The good news about the eighth season premiere of Ghost Hunters is that it sticks to its business. When this show first premiered, back in the innocent days when the SyFy channel still spelled its own name right, it tried to mix ghost hunting with little peeks inside the personal lives of the ghost hunters, to create a form that the network's publicists liked to call "docu-soap." But even though the show was a hit pretty much from the start, there was some grumbling from those who tuned in to see a team of trained investigators search for evidence that there were those who had managed to defy the line separating the living and the dead, and who didn't really enjoy listening to a couple of moonlighting guys from Roto-Rooter wonder bitch about they should go to their high school reunion. So the personal stuff was weeded out, and now we have a lean, mean, ghost-hunting machine of a show that devotes its energies to exploring, as the opening narration of tonight's show puts it, "an amusement park where a paranormal entity is disrupting family fun! A little girl's spirit still yearns for more playtime! Can the team reach a restless soul still riding roller coasters from beyond the dead!?"
The amusement park in question is Kings Island in Mason, Ohio, a setting that once served as host to very special episodes of The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch. I was hoping that it would turn out that the place was haunted by the ghosts of Robert Reed and a hooker who Danny Bonaduce murdered while in the throes of a cocaine frenzy when he was twelve, but as the P.R. rep for the park explained, the spectral entity who's been scaring the clean-up crew is that of a child, "a girl in a little blue dress." "She's been seen around the front gate, and out at the cemetery at the edge of the park," he said. She's also been sighted at White Water Canyon. When he said the words "front gate", we got to see a shot of the front gate, with the words "FRONT GATE" helpfully splashed across the image. When he said "White Water Canyon," we got to see a body of water with the words "WHITE WATER CANYON" superimposed on the screen. When he said "cemetery at the edge of the park", we were shown a cemetery at the edge of the park, but nobody had taken the trouble to flash the words "CEMETERY AT THE EDGE OF THE PARK." I hope somebody gets fired over that.
Jason Hawes, the ghost hunter who looks like the star of Dave's Old Porn, cautioned the P.R. guy that "eighty percent" of the cases they investigate turn out to be bullshit, so even though they'd come all this way to stage a walking sleepover on the grounds of the park and give him a clean bill of ectoplasmic health, he shouldn't expect them to be anything but doubting and diligent. Grant Wilson, the ghost hunter whose rough-hewn, half-asleep look sometimes makes you wonder if he's being played by Shea Whigham, radiated unspoken assent. At times like this, you have to wonder if all that attention they get from people like James Randi and the editorial board of Skeptical Inquirer sometimes gets on the ghost hunters' nerves. If it does, it shouldn't. The representatives of the reality-based community sitting in the peanut gallery may have the spirit of the Age of Enlightenment on their side, but the ghost hunters have the ratings and the machines that go "ping!"
It got dark, and a title card with the day and time flashed onscreen—something that happens frequently on this show, presumably because somebody associated with it saw The Shining when he was an impressionable age and jumped pretty high when the screen went black and the word "Tuesday" appeared—and then the ghost hunters were all over the place. While Jason and Grant checked out the park's restaurant, which was said to be the site of weird noises at night, Amy and Adam took the front gate and the cemetery. Adam was identified as an "Investigator in Training", which I guess makes him the ghost-hunting equivalent of the guy on Wild Kingdom who Marlin Perkins would order to get out of the truck and walk over to that tiger to see what it was eating. He and Amy investigated the possibility that there might be a ghost three feet in front of them by wandering around in the dark, saying things like, "Hello, we're looking for a little girl." "We're not going to make you leave." "Your mother's very worried." My heart went out to them.
The next morning— "FRIDAY, 9:15 A.M.!"—Jason and Grant sat down with the P.R. guy and told him that there were scientific explanations for the noises in the restaurant, but that they'd somehow caught on tape what sounded like the voice of a little girl asking for her mother. The P.R. guy was all, huh, how about that, come back anytime and let me know when this shit airs. One fist bump and a "Good case, brother" later, and ("TUESDAY, 3:25 P.M.") the team was off to Antrim, New Hampshire, where a woman who'd grown up in a haunted house and had just gotten used to "interesting things" happening had started wondering if, on behalf of her own children, she should be a little concerned. Jason, summing up the mix of eerie suggestion and down-to-earth homeyness that characterizes the show, said to the camera, "We really wanted to look into this shadowy, black apparition she sees, sometimes when she's doing the laundry." Meanwhile, a team member was sitting outside in a van, claiming to be monitoring the video feed recording the activity inside one of the bedrooms, though it was pretty clear that he'd changed the channel and was watching Paranormal Activity.
This time, the ghost hunters brought home the goods. "I have no reason to doubt there's something here," one of them whispered as they made their way through the house after lights out. But what? They decided to take a direct approach, setting out a couple of flashlights and asking any ghosts who were there and feeling chatty to communicate with them, flashing the lights on and off in response to "yes" or "no" questions. The ghost signaled "Yes" to the questions "Are you a member of the Colby family" and "Do you want to leave this house?" and "No" to the question, "Do you know that you've passed away, that you're dead?", because there was no flash light to signal, "Wait, I'm what!?" Having seen The Sixth Sense and The Others, this was not my introduction to the idea that someone could die and not notice, and at the risk of appearing small-minded, I have to say that any dead person who falls into this category may not have been observant enough to really count as a loss. I'm in no position to scold people for being the last to know they have a problem, but if I were a ghost, I'm pretty sure I'd catch on the first time I reached for the remote and my hand went through the TV table.
Ghost Hunters reminds me of what I thought it would be like to be a grown-up when I was eight or nine. Me and my buddies would acquire a van, drive it all over hither and yon, seeing America and having adventures, and occasionally get to use my "I know more than you do" voice while telling someone who'd asked for my help to remain calm while I played this tape of his long-dead father asking whether there are jet packs yet and what were the Devil Inside people thinking, with that ending? I never imagined that the van would have "Roto-Rooter" on one side of it, because at eight or nine, I didn't yet grasp just how on the nose life can be. I can't recommend this show, which is designed to insult your intelligence more than you ever thought any show could while simultaneously boring you blind. But on behalf of my inner eight-or-nine-year-old, it's kind of nice to know that someone is out there who's living the dream.
"A creepy situation and creepy people," Grant says, "are two different things." "Very much so," says Jason. Grant's point escapes me, but the way Jason delivered that line makes me think he has some interesting stories to tell, which may or may not be ghost-related.