Paranormal Cops: The Complete Season One Review

The hook behind this hour-long A&E reality show is strong enough: a reality procedural that follows real cops who run a paranormal detective agency on the side. Going in as a well-established skeptic, I was intrigued by the implied promise of the show: if hard-nosed, reality-based Chicago cops are looking into this stuff, they'll be bringing some amount of skepticism and the requirement of actual proof to it. But while they do have a pretty cool van and talk in terms of evidence-collection and procedure, they never do anything to actually scientifically prove any of the evidence they collect is paranormal in nature. So, if you already believe that ghosts and paranormal phenomena exist, this show might be entertaining. If you don't, it makes no attempts at changing your mind.

The first (and apparently only) season of Paranormal Cops is six episodes long, and all are contained on this two-disc set. In the opening voice-over, the show's main protagonist Ron Fabiani explains that he's a Chicago police officer who formed his company (Chicago Paranormal Detectives) when he came across paranormal phenomena he couldn't explain when conducting a police case. He and his team respond to citizens reporting ghosts, hauntings, or any other spooky occurrences they can't explain.

Each episode is one case, and it starts by Ron getting his team together. We meet another couple of cops, a medium and the team's civilian assistant, who runs the mobile C.P.D. Command Center. The Command Center is a pretty nifty van with a lot of fancy technical equipment. The team meets with the person reporting the paranormal activity and gets the details. They then set about their main goal: to investigate the site and determine whether or not there's anything funky going on.

They set up cameras and do a “black out,” in which they turn off all the lights and investigate the areas. They bring in their medium, a perpetually-spooked woman named Moriah, and several technical instruments of nebulous function. There's an EMF Detector, that... well... detects EMFs, I think. Essentially, it does things when the Medium says ghosts are around. Then there's also a light bulb attached to something else that you can't really make out (they're in the dark during these blackouts, after all). In one episode, the investigators tell a ghost to answer questions by lighting up the ghost-light once for yes and twice for no. Some ghosts are actually able to communicate clearly this way.

The investigators also carry along audio recorders, and tell the ghosts that if they yell into them, the investigators may be able to hear what they say in the static later. I've actually heard of this, in the form of a Michael Keaton movie a few years back called White Noise. (As every one knows, if Keaton endorses it, it must be true.) When the investigators play back the static later for their client, the clips sound fairly word-like, but never conclusive, which is a recurring theme of the show.

As stated above, I am a skeptic, and it's hard to remove that from my viewing of the show. However, I think regardless of one's level of belief, the show suffers from not giving Fabiani and his team any opportunity to explain how or why all their cool gadgets work. Seeing a light come on when a medium says a ghost is there is not very compelling to a skeptic. If the moderately charming Fabiani were to explain in layman's terms how he believed the science of what he's doing worked, I'd be much more intrigued.

After the “Blackout Phase,” the investigators research the history of the location, any names or dates that Moriah sensed while in the ghost's presence, and even look for corroborating witnesses that also found the site spooky in the past. They put together a full report and deliver it to their client in a professional manner. They have four levels of paranormal activity, and rate the location on that scale. Typically, the client is relieved to know one way or another if the things he or she has been seeing are legitimately spooky or just imagined. This is the end of the process for the team: there's no ghost-busting or chasing, just an investigation to determine whether or not the location has signs of paranormal activity.

The Chicago Paranormal Detectives do use fairly thorough procedures and go about their investigations in a methodical way. It's clear that they bring the discipline of police investigation to their side job, and viewers who believe in ghosts at the outset will probably be compelled by these cases. Unfortunately, Fabiani and his team don't require the same burden of proof in their conclusions about ghosts as a jury would about a suspect in a crime. And that's where the show falls short for me.

DVD Bonus Features

The 2nd DVD includes a few additional scenes with a bit more explanation as to the procedure the team uses. Nothing that significantly changes the show.

"Paranormal Cops: The Complete Season One" is on sale June 29, 2010 and is not rated. Reality. Directed by Matthew Hobin. Written by Ron Fabiani, Thomas Froelich, Brian Jones. Starring Brian Jones, Ron Fabiani, Thomas Froelich.



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