I was on the fence as to whether or not I should bother reviewing this series. For one thing, I've been avoiding reviews for other recent additions to the genre, like "Ghost Adventures" and "Ghost Lab" based on time constraints. My original reason for covering this show was simply the notion that it would be occupying the timeslot for "Ghost Hunters". So while I am reviewing this show for now, I make no promises for the future.
To some degree, it bothers me that thousands of people signed up to be trained as a TAPS investigator. Some of them may be thinking that it would be one way to bring better techniques and methodology to the team, or at least some innovation. But I'm willing to bet that most of them look to TAPS as the best in the business, just like the voiceover at the beginning of the episode tells us they are. And that means that the ongoing technical and investigative shortcomings as seen on "Ghost Hunters" will continue to dominate the field.
This is especially true when they say that the recruits can't learn what they're about to learn from books. That's simply not true. A lot of the "theories" put out by TAPS and a lot of other groups out there were originally passed down in books and traditions over the years, and these days, there are dozens of books about how to conduct paranormal investigations. Some of them are actually better in terms of explaining the whys and wherefores.
I also find it very interesting that this search for a new member of the TAPS family is essentially about finding a new sixth member of GHI. (Fans of "Ghost Hunters International" know that the sixth member of the team changes more frequently than the drummer for Spinal Tap.) Was that made clear to the people who signed up for this little boot camp?
I call it a boot camp because for an "academy", there's hardly any instruction taking place. And all five of these recruits could use some serious instruction. I'm just not sure that Steve and Tango are the right ones to be giving pointers on how to conduct investigations. The two of them are such frat boys on "Ghost Hunters" that it's hard to take them seriously as hardass paranormal drill sergeants.
To be fair, I think Steve brings up a lot of good points, especially when he calls the recruits out for not paying attention or falling into psychological traps. The problem is that we see the entire TAPS team violate a lot of those rules on a regular basis. For example, in the episode that aired on the very same night, we see the investigative teams sitting down, staring in the same direction. It happens all the time on the show. If these recruits are all fairly new to the field and learned most of what they know from "Ghost Hunters", who is to blame for their poor investigative skills?
(As an aside, why does TAPS use MiniDV cameras when the current technology is mostly direct flash memory and hard drive cameras, including affordable HD cameras? I understand that there is a benefit to physical media, in terms of maintaining a master copy, but proper digital data maintenance is a given in the commercial world today. Applying similar safeguards and protocols to the paranormal investigative field wouldn't be that difficult, and it would eliminate the problem of changing out tapes every 30-60 minutes.)
I also found it hard to swallow when Steve talked about how wrong it is to pass mistakes off onto someone else. Steve has been shown doing that in the past, especially when Brian Harnois was part of the TAPS team. One might assume that he has learned his lesson in the years since those incidents, but it still left me wondering. On the other hand, I think it's important to realize that people are capable of learning from their mistakes, and they are capable of changing their mind. (Just as they are capable of falling into patterns and making poor choices.)
As far as the recruits go, they appear to have been selected to maximize the drama. Susan Slaughter is the perfect example. Throughout the entire investigation, she refuses to own up to her own bad choices. Steve calls her out for it in the beginning, but it just seems to continue. For example, when Steve confronts Susan and Ben about leaving one area after only 40 minutes, she claims that someone asked them to leave. I'm shocked that Steve didn't jump all over that.
The whole empath business also felt less than genuine. Young and eager investigators claim to be sensitive all the time. Very often, there's nothing to back it up, other than a desire to be special and look more talented than they are. Based on what was shown in the episode, Susan is the kind of investigator that covers her shortcomings and anxiety by claiming that she's having an overwhelming empathic episode. This may sound cruel and judgmental, but that's the way the episode made her look.
Heathyr Hoffman comes out looking a bit better, although I share reservations about using mediums. Her decision not to go on the tour was a bad one, because it placed her ability above the stated goal of using the technical side of things to validate her claimed abilities. I'm surprised that Steve didn't insist that she go on the tour and make it clear that it was about playing well with others.
Her investigative style could also be a problem. Despite trying to fit into a team that doesn't use sensitives (at least, not openly), much of her investigative technique seemed to be based on her psychic impressions. She's cute, which will serve her well in the short-term, but she should focus less on what she feels she knows and more on what TAPS is trying to find in a recruit. (It's what any employment adviser would tell someone to do when preparing for an interview, which this essentially is.)
Chris McCune struck me as very pretentious. If there's one big problem with this method of selecting recruits, it's how often it forces people to show off in the attempt to make a quick, positive first impression. I can't stand being in that position, even when I am an expert on a subject. Chris kept trying to look good for Steve and Tango, and it just wasn't working very well.
Ben Smith managed to get the one intriguing piece of "evidence" for the entire investigation, but he also seemed to be hurt by guilt through association, thanks to being with Susan. He also seems to be the least experienced out of the group, which shouldn't be seen as a disadvantage. If anything, it should make it easier to teach him solid techniques, if that's what Steve and Tango were really trying to do.
Karl Pfeiffer is probably the best of the lot so far, even if he has yet to really distinguish himself in any major way. But that may be best at this point; relatively solid investigation technique is probably better than kissing up and failing miserably at it.
The main problem with the show is that it doesn't quite make sense on a fundamental level. As I said before, there is very little practical instruction taking place. At the very least, the team should have consisted of an even number of recruits, and Steve and Tango should have accompanied them on their investigation assignments. Forcing them to investigate on their own, without guidance, only to criticize their mistakes, makes me think that this is all a setup and the next TAPS recruit was already chosen long before the series hit air.
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