[07/20/05 - 12:00 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Ghost Whisperer" (CBS)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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With the official start of the 2005-06 season less than two months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at two of the 47 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.

There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entries:

(Fridays at 8:00/7:00c this fall)

The network's description: "GHOST WHISPERER (Friday, 8:00 PM) stars Jennifer Love Hewitt ("Party of Five") in a drama, inspired by the work of famed medium James Van Praagh, about Melinda Gordon (Hewitt), a young newlywed with the unique ability to communicate with the earthbound spirits of people who have died and who seek her help. Melinda uses her gift to relay significant messages and important information to the living, but sometimes the messages she receives are intense and confusing. As a result, she is often met with questions and skepticism by the survivors. But when Melinda is able to help both the lost souls who contact her and those who are still alive, she knows that her unique talent is an asset and not a liability. David Conrad ("Profiler") and Aisha Tyler ("CSI: Crime Scene Investigation") also star."

What did they leave out: It's basically everything you'd expect.

The plot in a nutshell: Newlyweds Melinda Gordon (Jennifer Love Hewitt), an antiques dealer, and Jim Clancy (David Conrad), a paramedic, have just moved into their new home, a fixer-upper in a quaint, suburban town. Melinda, however, is no ordinary young bride however as we learn she has the ability to see and communicate with ghosts. It seems she developed the ability at a young age (as evidenced by the show's opening sequence) but she's since opted to ignore her gift and try to live a normal life. And since normal life makes boring TV, she gets a wake-up call in the form of the ghost of a dead solider (the ever-busy Wentworth Miller) who proceeds to spook her with writing on windows and the usual hocus-pocus. It seems, like all ghosts, he has some unfinished business, namely a son whom he never knew (he died in combat before his wife gave birth) and wants Melinda to help him make amends. You'll easily be able to fill in the blanks from here as a reluctant Melinda seeks out the son and tries to convince him she's talking to her dead father, etc., etc. Intermixed between handling her "case," we're privy to Melinda's interactions with a few other ghosts (who "comically" pester her to do things as she goes about her day), are introduced to her co-worker Andrea Moreno (Aisha Tyler, in a surprisingly small role) and get some back-story about Jim (he decided to become a paramedic after watching his brother die at a young age). That's more or less it as Melinda finally gives the ghost peace and realizes she must continue using her gift after all.

What works: Melinda and Jim's marriage is actually the best part of the show as there's a real sense of intimacy between the two as they deal with her ghostly issues (sorry, I couldn't resist). There's also a cute (albeit telegraphed) flashback in which Melinda talks to Jim's brother at her wedding and he gives her some sage advice to be used when things get too tough.

What doesn't: "Ghost Whisperer" is actually not a bad show, it just feels like a by-the-numbers retread of everything we've seen before in the genre. That's not to say it's not enjoyable either, at least in the "I stumbled across it" sort of way. As I mentioned before, it's basically everything you'd expect - a cute, if slightly melodramatic drama with some brief scares (at least in terms of your typical 8:00/7:00c show) and some dopey comedy. That being said, there's the temptation to pick apart the show because it "replaced" "Joan of Arcadia" and Les Moonves said some lame comments about ghosts being more relevant to younger viewers than God, but on its own terms it is what it is - a "take it or leave it" kind of show.

The challenges ahead: Will more viewers flock to "Ghost" than "Joan" as CBS hopes? Is there room in the psychic genre for yet another show? We'll find out for sure this fall on CBS.

  [july 2005]  


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