Paranormal TV Shocks And Amazes

by Shannon Baldo

Every winter break, I spend my aimless days exploring television and movies I have somehow missed, and ultimately I always return to the academic world with a strange new addiction. Last year I discovered the brilliance of “Veronica Mars,” and a few years ago I stumbled onto what became my favorite series of all time, “Doctor Who” (one which I have not written about simply to avoid taking up the entire back page – or have I done that already?).

This year, I chose to explore a new genre of television which I call the “paranormal investigation.” Though originally aimed at the Syfy audience (one supposedly composed of the teenage New Agers, middle-aged geeks and crazy believers who would buy into it), these shows have recently leaped into popularity and accordingly sprung onto multiple networks, even including Animal Planet.

Thus, I present to you: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Paranormal Reality (or Ghost Hunt Watching for Dummies – whichever reference you prefer).

Ghost Hunters

From its premiere in 2004, Syfy’s “Ghost Hunters” series has constantly entertained audiences. It centers on The Atlantic Paranormal Society, an organization founded by two plumbers who try to disprove groundless suspicions of ghostly activity and help people understand the paranormal. Part of TAPS’s appeal relies on its status as a nonprofit organization – no client pays for the investigation, and all team members keep their day jobs. Yet the show also focuses on the interpersonal relations of the TAPS team, leading Syfy to brand it as a “docu-soap.” This mixture of subjects allows “Ghost Hunters” to focus equally on proving the paranormal and exploring the team’s personalities and relationships, rendering the show far more accessible to viewers than its overly scientific predecessors.

The show has also served as a primary model for all other paranormal investigation shows; from copying the layout of the program to the emphasis on evidence and scientific methods, nearly all common perceptions of paranormal investigations spring from “Ghost Hunters.”

Ghost Adventures

In 2008, the Travel Channel premiered “Ghost Adventures,” a series which follows three men desperate to prove the paranormal and willing to place themselves in harm’s way. In each episode, they lock themselves in a haunted building overnight, usually taunting the spirits mercilessly in order to trigger paranormal activity.

There’s nothing new on this series in terms of the investigation; yet the team somehow generates a nearly ridiculous amount of drama and excitement, far more than any other paranormal series. With every unexplained shadow, they jump and scream profanities. With every case of Goosebumps, they squeal and run for equipment. The “Ghost Adventures” team focuses exclusively on making the investigation look exciting and making themselves look badass, creating a series ceaselessly entertaining if never entirely respectable.

Ghost Lab

The Discovery Channel’s “Ghost Lab” follows yet another organization, Everyday Paranormal, as they investigate various locations throughout the Southwest United States. With a full team led by charismatic and dedicated founders, the show remains very similar to its Syfy predecessor; yet “Ghost Lab” focuses quite overwhelmingly on state-of-the-art equipment, in-depth analysis of evidence, and even obscure scientific theories on the paranormal. Most episodes feature a hypothesis, such as the presence of water near haunted buildings, and usually include a highly accredited expert commenting on the theory’s plausibility. Like many of the channel’s other shows, “Ghost Lab” centers on rational methodology, forming a series likely beloved by Discovery fans but lacking the charisma essential to general success.

Paranormal State

“Paranormal State” presents A&E’s answer to the genre, a show that presents the investigations of an actual student team of paranormal investigators at Pennsylvania State University. Frankly, of all the paranormal investigation series, I found this to be the worst. The student teams act more like children than investigators; their excitement over evidence seems more like playground giggling, and their awkward professionalism smacks of a kid wearing his dad’s coat. Their cases usually feature worried residents who appear more hypochondriacal than supernaturally perceptive, and in the half-hour time limit any conclusion seems shallow if not utterly imaginative. At the risk of alienating my lovely readers with a cliché, “Paranormal State” seems to stand as the amateur hour of the genre and, in my opinion, is hardly worth the time.

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