment I heard about it. Dean’s right: Going to scary places, solving mysteries, fighting ghosts...that’s what both of them do, so the chance to live out an animated, g-rated, and (supposedly) harmless version of it alongside your childhood favorites? I’d jump at the chance, too. Though with notably less hitting on Daphne, honestly.

This season hasn’t been hitting the consistency of the past two years since Supernatural began its creative renaissance, but episodes like ‘Scoobynatural” demonstrate just how much fun the series is still capable of providing. Transforming Sam, Dean, and Castiel into animated versions of themselves and pairing them up with the honest-to-god inhabitants of the Mystery Mobile turns out to be a delight, albeit one that takes seriously the ethos of Scooby-Doo, meaning most of the humor and narrative here is gentler and simpler than the usual Supernatural outing. The show commits to the style and storytelling of Scooby-Doo, so we get pratfalls, lots of vocal stuttering, and good-natured cornball jokes that allow our trio of hardened monster killers to fit in with Scooby and the gang, albeit in intentionally awkward ways.

The notion that Dean wants to keep the Scooby gang innocent, free from the knowledge that monsters are real, allows the general structure of the episode to play out with the tone and feel of a genuine Scooby-Doo adventure. As soon as Dean realizes they’re in the episode “A Night Of Fright Is No Delight” (an actual episode from the very first season of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!), he happily goes along with the mystery—at least, right up until the moment one of the other guests of the haunted house turns up murdered and covered in blood, at which point the brothers realize the story has taken a deadly turn, and they’re all in danger.

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Image: The CW

The moment when Shaggy breaks his arm, and the guys decide to bite the bullet and reveal the true existence of monsters, is an inspired bit of meta deconstruction that sees the Scooby gang instantly fall apart with the existential-horror knowledge of what kind of evil really exists. “I thought I was blind without my glasses, but I was just blind,” Velma laments. “My life is meaningless!” Fred cried, banging his head repeatedly against a nearby tree. “Heaven, hell—am I going to hell?” Daphne panics. (Which provides cover for Shaggy to retort with the most adult—yet still vague enough to be family-friendly—reference of the episode: “We told you every freakin’ time, but did you ever listen to Scoob and me? No!”) Even after Dean rallies them and the gang finds the courage to fight the real spirit, a dead child used as a killer by the greedy real-estate owner from the top of the episode, the Winchesters know the right thing to do is retcon the entire night, tricking the others into thinking it was all just a human villain behind everything. (Cosgood Creeps, the bad guy of the original episode.)

Everything else was less actual laughs than endearing smiles, as “Scoobynatural” busted out just about every reference from the animated series it could manage. (No opportunity to unleash some Scooby Snacks, unfortunately.) From characters jumping into other people’s arms to Dean joining Shaggy and Scooby in stretching his cartoon jaw in order to fit the massive sandwiches they make, it was all in good fun, with the highlight being the signature Benny Hill-esque chase through the doorways of the mansion with the spirit in pursuit. Even Dean’s lunkheaded attempts to woo Daphne get criss-crossed, as he gets the clueless cold shoulder and Sam receives an unexpected but passionate kiss from Velma.

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There’s a lot of plotlines currently being juggled by Supernatural: Sam and Dean’s mother is trapped in another dimension with Lucifer’s son Jack, Satan himself is trying to get his powers back, and there’s a highly difficult spell the brothers need to pull off to have a shot at fixing any of it. But none of that matters here, because the Winchesters, to quote Dean, got to be in a freakin’ episode of Scooby-Doo! It’s enough to make anyone set aside actual world-threatening crises and just enjoy hanging out with a talking dog. Oh, sorry: I meant to say the talking dog.

Stray observations:

  • During the live-action intro, watching Dean excitedly show off his new man-cave accommodations was just about the Dean-iest Dean moment you could Dean.
  • “Cas is kind of like a talking dog.”
  • Speaking of which, Cas turned out to be an excellent foil for Scooby and Shaggy, his taciturn stoicism a comic counterpoint to their hyperactive silliness.
  • Sam’s criticism of Scooby-Doo’s perpetual real-estate scam villains was funny, as was his realization the human culprit actually was one. “First, there are way better real-estate scams.”
  • Dean knew the plan would be a bust. “Fred’s traps never work.”
  • From the sleeping robe to the ascot, we get another dozen or so demonstrations that yes, Jensen Ackles is still bulletproof.

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