Final Thoughts on “Ghost Whisperer”

Going into “Ghost Whisperer”, I was filled with trepidation.  From reading the back of the DVD box, I figured that it would be a fairly standard sentimental show where Jennifer Love Hewitt’s character goes around reuniting families and lovers and patching up all sorts of relationships while attempting to resolve the unfinished business of the ghosts.  Yes, I had watched shows similar to that — “Highway to Heaven” and “Touched by an Angel” were in that vein — but that was a long, long time ago, when I was younger and there was less choice.  Was I going to be able to tolerate that sort of sentimentalism now?

As it turns out, the show actually did try to lean on the ghost premise to do some real horror, and yet what I found, at the end, was that it was the sentimental stuff that I enjoyed and the extra horror stuff often put me off.  One of the big problems with the horror stuff was that the main character (Melinda) was a “Highway to Heaven”-style protagonist that was often confronted with horror movie antagonists, and had no credible way to deal with them.  This ultimately weakened those villains as either despite their bluster it turned out that they were really unable to actually hurt her, or else they faded away too easily.  And in later seasons as the ghosts did more and more things that would indeed be actual threats it wasn’t really credible that her opponents would be so anxious to oppose her and yet couldn’t do anything to her, and the show didn’t really come up with a reason that they couldn’t or didn’t want to take direct action against her.

This also ties in with how they built and used lore.  I have to give the show credit for making a real attempt to have lore and explain how things worked, but they were often a bit inconsistent with that, even as they did reference some past lore dumps in later episodes.  The fact that they tended to drop without comment many of their plot lines helped with that inconsistency, because once they dropped those plots they stopped talking about them, which meant that they never explained the deal with them or how those elements worked.  So I appreciate the lore being there, but it was a bit inconsistent leaving a bunch of things unexplained.  But if they’d kept and resolved more of their plots, then I think they would have explained those elements better, which would have made that work.

But what the show really had going for it, and what made it work, was the star.  Jennifer Love Hewitt was a great choice to play a character that is supposed to be empathetic and that we’re supposed to like, since that’s pretty much what she tried to do in most of her other performances.  And it worked, and because she was interested and empathetic and because we liked her, we were more willing to go along with her and be happy with her when she resolved the problems of the Ghost of the Week.  Ultimately, I think that’s the secret to those sorts of sentimentalist shows:  give the audience a likeable character that seems to be genuinely interested in the people they are trying to help and we’re likely going to be willing to go along with them.  This is why Michael Landon and Rona Downey worked in their shows, and is why I think that Chris Evans made a perfect Captain America, because he could fake being genuine and so we believed him when he said those corny lines.

More than that, though, I think this show shows the importance of building a show around a performer who can pull off the required roll.  Jennifer Love Hewitt was a great choice for this sort of empathetic character, in much the same way as Hugh Laurie was a great choice for the cynical House.  You don’t need to typecast them, but they have to be able to pull off that roll.  Laurie is a strong enough actor to be able to pull off a number of different roles, but Hewitt is someone who can really pull off the sort of character that Melinda had to be to make the show work.  If you start from there, a show can overcome a lot of obstacles just on the basis of the actors’ performance alone.

The other really big flaw in the show is that they rarely used their secondary characters very well, but gave them too much attention for us to ignore them.  Andrea was a great character in Season 1 before they killed her off, and Delia and Jim had a brief moment where they worked in Season 4 when he was recovering his memory and she stepped in as Melinda’s main confidant.  But for the most part the secondary characters didn’t really have a role in the show and didn’t do all that much, and so weren’t all that interesting, and the attempts to invent conflict usually fell flat.  It didn’t kill the show, but it was something that they could have probably fixed fairly easily and never did.

Ultimately, I found the show surprisingly enjoyable, even though the elements that I thought would have liked were weak and the elements that I thought I wouldn’t like were really good.  As such, this is going to go into my closet of shows that I will likely rewatch again at some point.  It’s not as good as “House” was, but it was far better than “Party of Five” was, and that’s not what I expected when I slipped that DVD into the player for the first time.

2 Responses to “Final Thoughts on “Ghost Whisperer””

  1. Thoughts on “Time of Your Life” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] to see if they knew that they were going to be cancelled or if it came as a surprise.  Like “Ghost Whisperer”, it seems like they might have suspected that it might be cancelled but made the plot so that it […]

  2. Thoughts on “The Client List” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] wasn’t really my type of show.  It really, especially at first, came across as what I feared “Ghost Whisperer” would turn out to be:  a somewhat dramatic premise that focuses on the more normal and romantic […]

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