At some point over the last few years, A&E (The Arts And Entertainment Channel) went from showing classy dramas, arthouse films and foreign imports to jumping on the reality TV bandwagon. As a result, they've been pumping out all manner of screwy shows, from the mighty Steven Seagal's Lawman to this series, Paranormal Cops, which is sort of a mix between Lawman and Ghost Hunters but not nearly as good or as interesting as either one of those shows. The series follows an organization called The Chicago Paranormal Detectives, a group of four men who work as actual Chicago Police Department officers during the day and who spend their nights and weekends applying 'their investigative expertise to paranormal casework.'
The four core members are Sergeant Ron Fabiani, Detective Tom Froelich, Officer Austin Weinstock, and Officer Pete Schleich who are aided by a woman named Moriah Rhame who claims to be a psychic and they have a techy assistant guy named Brian Jones to handle monitoring the various pieces of equipment that they use to carry out their jobs. The series is yet another Ghost Hunters knock off and the law enforcement aspects of the series, which would have served to make it stand out on its own and differentiate it from the countless other ghost and paranormal series which are littering the airwaves of various cable networks these days. There isn't really much emphasis put on that side of things, however, and what we get are six half hour episodes of guys running around spooky locations in the dark shot with night vision cameras trying to find evidence of spiritual activity and haunting. Puzzlingly, in the first episode you will see one of the guys carrying a gun - whether or not that's to defend from possible human problems or to shoot at the ghosts is never really revealed as it's never used, but alongside the occasional firearm the guys use EVP recorders, EMF readers and different cameras to try to find what they're looking for. Sound familiar?
The six episodes that make up the first season are presented in the following order:
Casa Madrid: This premiere episode brings the team to Big Timer's Sound Shop to investigate a possible haunting. The location used to be used by the mob during its heyday in Chicago as both a speakeasy and an underground Casino.
Victim's Revenge: A Barat College student feels that an abandoned woman's school may be haunted and so she calls in the CPD to take a look around and see what they can find. Apparently a student killed herself in the building back in 1916 and her spirit may or may not be haunting the area.
Stirring Up The Dead: When the owner's of the Stag's Head restaurant decide to renovate the building, previously dormant spirits now make themselves known and apparently they aren't too happy with the changes being made. The haunting may have something to do with a murder that took place in the restaurant years ago.
Dead Man Walking: A Chicago Fire Department station brings the CPD team in to check out some bizarre happenings. Once they arrive, a few members of the team get inexplicably sick while resident psychic Moriah feels she can confirm the existence of two spirits in the building that may have something to do with that.
Megan's Ghost: A woman claims that when she spent the night in the guest room at her friend's house she woke up while being choked by an unseen element. This seems to tie in with a young girl named Megan who was best friends with a girl who lived in the home before she passed away at a very young age.
Messages From Beyond: The last episode shows Ron and his team at the behest of a fellow police officer who wants their help trying to figure out what's happening in the massive old banquet room where he works part time as a security guard.
If you're an absolutely Ghost Hunters fanatic or a TV viewer who just flat out cannot get enough paranormal programming, you'll probably enjoy this series even if it doesn't really bring anything new to the game. There are some interesting inexplicable (at least if you're willing to suspend your disbelief and not assume off camera interference plays a part in the show) incidents that occur throughout the show and which are interesting to see/hear and to think about. It's entertaining enough in its own right but so too is it almost entirely unoriginal aside from the fact that it takes place in Chicago. The series does tie in some local history, like Al Capone's legacy and different mob history elements, into their investigations now and again. These do provide a welcome change and give it a little bit of its own flair, but these are really just sidelines rather than the focus of the show.
The series is shot on video and sometimes with infrared cameras and under less than ideal lighting conditions but for the most part, everything comes through looking pretty good even if, for some reason, A&E has presented the series in non-anamorphic 1.78.1 widescreen (a ridiculous choice and yet one that is far too common with their TV series releases). There's some video noise in a few spots but that's part and parcel with the format and the way that this series has been shot. Overall there aren't any serious issues with the transfer in terms of mpeg compression artifacts, edge enhancement, or damage to the elements used for the presentation. It doesn't look perfect, nor will it ever, but it is definitely watchable.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is on par, in terms of presentation quality, with the video in that the way that it was recorded and the conditions under which it was recorded have affected the audio quality. Thankfully, again like the video, the dialogue comes through clean and clear and the added background music never really drowns anything out or hurts anything much at all. There aren't any problems in terms of hiss or distortion and while there are some fluctuations with the levels, for the most part this track is fine.
Extras are slight in this set but on the second disc you'll find a selection of seven deleted scenes with a combined running time of just over sixteen minutes. Some of these sequences are moderately interesting and were probably cut from the various episodes for pacing reasons as they tend to focus less on the more sensational and speculative supernatural side of the series and more on the explanative side. Aside from that, there's not much here save for some very simple menus and episode selection. Oddly enough, there's more supplemental content on A&E's website than there is on this DVD set. Given the brief running time of the six episodes that make up the first season, it's a shame that they couldn't be bothered to at least slap some of that pre-existing content into the set.
Paranormal Cops is interesting at times, through almost wholly unoriginal. Fans of paranormal shows will enjoy it for what it is, and that's a fairly blatant Ghost Hunters knock off, though A&E's non-anamorphic transfers are a definite strike against the set and the fact that it is very light on extra features doesn't help much either. Those who know they enjoy the show will probably want to pick it up regardless, anyone else even remotely interested will probably be best served with a rental first, rather than a blind buy.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.