I tried to stay away, really I did. After my last foray into paranormal reality shenanigans, I decided the wiser course of action was to ignore the subgenre entirely and hope I hadn't engendered permanent ill will among the sinister denizens of the infernal regions.
But with July 4 looming, I realized it was both my duty and my patriotic obligation to go once more into the breach of ghost-hunting shenanigans. Ladies and gentlemen, here's Haunted Highways.
Establishing the credibility of your ghost-hunting show is difficult when the lead-in is "WWE SmackDown." Then again, it's kind of a perfect fit; John Cena might very well be a jort-clad cyborg.
For starters, I almost felt bad watching the promos for Haunted Highway and wondering aloud, "Who's the dude that looks like a chubby Pacey from Dawson's Creek?" Turns out that's none other than Jack Osbourne, son of Ozzy Osbourne, recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Unpleasant as MS is, "bloated Pacey Witter" is about as accurate a description of Jack O as you're likely to get, and all thanks to me. I am so smart. S-M-R-T. I mean, S-M-A-R-T.
The premise of Haunted Highway, if synapses fried by the stutter-cut intro are to be trusted, involves two teams of "paranormal investigators" with "no camera crew" and "no backup" searching for "things that don't want to be found." I guess the first episode will be looking for the real murderers of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman.
Ha-ha, no...it's actually the Bear Lake Beast, of Bear Lake, Utah. Jack and his research associate, Dana Workman, whose paranormal bona fides include hosting Poker2Nite on Fox Sports Net and posing for bikini pics, get the skinny from one Brian Hitschi, who claims to have seen the beast. He gives a few vague descriptions, then agrees to let Jack borrow his boat. Meanwhile, Dana and her cheekbones set up infrared cameras on the shore.
The very scientific method of pointing a searchlight at the water doesn't bear fruit, so he heads further out, where the onboard sonar picks up a...thing. Further investigation with a camera duct taped to a pole also -- shockingly -- reveals nothing.
Trying a different tack, they meet with a marine biologist. The guy looks and talks like Bobby from Supernatural, which lends paranormal cred...I guess. His advice for Jack, who's planning on going on a night dive: "be careful." Naturally the guy is in a bind: On one hand, he's a scientist and has to maintain some level of skepticism; on the other...you don't want to put the kibosh on one of the few tourist attractions on the Utah-Idaho border.
The dive is plagued with unexplained phenomena like "poor visibility," while on the surface, Dana is beset by terrifying things like "waves" and "temperature variations" on her IR camera. There's some minor tension when Jack goes radio silent for 20 minutes, but he returns to the boat with a cow bone found in an underwater cave. Surely there can be no logical explanation for this.
The other HH team consists of ex-Paranormal Files reporter Jael de Pardo and Devin Marble, a...video decipherer. Their mission: give the "Hairy Man" of Vergas, MN a Brazilian. Okay, not really.
They meet with a local eyewitness who claims to have been chased by the Hairy Man (or a tall Rastafarian) and gives Jael and Devin directions to someplace called "Squatch Point" to set up IR cameras.
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Seriously, Squatch Point? Do they even contemplate the possibility that they're being fucked with?
Amazingly, the time-honored anthropological tactics of running clumsily through the woods and banging on trees provide inconclusive results. I don't care how many times they say, "Holy shit!" over a "freshly" broken branch; we live in an age where the average 12-year-old can convincingly Photoshop breasts onto the Pope. Modern audiences are going to require a lot more evidence than blurry infrared images and Blair Witch-style nostril flaring before they believe in mythic creatures.
Jael sums up their failed mission thusly: "I've tried searching for four different kind of Sasquatches, and right now this is the closest I've ever come to encountering anything like one." Sage words.
I've said it before: I'd like to believe in things like the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot or Eskimos, but we've been hearing rumors of their existence for decades with no payoff. It doesn't matter how many of these shows SyFy trots out every year. Until one of these yahoos gets disemboweled on camera, nobody's going to believe.