Saturday, September 24, 2005

I Don't Want To See Dead People

So I won't be watching the new CBS series Ghost Whisperer anymore.

I won't say that this is the worst new drama of the year, because I haven't seen all of the new dramas, but what this show was lacking was... well I guess there's no other word for it but drama. The dramatic tension was so thin you could cut it with a piece of cooked spaghetti. Jennifer Love Hewitt plays Melinda Gordon. At an early age she's taken to a funeral and seated beside an older man then she's taken up to look into the coffin where the very same man is. When she goes back to her seat the man tells the young Melinda that only she and her grandmother can see him and that she has to tell his wife that he loves her because he didn't get the chance before he died, and he gives the little girl details to make her story believable.

This was of course a necessary thing to set up the fact that Melinda can actually see dead people and incidentally that her "powers" are inherited from her grandmother. The next time we see Melinda it is at her wedding to paramedic Jim Clancy, played by David Conrad. During the reception she "sees" something. Her new husband is aware of what she can do and not only that, he accepts that it's real. Melinda is determined not to let "work" get in the way of their special day so she ignores the ghost. It's only when the ghost (played by Wentworth Miller from Prison Break in the only really good performance in this whole thing - you can really believe him as a confused spirit who doesn't know why he's still here) intrudes on her new half-renovated home - a definite no no on the part of the spirit community - that she starts working on his case. This one is a Vietnam era soldier who has been lost for a long time and wants to get back in touch with his wife and family. Melinda does some research and finds out where he likely died and where his old house is. At the house she meets the soldier's son, born after his father's death, and sees the son's pregnant wife. According to Melinda, big events in a family member's life can raise spirits. Eventually she connects the ghost with his son and communicates what the ghost needs to tell his son to him. The end.

As you can tell there really isn't a lot of dramatic tension in this one. The greatest tension comes when Melinda tries to tell the son that she has been in contact with his father, and like just about any sensible human being he explodes, calling her a charlatan and a con artist before throwing her out of his house. There's an interlude where she improves her husband's morale (he doesn't like that they're both in the "death business" but she manages to convince him to keep his job because they're really both in the "life business", and soon after the soldier's son comes to house to tell Melinda that he believes her because his wife contacted the Army and her information gave them a clue to finding the father's body. The hard to believe part is that this all occurred in about five minutes of screen time. There was no pace to it. Moreover the show telegraphed some of it's "big" surprises. When Jim's younger brother came to talk to Melinda at the wedding reception and started telling the story about falling off a roof, I can't believe that I was the only person watching who thought "oh he's a ghost too then."

I won't say that there aren't a couple of nice moments, but ironically they were largely comedic. In one, Melinda is having coffee with her friend and employee Andrea, and of course Andrea (Aisha Tyler, who should be back at CSI soon if this show does as well as I expect it to) is asking about ghosts, specifically whether there are any spirits there - she's another one who accepts that Melinda has these powers no questions asked. Matter of factly Melinda says only two and we see a woman trying to convince her son to ask a waitress on a date and a man yelling in Spanish to the coffee shop owner. In a scene at the American Legion Hall where Melinda has gone to find some information about the soldier, she's accosted by a spirit who wants her to tell the man running the hall (Jon Polito) that the key to the safety deposit box is in her blue raincoat. Melinda tries to give him the idea that people leave things in their coat pockets without revealing that she talks to spirits which only gets her a "What are you talking about?" from both Polito and the ghost of his wife.

Inevitably there will be comparisons between Ghost Whisperer and NBC's Medium. By far Medium is the better program - it isn't even close to being a contest. The scripts in Medium have a better dramatic pace, and the Allison Dubois character has to work hard to understand what her visions mean. When you add the details of Allison's chaotic personal life into the mix you find a far more rounded show. Melinda comes across, in the first episode at least, as a cut out who has every detail of her "cases" handed to her on a silver platter and adds little new age style homilies like "places aren't haunted, people are" into the mix. I can believe in Patricia Arquette's soccer mom psychic as a character a lot easier than I can in Jennifer Love Hewitt's rather one dimensional Melinda.

When CBS announced a fall lineup that dropped Joan Of Arcadia and added Ghost Whisperer someone suggested that the network felt that talking with ghosts got better ratings than talking with God. If this is the best that CBS can do with the idea, I hope - and expect - the ratings to prove them wrong.

No comments: