It wasn’t always this way. At one point, TV producers across the country were practically falling over themselves to create insipid shows from virtually the same mold. Now, it seems, the bubble has finally burst.
It’s easy to see why: schlocky execution and an aversion to risk turned what I once saw as entertaining — and somewhat unconventional — programming into lowest common denominator idiocy. The genre is now nigh-unwatchable, awash in moronic posturing and bereft of any pretense to reason. The “House that ‘Sightings’ built” has been dismantled to its very foundations.
Or is it? We may now be witnessing a turning point in paranormal programming: SyFy’s “Ghost Mine.” Rather than Deadheads following the actual dead or a meathead version of the Scooby-Doo team, “Ghost Mine” focuses on one location for an entire season. And in doing so, the show displays how experiences of the paranormal affect participants on emotional and even physical levels. No “wham bam thank you ma’am” investigation porn here: “Ghost Mine” is invested in its location and premise.
The location is an abandoned Oregon mine, recently purchased by an owner ready to strike it rich who has hired a ragtag crew of experienced miners and greenhorn rookies to plumb the geological depths. The previous crew supposedly fled of the mine in fear of “Tommy-Knockers” (an old-time miner superstition), which inspires the owner to hire a pair of paranormal investigators to join the grizzled workers. The formula provides plenty of tension between the miners and the investigators (one of whom is a female and creates strife simply by entering the caves — a big no-no in miner superstition and folklore).
The two leads, Patrick Doyle and Kristen Luman, embody a yin-yang approach to investigation. The pair butt heads repeatedly on the origin of ghostly sounds and winds from the depths and often find themselves battling skeptical miners while trying to pacify the superstitious long-beards.
The most humanizing element of “Ghost Mine” are its miners, who pay tribute to the superstitions and folklore of their profession’s past. While the investigators provide plenty of that paranormal ka-pow required of a ghost hunting program, the miners take the show to a whole new realm. These men have found themselves at the end of their financial ropes, struggling to keep families together and roofs above their heads are working in one of the most dangerous occupations to boot. And they ain’t afraid of no ghost.
Well, at least most of them.
The miners sacrifice their physical safety to feed their families, and testing their bravery and resolve by continuously entering a decaying, sometimes collapsing, mine. Although the show obviously recreates some experiences, by mid-season, the miners’ words and expressions convey very real fear of both paranormal and normal occupational hazards. “Ghost Mine” is a testament to the courage of multiple generations of miners — those who lost their lives or put them on the line to feed their families. For that at least, the show is worthy of recognition.
Although the first season only lasted a handful of episodes with some doubt as to the appearance of a second season, the creators and cast members of “Ghost Mine” should take pride in having done something different in a genre many thought was well past its sell-by date.