Let me first say that I'm not against the possibility of the paranormal. I'm not a hardcore believer, but I'm open to the possibility of the unexplained. That said, "Paranormal State" is just one of what seems like a few too many of these sorts of shows: the other day, I was surprised to see an ad for a new series called "Psychic Kids" (they know what Barney is thinking, apparently.) It's starting to get to the point where a few cable networks are starting to seem as if they're running out of ideas - if Discovery Channel somehow crossed "Psychic Kids", "Man Vs. Food" and "Storm Chasers" into a show (can Adam Richman of "Man Vs. Food" finish the meal before the oncoming twister obliterates the building? Only the psychic kids know) I wouldn't be too surprised.
That said, "Paranormal State" is fairly entertaining, with a level of seriousness that mostly succeeds in keeping the series grounded; only occasionally does the show's ultra-seriousness get a little too much for its own good and fall over into being unintentionally funny. The A & E series - which has been successful enough to warrant 5 seasons - follows researcher Ryan Buell and his team - the Paranormal Research Society (or PRS) - as they venture across the land to investigate various spooky cases. Buell was troubled by dark paranormal things as a child, and the turmoil he went through lead him to start the society, and the others who joined did so because they've had similar experiences, as well. The show is watchable, but the group's website doesn't seem to take things quite as seriously: it shows an ad for upcoming "field trips" with the cast and a big promo for an "Open House", complete with social hour (a paranormal mixer!) They do, however, not charge for their services, which seems nice of them. I mean, because even the Ghostbusters charged, didn't they?
They get hundreds of reports a year, only responding to the most severe cases. What's unusual is that these members are not adults - they are students who go to Penn State, and some of them would not be out of place at Facebook; it's initially a little jarring to see 20-somethings (the series is produced by the same production company that produced MTV's "Laguna Beach") trying to track down ghosts and interview adults twice their age about their experiences. It's a credit to the series that it never really veers too often into "Scooby Doo" territory (it winds up being sort of a real-life cross between "Supernatural" and "The X-Files").
The group is helped out by a series of psychics, experts and other paranormal "X-Files"-like folks, who seem reasonably skilled at their task, with the exception of a couple of people, who seem as if they're being lead by the questions - "Was the ghost sitting up at the top of the stairs yesterday night?" "Yeah, yeah, that's where they were!" The group also uses EVP (Electric Voice Phenomenon) readings and other tools in order to try and get to the bottom of the case, with the tension leveling up as they start hearing things that go bump in the night.
The cases generally follow the same path, starting with an introduction and consultation as the group works towards a resolution, however, the subject matter differs enough to keep things relatively fresh, such as a haunted Pennsylvania Hotel ("Dead Legends"), ghost hunting at one of the most haunted places in the country ("Darkness Falls"), a family chased from their bedrooms at night ("Night Terrors") and a search for the famed "Jersey Devil" (Devil in Jersey).
Overall, I'm not a hardcore believer, but the series certainly has its followers and it mostly succeeds in trying to approach the supernatural in a way that doesn't go overboard (it could most certainly be wholly and completely fake, but I I approached it primarily as spooky, Halloween-season entertainment.) The 20-something stars of the series are a little difficult to take (and are a little wooden in their performances at times) as they interview those twice their age, but they certainly seem like true believers.
55 4-01 15/Dec/09 Suicide Possession
55 4-03 22/Dec/09 Dead Legends
56 4-02 15/Dec/09 Invitation to Evil
58 4-04 22/Dec/09 Dead Legends
59 4-05 29/Dec/09 Boy Pushed Me
60 4-06 29/Dec/09 Haunted Sex Dungeon
61 4-07 05/Jan/10 Dark Practice
62 4-08 05/Jan/10 Satan's Soldier
63 4-09 12/Jan/10 Darkness Falls
64 4-10 19/Jan/10 Shadow Caster
65 4-11 26/Jan/10 Night Terrors
66 4-12 02/Feb/10 Lost Souls
67 4-13 09/Feb/10 Devil in Jersey
VIDEO: "Paranormal State" is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen by A & E. The show's video recordings and frequent low-light settings results in a mixture of video quality that ranges from clean and crisp to soft and occasionally a tad grainy. However, given the material, the image quality comes in at expectations. Some mild shimmering is seen at times, as well as a few light instances of artifacting. Colors - as one might expect from the frequently dark material - are subdued and cool during most episodes.
SOUND: There's only a Dolby Stereo presentation. Given all the creepy sounds, a 5.1 presentation would have been welcome. However, audio quality is fine, with clean, clear dialogue.
EXTRAS: Bonus clips are offered, and fans will likely find this material fun.
Final Thoughts: It's a bit jarring to see 20-somethings exploring the supernatural, "X-Files"-style, in this A & E show. While watching this set didn't turn me into a hardcore believer, I found it an enjoyable way to pass a couple of afternoons. The DVD presentation offers pretty good audio/video, but only minimal extras.