Ghost Whisperer

I’ve watched various episodes of Ghost Whisperer over time, in no particular order. I’m always slightly confused because there are different characters on it every time I happen to catch it. Sometimes Camryn Manheim is on it, sometimes Jamie Kennedy, sometimes Jay Mohr and, in the episode I caught today, Aisha Tyler. So I had to get to the bottom of this and see the original cast in action. A lot of shows switch actors and characters over time, in response to ratings or whatever, but we must assume that the pilot is the closest thing to the creator’s real vision.

To introduce Melinda (Jennifer Love Hewitt) the writers present her to us as a little girl. At a funeral for an old man, she has a predictable interaction with the deceased’s ghost, sharing a secret message with his widow. If you came into this viewing with no idea what the show is about, that takes care of it quickly and cleanly.

We then find the adult Melinda at her wedding reception, perhaps suggesting some parallel between this day and the one at the long ago funeral. She has a heart-to-heart with her new brother-in-law that reveals a few details about her husband Jim (David Conrad). He is a paramedic who recently lost a patient.

The newlyweds move into a new house, the house becoming the source of things creepy that will form the plot of the episode. Melinda immediately starts seeing weird stuff, but since that ghost in the cold open was such a sweetie it’s not quite clear why these new ones are scary.

The show’s “rules” are spelled out through a coffee house conversation Melinda has with her best friend Andrea (Aisha Tyler).  She utters an adage that seems to carry great weight: “Places aren’t haunted. People are haunted.”  Yet, the new house certainly seems haunted, and Melinda claims that ghosts don’t usually make house calls.

The pilot plot revolves around the ghost of an M.I.A. Vietnam soldier (Jensen Ackles) who is looking for his wife. He—or someone—yells at her in a dream, something that apparently happens to her regularly. She tracks down the soldier’s son (Balthazar Getty). Although Melinda has been assisting sprits for most of her life, she’s really awkward and embarrassed when it comes time to talk to the living relatives.

By this point, I’m wondering why the writers bothered with the cold open of Melinda as a child. If they were telling us that the talking to ghosts thing is old hat for her, then why does it seems so fresh and scary in her adulthood? Why did they choose her wedding day as the point of attack for this story?

The other unexplained circumstance is that Melinda has recently promised her husband she’ll cut back on the ghost counseling business. Yet her husband seems okay with her vocation, at least until he has his own crisis of faith about being a paramedic. Finally, a Shamylan-style twist keeps this pilot from completely dying on the vine.

Eventully, of course, she reunities father and son through a tearful exchange one-sided exchange. She paraphrases what the ghost says—something I’ve noticed she does in other episodes as well—going to far as to correct his grammar. But I guess you’d be smug, too, if you had supernatural powers.

When all is done and the dead have gone into the light, this pilot doesn’t leave me feeling that I’ve gotten to know these characters. It has been more about how life, death, and afterlife work, and we’ve had that spelled out at least a thousand times since Carol Anne got sucked into the TV. The next episode could just as well be about a different ghost whisperer, solving another ghost’s quest for closure. So, as a pilot I wouldn’t say this episode carries its weight. And with all the subsequent changes one feels like there must have been a lot of “this show would be pretty good if only…” Although it ran for 5 seasons, the network finally threw in the towel last year. (A rumor that ABC is going to pick it up was apparently unfounded.) Jennifer Love Hewitt says an emotional good-bye here.

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