If you've see and enjoyed the first four seasons of Paranormal State, then this latest, season five, will likely be a no-brainer for you as it's basically more of the same. For those not in the know, the 'reality show' which airs on A&E follows a young man named Ryan Buell who founded the Paranormal Research Society when he was a nineteen year old student at Penn State. Buell states in the opening of each episode that he's always felt a connection to the paranormal, and as such he started this group in school to team up with like-minded individuals to head out across the country and investigate various haunting and the like. During each investigation, the team will go into 'Dead Time' which is basically when they turn off all the lights in whatever building they're checking out and hope to spot or communicate with whatever spirits may be around. The show is a lot like other paranormal/ghost shows on TV these days, like Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters, though this series injects more of Buell's personality into things to differentiate itself. Sometimes this works in interesting ways, such as when he finds himself dealing with his Catholic upbringing and religious convictions, while other times it feels a bit like Buell is playing into his own cult of personality.
Like Ghost Hunters, each episode starts off with a basic run down of what Ryan and his team are going to be up against. The team members can and do change from episode to episode, with various personal drama coming into play here and there and having an effect sometimes on the outcome of any given assignment. A perfect example of this being when team psychic Michelle Belanger takes issue with one particular spirit who only goes after the women in the house, wanting to take him on as much for personal reasons as professional reasons. In another episode, some personal issues that team member Elfie Music is dealing with cause her to be more hesitant than she has been in past episodes where her involvement has played a key role. While this does go some way towards helping this series stand out from similar shows, it also gives the show a bit of a scripted feel. That's not to say that people don't have to deal with issues that do affect their jobs at any given point but here it all feels very convenient how it happens to be worked into a specific case or storyline.
The show also tends to deal in melodramatics on a very regular basis. Not only are there the personality issues discussed above but there are Ryan's monologues which definitely have a certain amount of 'flair' to them. When each episode ends, more often than not we're treated to a shot of him walking away from the camera, solo, something that feels more appropriate to the end of an episode of The Incredible Hulk than what is supposed to be 'reality TV.' Are we really supposed to believe that at the end of each investigation Ryan wanders off into the sunset all by himself? On top of that, the show is so heavily edited that you can't ever really form a realistic opinion of what activity is real and what is not. Night vision cameras and EVP recordings only go so far in this area, and the fact that the series tends to cut away at very convenient times makes it hard to take it all that seriously. The show winds up trying to generate fear and suspense but failing to do so and a lot of what winds up happening feels forced and contrived, from the set up to Buell's dry and emotionless narration (much of which sounds more like a pre-written soliloquy than anything improvised or of the moment).
The episodes that make the fifth season of Paranormal State are spread across the three DVDs in this set as follows:
Disc One: Death Room / They Come Out At Night / Spirits Of The Slave Dungeon / Ghost On The Tracks / Supernatural Seduction / Return Of The Dead: Glove II / Paranormal Detour
Disc Two: Ghosts Of The Forgotten / Who Is The Lurking Man? / Do Bad Things / Dwelling Of The Dead / Haunted Homecoming / Bedroom Eyes / Haunting Connection
Disc Three: Hostage To Fear / Permission To Do Harm / Devil's Hostage / Vendetta / Southern Discomfort At Sweetwater Mansion / Get Out Of This House / If I Should Die
So with that said, how does this season hold up? Despite the show's flaws, and there are many, if you don't need to take things completely seriously and can enjoy this series as entertainment rather than 'reality TV' then it's not bad. There are a few episodes where you definitely do get the feeling that the team is on to something, be it investigating a house near the scene of a train/car collision resulting in multiple deaths or checking out an old hotel up in the mountains of Oregon. There are moments here where you do get the impression that those involved with the investigation are actually starting to feel afraid and possibly are seeing or feeling something more than just occasionally being spooked by shadows or ambient noise. The fact that not every episode reaches a legitimate conclusion lends some plausibility to the proceedings, as it stands to reason that in the world of the paranormal not everything could be explained and it further stands to reason that not everything that seems to be paranormal actually is. Logical explanations are given where applicable, just as they should be, and sometimes this these explanations are just as interesting as anything else on the show and, if nothing else, should give pause to those who assume everything odd is caused by the spirit world.
This latest season of Paranormal State is presented in 1.78.1 non-anamorphic widescreen, which is pretty obnoxious, really. That issue aside, the quality is fine, colors are reasonably well defined and there are no problems with compression artifacts. Black levels are decent, as are skin tones and as the show is shot on digital video there aren't any problems with print damage, dirt or debris to note. But non-anamorphic? Really? For a 2011 release?
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo tracks for each and every episode in this set are fine, if unremarkable. Dialogue stays clear for the most part and while sometimes the 'stingers' used to make you jump a bit as the episodes play out are a bit louder in the mix than they probably needed to be, there's no doubt this is intentional. There are no alternate language options, subtitles or closed captioning options provided.
Aside from some fairly standard menus and episode selection, this set does feature some moderately interesting cast commentaries on three episodes - They Come Out at Night, Do Bad Things and Haunted Homecoming, each with input from Ryan Beull and tech specialist Sergey. These tracks are moderately interest as they allow Ryan to give his take on things after the fact while Sergey can explain some of the technology behind what we see happen in the episodes. They also cover things that you might take for granted, such as what the investigators worry about while working on various cases in terms of the clients that they deal with, and more.
Paranormal State Season Five is entertaining enough despite some of the show's obvious problems in terms of storytelling and believability. A&E's DVD, however, isn't anything to write home about. The commentary tracks are a welcome extra even if they're not as in-depth as they could have been, but the non-anamorphic transfers are definitely a bummer. Fans of the series will want to get this regardless, just to complete their collection (and the MSRP is pretty low for a three disc set), but unless you fall into that core group, rent it.
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.