Friday, July 10, 2009

Paranormal Television

It seems to be one of the latest TV (well, cable TV, anyway) crazes. Reality shows based on investigations into the paranormal. Now I'm not the biggest fan of reality shows--though I do love me some Iron Chef--but I must say I'm enjoying this trend. I think it has something to do with combining the not-quite-real reality genre with a not-quite-real field. Either that or I just like having the pants scared off of me.

Here are some highlights and low-lights of the current programs:

Ghost Hunters (SyFy)
Premise: Real-life paranormal investigators allow the Sci-Fi--excuse me, SyFy--Channel to follow them around.
Scare Factor: 5-7 (out of 10). The T.A.P.S. team has gone to some pretty scary places and uncovered compelling evidence, but the focus of the show is on education about and acceptance of the paranormal, so you won't have to sleep with the lights on after watching it.
Entertainment Factor: High. Early episodes highlighted tensions between group members; these days episodes have featured the hilarious double-act of investigators Steve Gonsalves and Dave Tango.
Fakery? Probably not. Though occasionally the show features investigations where people have tried to pull a fast one on the team, these guys are terrible actors, so I think it would be pretty obvious if they themselves had fabricated something. Plus, most "hauntings" turn out to be the result of bad plumbing, anyway.

Ghost Hunters International (SyFy)
Premise: Familiar faces from T.A.P.S. and their affiliates investigate hauntings around the globe.
Scare Factor: 4-5. It's hard to be uncanny when you're so far from home.
Entertainment Factor: Medium. The revolving team members make it hard to get emotionally involved, though Irish investigator Barry Fitzgerald's attempts to sweet-talk the lady spirits is always a hoot.
Fakery? Probably not. Being a spin-off of Ghost Hunters puts it in the same credibility range, although their use of more "experimental" techniques makes me think that on some occasions they may be jumping to conclusions.

Paranormal State (A&E)
Premise: Penn State based paranormal researchers look into the paranormal with the help of "world-renown" psychics.
Scare Factor: 8-10. The team frequently do battle with the diabolical. Last season they had not one but two exorcisms!
Entertainment Factor: High. The show sets up team-leader Ryan Buell as its definite star and features a rather colorful array of regulars like melodramatic psychic Chip Coffey, who always cracks me up. Plus they often delve into other aspects of the paranormal such as UFOs or the Mothman.
Fakery? Maybe. The show's narrative style makes it scarier and more entertaining but also harder to tell where reality stops and fiction begins. Furthermore, it doesn't show the team getting much hard evidence, which makes it look like they're relying pretty much on the word of psychics.

Ghost Adventures (Travel Channel)
Premise: A bunch of dudes saw paranormal shows on TV, figured they could do the same thing, and shot their own pilot.
Scare Factor: 5-6. The pilot was creepy as hell, but I've found the actual episodes to be less scary.
Entertainment Factor: Medium. While it's funny to see a bunch of bros running around screaming because they've seen a ghost, it gets old and would be nice to see them be a little bit more professional once and a while.
Fakery? Probably not. While it's clear these guys don't know what they're doing, they probably don't know how to fake things convincingly, either.

A Haunting (Discovery Channel)
Premise: Reenactments of "real life" hauntings are combined with interviews with the participants.
Scare Factor: 4-7. Some of the hauntings presented are quite silly when you actually think about it, but the reenactment format allows for various techniques--like the voyeuristic ghost P.O.V. shot--to still make them scary.
Entertainment Factor: Medium-high. The bad acting and formulaic nature of the stories often makes it funnier than it's supposed to be.
Fakery? Likely. It's a docudrama, so entertainment comes first, and I would be surprised if a few details here and there weren't tweaked a bit to make them scarier, like how normal occurrences are often blown way out of proportion to make them seem like part of the haunting.

Monster Quest (History Channel)
Premise: Beasts of legend are investigated.
Scare Factor: 1-4. They seem to have covered all the good ones in the first season or two. Plus, they've done Big Foot more than once, which tends to take away some of its mythos.
Entertainment Factor: Low. The show is very dry, and it's hard to make killer jelly fish interesting.
Fakery? No. Though the show ultimately leaves its questions unanswered, cryptozoological evidence is almost always cancelled out by real science.

I know, I know. There are so many shows I've left out. If you feel that there's one I ought to have included, that's what the comment button is for.

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