With this year's run for "Ghost Hunters" nearly complete, giving way to "Ghost Hunters Academy" for the rest of the year and "Ghost Hunters International" in January 2010, I was expecting them to have an episode with a bit more activity. The network usually has them hold back episodes with something substantial or debate-worthy until the end of a run, so the series can hit hiatus on a strong note. With the ratings still remarkably strong, why mess with a winning formula?
Maybe that was the thought behind this episode, because everything felt so formulaic and boilerplate. I've tried to ignore many of the complaints about the predictable structure of the show recently, but with so little else going on, the set piece elements were glaring. The format of the show has been standardized since the second season, but now it's beginning to feel like ritual, right down to the fist bump after each and every case.
I understand and appreciate the comfort of the familiar. I'm an engineer, and we tend to try to model complex systems in familiar, structured ways. Structure is a good thing, even in reality TV. But it also plays into the notion that every single thing about the show is staged to fit the mold. There's a reason why some skeptics and critics claim that TAPS are just paid actors playing to a script. Pilgrim Films knows that the show has a winning formula, so that's the formula the show follows.
I think the overall formula works, in terms of telling the story: introduction, setup, investigation, analysis, findings, conclusion. It's patterned after the typical scientific paper for a reason. It's just that so much of what happens in-between is becoming rote. Jason and Grant always hear footsteps and see shadows, and the editors always break a segment on a "shocking" moment. Jason and Grant always find the best "evidence" or have the most remarkable experience. Steve and Tango try to be the "educators" and will inevitable banter and fool around. Kris and Amy will always work together, with Kris explaining the background to Amy and both of them acting stereotypically jumpy at every little noise. And after every potential noise or incident, the team members must summarize what just happened, even when it was something self-evident and only happened 30 seconds earlier!
It's been happening for a long time, but I think it has been more and more obvious with the emergence of competition in the market. When GHI started, the editors tried to force the team members into stereotypes to an enormous degree, much to the detriment and disgust of the original status quo. Donna, in particular, has been very vocal about how this has been done. With shows like "Ghost Adventures" and "Ghost Lab" adopting a more free-form approach, it makes "Ghost Hunters" look overly conservative in comparison.
I personally feel that this is another price of success. You don't change things when they are working. I think it's the same reason why TAPS has seen little reason to experiment with new ideas or push for more thorough methods. They are getting "evidence", the sub-teams are comfortable with each other, and the show continues to build audience. Why tinker with a good thing? From the production side, I wonder if the editors are pushed to follow a strict formula, or if it's just a matter of churning out episode after episode and doing what comes easy after so long.
This may just seem like another excuse to complain about the show, but I think it's a fair criticism and something that could be easily rectified. Even if Jason and Grant insisted on working together exclusively during most cases, they could still push the rest of the team to shuffle up from time to time. It happens more when additional TAPS members or guest investigators come into play, so why not do it regularly? GHI adopted that practice eventually, and it has worked very well for them.
In terms of the "evidence", the footsteps were interesting, but not conclusive without a camera showing that no one was in the attic at the time. I also suspect that some of it was due to temperature changes as the night progressed, given the geographical location and the fact that the floorboards were already noted to be loose and creaky. On the other hand, the footsteps happened more frequently than one would expect natural wood expansion/contraction to produce. This would have been a great place for a camcorder/geophone combo.
While there was clearly something that sounded like a woman's voice when Jason and Grant were up near the bathroom, it's too hard to say if it was, in fact, a voice. It's a vague noise in the background. They managed to pull a sound profile for the "humming", but even that didn't seem very convincing. (Though it is interesting that Steve specifically says they pulled that off production equipment, which contradicts claims from Jason and Grant over the years that they don't have the ability to review production footage.)
I did like much of the debunking, even if it seemed fairly self-evident most of the time. Why wouldn't the client have suspected the easily-identifiable red cleanser used in the bathroom directly above the mysterious oozing red stain? That doesn't quite add up for me.
The ideal solution might be shifting back to shorter, 6-8 episode runs, 3-4 times a year, to keep the show from feeling quite so stale. Assuming that "Ghost Hunters Academy" is a success (and there's every reason to think it will be, given the state of the franchise), there's opportunity for the network to break up the schedule and keep things fresh. With 27 episodes coming in 2010, it would be very easy to keep falling into the same tried-and-true patterns.