You can almost hear an audible groan when a new paranormal series starts. We’ve come to expect creepy music, cheap special effects, and people you’ve never heard of proclaiming themselves to be experts at demons, ghosts, and everything in between. Yet somehow, Destination America’s new show Ghost Stalkers which premiered Sunday, October 19th, provides relief from the exhausted formula.
Starring respected paranormal investigator and author John E.L. Tenney (interviewed here at WF? back in 2012) and his cohort Chad Lindberg, actor and excitable chihuahua, the duo seek out the veil between worlds. (It’s worth mentioning here that Lindberg was in Series 5 Episode 9 of The X Files, titled ‘Schizogeny’.) Not content with just trying to experience paranormal phenomena, these men explore the line between the world we know and the world of the unexplained, be it portals, wormholes, or some other doorway separating the two.
If Shaggy and Daphne from Scooby Doo broke off from the gang and went Hollywood, their reality show might be something quite comparable. And if the “closed inside for 48 hours” part sounds a bit familiar, it’s worth mentioning that Nick Goff of Ghost Adventures is behind the creation of the show. Tenney and Lindberg seem an unlikely pairing; one is an actor who seems to shriek in fear at the slightest noise, while the other carries on his work in a Dragnet “just the facts, ma’am” manner. Yet somehow, the dynamic works well, even if it does feel at times that Lindberg is the hysterical lab rat being observed by Tenney.
Tenney’s supposition that the upstairs “goatman” creature is likely evil because half man, half goat creatures in the past were often thought to be evil or demonic is something I would refute, though. Satyrs such as Pan from mythology were believed to be fertility spirits known to be lewd and disruptive. Evil intentions cannot be assumed about these creatures, though their behavior should be described as drunk and disorderly conduct. Damnation of pagan belief systems by the Christian churches often linked these and other benevolent symbols with evil, witchcraft, and demonic forces.
According to Tenney himself, though, that’s actually what he did say. He told me, “…in my original narration for the show, I discussed pre-Christian animal totems and how they were converted into demons and devils by the Church….all of which was edited into what people heard on the show minus all the pre-Christian/Christian influence stuff.” (That’s a relief, and I’m sorry if I came across like Fox News.) That only goes to show that editing can remove a lot of what someone says and does. But if you’re familiar with the inner workings of network television, you already knew that.
What is refreshing in their first episode is the technical equipment. While the usual night-vision cameras and digital recorders are in their arsenal of evidence-gathering devices, they also carry out some truly astonishing and interesting machinery straight out of the mind of Egon Spengler. A device to detect radiation and electromagnetic fluctuations on a screen like a digital seismograph? Genius. It seems that finally, television has made the leap to trying to figure out what types of energies are involved with paranormal activity instead of just regurgitating the tired old “ghosts are definitely static/electromagnetic energy because they are” non-logic. In fact, Tenney’s conclusions that whatever inhabits the Whispers Estate comes from a different dimension seems less like superstitious mumbo-jumbo and more like time-space pondering.
Without the dramatic reenactments and “look at our awesome black t-shirts” you find in so many paranormal reality shows, the cleanness and shirt-and-tie presence hearkens back to the good old days of Loyd Auerbach, Hans Holzer, and the classic investigators of the past who were methodical and serious about their pursuits. Actual historical facts and documentation replace silly, bloody actor portrayals of events. Of course, it’s still television… and still a story-driven piece of entertainment. But being entertainment, it’s a stark contrast to Destination America’s other show, Ghost Asylum, where a team of five Tennessee brothers set out to capture a ghost. While it sounds like high-tech Ghostbusters brought to life, it marches to the same tired ‘sensational paranormal television’ drumbeat.
While it’s too early to judge the show on all its merits, Ghost Stalkers is promising. John Tenney isn’t some bearded amateur or pretty airhead. His Weird Lectures are well-known and liked, and he’s an actual bona fide investigator with nearly three decades under his belt, not a product of the network machine. (Hopefully, his realness, logic, and paranormal street smarts can keep the show from becoming yet another supernatural circus of the absurd.
Ghost Stalkers airs Sundays at 10:00PM EST on Destination America.