Thursday, March 28, 2013

Shocked, I tell you, shocked! When television “ghost-hunters” profess shock and awe at what they encounter

Posted By on Thu, Mar 28, 2013 at 12:04 PM

If there is one thing I have learned over the years when trying to convince people I might be good at a job it is this - it is important to exude confidence, and to take everything in your stride. This will in turn inspire confidence - false though it may be at times - in your employer that they have settled upon the right person for the job.

This bit of advice has never seemed to trickle down to the various “investigators” of the paranormal that we see on cable TV, invading barns, homes, restaurants, office buildings and even old prisons on occasion, in their quest for the supernatural.

No, I’m not talking about those pretentious people with a bunch of letters behind their names, and weighed down by too much book learning, but by the boots on the ground, so to speak, the self-professed psychic warriors, demon hunters, exorcists and all-around challengers of those who would go bump in the night.

There is a sad sameness to these programs, as if they are dictated to by folks who claim to know what people like, and so they must not deviate from their format.

Family buys/leases/rents a house (though I did see one episode where a trailer was haunted), and mysterious things begin to happen.

Spooky things.

Family goes to the Yellow Pages - or online, as the case may be - and looks up the local “paranormal” investigative group, who come to house, all wearing matching T-shirts. I have been watching these shows long enough to realize that the choice of clothes is half the battle, when it comes to ghost hunting.

Along with them will come their “resident psychic” (what? She lives with you?) who will go from room to room, and reveal the emanations she is feeling. Often as not, a child is involved. Tears will flow.

A prayer meeting is called. But wait! What’s this? Something far more malevolent is behind the seemingly innocent psychic happenings in the house! “Voices” are caught on tape, usually with just one message:

“Get out!” This is probably the landlord.

Ghost hunters are in a state of open terror.

Yeah, there’s none of the Bill Murray “We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!” Ghostbusters stuff on display here.

Time to call in the heavy guns.

Morton Salt by the truckload is poured around the house, candles are lit, and the ghosts/demons are told to leave. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes . . . they come back.

But through it all, the stalwarts from the Yellow Pages, far from exuding confidence, are almost literally jumping out of their skins - even if they have been called out several times before, they will still act like rubes taken to the Big City for the first time.

And when it is all over? When the demon is exorcized from the teenager or unhappily married woman?

“We finally have proof that something is out there,” one hunter will say, on their way out the door.

No. No. No.

You’re supposed to say, “Why yes, we deal with this stuff all the time! Lucky you found us when you did!” Honestly, these folks need a little of the Bill Murray in them, rather than the Chicken Little - perhaps they should finally admit to the folks paying them good money to investigate this stuff that they have absolutely no experience, and that most of what they know comes from watching cable TV and reading old issues of Phantom Stranger?

Ghost hunters in shock at actually experiencing psychic phenomena? Poor dears. What do they do when the prices go up in the grocery store? Faint?


The Lone Gunmen - yeah, I’d enjoy the nightly news more if these guys were in charge

Spin-offs are kind of a hit or miss proposition. For every Maude there is an After-M*A*S*H*, or an Enos. Spin-offs occur when producers take minor - but interesting - characters and see if audiences will connect with them in a deeper way.

It’s all a crap shoot.

One of the better experiments was The Lone Gunmen, a spin-off from The X Files, which featured the conspiracy buffs/computer hackers whom FBI agent Fox Mulder was constantly consulting. Over the years, the trio’s popularity had grown to the extent that their own series seemed a natural extension of the parent show.

The Lone Gunmen can best be described as counterculture patriots. Never conventional, they nevertheless often managed to be better informed about the doings of the government than Mulder and fellow agent Dana Scully were at times.

The show made its premiere on Fox on March 5, 2001, in an episode which will probably never be shown on television again, due to its uncomfortable connection with 9/11. In the episode a rogue government agency is plotting to take over an aircraft (via remote control) and crash it into the World Trade Center. They come uncomfortably close to doing so, as well.

Watching it now, even 12 years on, is a little creepy, given what happened only a few short months later.

In the second episode our stalwarts Richard "Ringo" Langly, Melvin Frohike, John Fitzgerald Byers (Tom Braidwood, Bruce Harwood, Dean Haglund, Stephen) are joined by two new cast members. Stephen Snedden plays Jimmy Bond, a wealthy supporter of their newspaper, The Lone Gunman. Jimmy is well-meaning but not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

He also has more insight into the human heart than the cynical Lone Gunmen.

The other addition is Adele Harlow (Zuleikha Robinson - Hidalgo, New Amsterdam, Homeland) whose name is an anagram for Lee Harvey Oswald. Though she is their rival, she often helps the quartet out in their cases.

Their cases truly range from the sublime to the ridiculous, as they pursue Nazis, a water-powered car, tango-dancing smugglers and assassins of all shapes and sizes.

Two episodes in particular stand out. In the clever “Planet of the Frohikes,” they come up against an intelligent chimpanzee seeking aid in escaping from a government laboratory. It’s full of Planet of the Apes references, some going by so quickly you’ll have to replay the episode to catch them all.

And in “The Lying Game,” Jimmy Bond is forced to impersonate FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner, through the use of some Mission: Impossible style disguise fakery. Mitch Pillegi of The X Files shows fine comedic form here - why is he always stuck playing hard-asses?

Though their adventures on The X Files found them assisting Mulder and Scully against various government conspiracies, on their own series the trio seemed to find themselves battling corporate skullduggery. Which is just fine with me; those who know about such things realize that the corporate world can be just as deadly as government work.

Canceled after 12 episodes (but today, it might only last a week), the Lone Gunmen returned to occasional - though important to the plot - episodes of The X Files. In the final season of that show, they were killed off in the infamous episode, “Jump the Shark.”

Kill off the Lone Gunmen? Chris Carter, are you insane?

To add insult to injury, the two newest agents on the series (Doggett, Reyes) interacted with the trio throughout the episode, with Scully and Skinner only appearing for their funeral. Mulder, being “on the run” - ask your friends, I ain’t got the time - wasn’t in the episode at all.

It was a poor way to treat characters who had helped make the series as popular as it had become.

The characters returned as ghosts in the final episode of the series, in a brief scene with Fox Mulder. Rumor had it that the actors were very unhappy to return in such a capacity.

Extras on the DVD include TV previews, a short documentary, and the episode of The X Files which killed them off, “Jump the Shark” - which, despite my kvetching, is actually a pretty entertaining episode, and ties things up pretty well, all things considered. I would have included the “origin” story of the Lone Gunmen from the parent series, but I’m sure fans all have episodes they feel should have been included.

You can’t call any X Files DVD collection complete without this quirky little series, which actually stands on its own pretty well.


Quote of the Day

Hunger is the silent enemy. It is a thief in the night that steals away the children in ten thousand villages around the globe. While we Americans worry about overweight and reducing pills, millions of our fellow human-beings are fighting for survival. - George McGovern



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