The other night, Heidi and I finished watching all 85 episodes of A&E’s Paranormal State via Netflix. The show follows Penn State’s Paranormal Research Society, founded by PRS director and minor Twitter celebrity Ryan Buell, as they investigate sites across the country that claim to be haunted. I actually started watching it before Heidi did, and she joined me probably after about the 20th episode. I didn’t think she would like it because of her general distaste for horror and spooky things like that. However, I found that after a while, the ghostly nature of the show took a back seat to some of the best cheese and campiness we’ve seen in quite some time.
As most people know, this paranormal shit really appeals to me – especially to my inner Fox Mulder. Is it true? Is it bogus? Much like how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop, the world may never know. But I don’t care, I want to believe. That’s why it’s always good for me to have more than a couple of Scullys in my life (you know who you are) to help me balance this kind of thing out.
Paranormal State really started out strong. They did a good job of introducing the team and we really got to know them, much like we do characters in a good hour-long drama – Sergey, the tech specialist. Katrina, the interviewer, Eilfie, the occult specialist and of course, Ryan, PRS director. The characters were consistent through the episodes, but they also mixed it up by bringing in different psychics which included the “queen of the demonologists” Lorraine Warren. The cases were grounded and they only every now and then did the production of the episode really overdo it.
I’m not sure where it went from semi-serious investigation of the paranormal to stuff that Heidi and I laughed out loud at. It might have been the “demon-possessed” girl from the episode “I Am Six.” Maybe it was the episode where psychic Chip Coffey wore cut ping pong balls over his eyes to heighten his psychic experience. Maybe it was there from the beginning and I just didn’t notice it, so wanting to be on board with it. Their use of dramatic sound effects and quick camera cuts, supposedly there to heighten tension and add to the dramatic effect, was more distracting than anything else.
I really started to lose it when every episode featured the team demanding that whatever spirit is in the house “show itself.” This also coincided with a large amount of cursing and swearing on camera, which had been noticeably absent from earlier episodes. The addition of Chad (whose presence I grew extremely weary of) certainly didn’t help much.
I think in the end, it was the deliberately bad editing to make you think something paranormal MIGHT be happening rather than just let the evidence speak for itself was what made the last season so hard to take. That and the new and “improved” opening credits featuring dramatic thunder and lightning and a dead-serious monologue by Ryan. Plus for me, the addition of Lorraine Warren, who has steadfastly defended the supernatural claims outlined in The Amityville Horror even though such claims have been clearly debunked, always made it a little hard for me to truly believe anything she said. Also not helping was Ryan’s apparent God complex and the tendency of either him or the producers to make him the central point of the show. Although that might have been a good thing, because the last episode streaming on Netflix was Paranormal State: The New Class which featured all new investigators. We couldn’t finish it. Ryan may be a bit of a narcissist, but there’s no doubt that he really held the show together.
The show probably left more questions unanswered than it actually answered. But for me, the biggest unanswered question of the show was: are sweater vests really back in style? Because in that last season (2010-2011), Ryan and Sergey rocked the sweater vests like no one I’ve seen since the late 90s.