Airing weekly on SYFY
Let me just start off by making it clear that Ghost Hunters is a show that, unless you’ve seen it, you really can’t believe it. If you’ve seen clips on the Soup where a traditionally good looking guy is, in the parlance of McHale’s writers, “taunting the air”, that show is not Ghost Hunters but the free-wheeling, tongue-in-cheek Zak Bagans of Ghost Adventures. Ghost Hunters, which airs on the newly branded SyFy, is a dour, sour, extremely self-serious program that follows the TAPS team (former RotoRooters – I kid you not, watch the animated intro) Jason and Grant as they travel the country proffering their special blend of dickish skepticism.
I’m not sure how to put this without sounding like a dick myself (I’d certainly like to suppose that I’m not without a base-level belief in the supernatural), but a television show about the (pseudo) science of ghost detection is, at its very core, problematic. I suppose what I have the biggest issue with is the way that a bunch of scowly douchebags have thoroughly stripped away the mystery and wonder of the spiritual realm and replaced it with a bunch of hard and fast rules they simply shat out over years and years of know-it-ally conversations. Ghost stories are always fundamentally people stories: once you’re dead, you can’t really do all that much – it’s the human element that makes tales of spookings and hauntings so compelling – and Ghost Hunters occasionally succeeds when it profiles individuals experiencing paranormal activity in their homes and places of business.
The interviews with the afflicted are always the most genuinely interesting parts of the show because, more often than not, the interview subjects cannot help but betray that the haunting is something that they’re kind of proud of, a fact that sparks a series of essential, and rather heavy, human experience questions: why do these people think they have ghosts in their lives, what’s going on psychologically? Why aren’t all of us affected by moving plates and dimming lights, bumps in the attic and visions of people not there? Ultimately: is there really an afterlife or are we doomed to haunt some tourist attraction for the rest of eternity?
After the interview and case history are established, a bunch of DV cams, EMF detectors and rigid, jerky attitudes take center stage as the team tries to ‘scientifically’ establish whether or not the place is actually haunted. This ‘evidence gathering’ phase of the show is always tedious, once it’s completed the team studies the A/V record they’ve made and looks for pieces of the tape where they can almost detect a voice straining to say something like, ‘Help me”.
But I filed this under Brittany’s Laughs category for a reason: this show is hilarious.
The interaction between the team members, particularly Steve Gonsalves and Dave Tango, is extraordinary; Steve is one of the most difficult people on TV and time and again attention is taken off the ‘investigation’ and focused on some perceived slight that’s been festering since the last episode. This one time he thought Tango had forgotten to pack a battery charger and he could not get over it, it was amazing. Of course, the battery charger had been packed and, even if it hadn’t, the team still would have been fine, but Steve’s unwillingness to let it go provided insight into one of the most comically frustrating characters on television today: playwrights should take notice.
A wish that I hadn’t even known I’d placed was granted on Halloween night when I discovered that Steve and Tango were getting their own show: Ghost Hunters Academy. The premise is that they’ll be training people who really, really believe in ghosts the TAPS team’s unique techniques – quite honestly, there’s no one less qualified to teach anyone anything and, consequently, this show is amazing.
Episode one is titled ‘Web of Deceit’ and it focuses primarily on people trying to bullshit Steve. Over and over he has to ask (rhetorically) if any of these candidates even deserve a place on the TAPS team? I mean, how upset would you be if you discovered someone in the academy had been hiding their abilities as a medium? What if you discovered that the cadets were all unable to take basic instruction because they’d tuned out your whiny voice hours ago?
Steve’s primary technique is to set the cadets up for failure; giving dodgy instructions then becoming extremely disappointed when immediate success is not forthcoming. The constant undermining comes not from within the contestants’ interactions (the standard reality competition formula), but from the instructors, which is pretty unusual; imagine if Tim Gunn was coming into the work room and regularly berating the designers for mistakes they were unaware they were making.
I’d also like to point readers in the direction of Shirley Ghostman’s Spirit Academy, part of the remarkable High Spirits series, which is where I assume SYFY execs nicked the show’s concept.