Thursday, June 16, 2005

These Mediums Not Well Done

You don't have to be psychic to know why Psychic Detectives is on NBC this summer: it's cheap - because the show is paid for by Court TV - and Medium has been a major success during the spring season. As Les Moonves said recently "I think talking to ghosts will skew younger than talking to God." And if Psychic Detectives isn't entirely about talking to ghosts it does seem to tap into that whole vibe.

Not of course that this makes the show good. In fact the thought that people watch and like this thing is thoroughly depressing - it is terrible. Each episode of the series looks at two real cases where real psychics have helped to solve real mysteries. The show wants to make it clear that they're dealing with real events. It's good that they emphasize this because there are so many re-creations in this show that it would probably as a drama if we weren't told that this was "real". If this were a documentary or a news show it would be roundly condemned for this but presumably this show qualifies as entertainment. Moreover while the psychics themselves seem relatively sincere, the cops come off as being uncritically admiring after expressing their initial skepticism in a sentence or two. What wasn't found in either of the two cases in the episode that I saw on Wednesday evening was any sort of dissenting voice. Worse, the only details that we get come from the psychic and the one or two cops involved in the case. The only thing that we know is what they tell us, and they have an interest in telling us a story in which the psychic solves the case.

I seem to be having a very difficult time explaining just how bad this show is. Production looks cheap, a mixture of video stock shots, and scenes of the psychic and detective in various locations are mixed with reconstructions which usually amount to people sitting around offices. As I mentioned the show is totally uncritical about their subjects - psychics are real and these are real psychics; there is no other explanation - which at least in my mind considerably lowers credibility. There is of course no investigation of the claims either in this case or of the previous successes that the psychic has claimed. To this you can add the cheesy narration from a voice that is probably better suited to doing voice-overs for commercials. Worst of all, the show isn't that interesting or entertaining. There's no dramatic tension, no twists and turns. In all but the worst fiction, while we usually know that our heroes will triumph we don't know what hoops they'll have to jump through to accomplish this. In Psychic Detectives the greatest tension is ... well I can't think of any tension at all. The psychic almost immediately proves herself to the cop and he is continually amazed at what she discovers and is soon a true believer. Yawn. I really can't think of a good reason to waste your time watching this. Just about anything that NBC cancelled this past season would have been better than this. Trust me, this show is best avoided.

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