Alibi V.16 No.44 • Nov 1-7, 2007 

Idiot Box

Psychic TV

Dust off the crystal ball and have a look at fall's new metaphysical game shows

Evidently, Fall 2007’s stars have aligned and given birth to a whole new sort of TV psychic--the kind that’s pitted against other psychics in a battle royale. After general ridicule earlier in the decade of TV mediums like John Edward (“Crossing Over”), James Van Praagh (“Beyond”), “Montel Williams Show” regular Sylvia Browne and obvious phony Miss Cleo, the psychic set seems to be making a comeback under a different format. Of course, it was inevitable that reality TV would eventually explore the paranormal. And contrary to what intuition might tell you, this may actually be a good thing.

“America’s Psychic Challenge”--Despite man’s eternal struggle to prove the existence of intangible things like telepathy, ghosts and God, science has yet to find any evidence. Through their quest to determine whether psychic abilities are real, “America’s Psychic Challenge” appeals to the desire for a connection to something larger than our four-dimensional world. The show’s premise is simple: four psychics attempt to win three challenges, usually involving individual tests like locating a person among empty rooms, matching dogs to their owners or determining details surrounding a death in the place it occurred. One would think this could go two ways. Performers would either fail miserably, meaning they’re not psychics, or succeed at everything, meaning the show is faked. But surprisingly, contestants both fail and succeed, which makes an already intriguing show pretty convincing. Part of Lifetime’s Psy-Friday, “APC” is paired with another psychic reality show, “Lisa Williams: Life Among the Dead,” which is in its second season. While it’s fully possible the two-hour event is based completely on sleight of hand, as it turns out, believing is fun.

“Phenomenon”--From the get-go this show is all smoke and mirrors. Filmed in a slick studio before a live audience, dramatic beams of light create a mist-like aura while a lame New Age soundtrack stirs up mood, tension and possibly Enya’s ghost (even though she’s not dead). This ambiance is glued together with a token British host (because British accents are so much more mystifying), while the show’s format is ultimately modeled after “American Idol.” “Phenomenon”’s judges--Las Vegas illusionist and professional douche Criss Angel (A&E's “Mindfreak”), along with Israeli mentalist and proven hack Uri Geller--come off like cartoons, working together like good cop, bad cop in their evaluations of the show’s contestants. Meanwhile, each episode contains a set of three celebrity guests, there to serve as assistants and, so far, lend a supplemental air of awkwardness to the slapdash production. Contestants, most of whom claim to be psychics or mentalists, are nothing more than goofy magicians. That said, genuinely mystifying feats are performed and the show is ultimately fun to watch. Even if we know it’s stage magic, the show sets itself apart by not catering to the lowest common denominator--a true feat in the realm of reality TV.

“America's Psychic Challenge” airs Fridays at 8 p.m. on Lifetime (right after “Lisa Williams: Life Among The Dead”), while “Phenomenon” airs Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on KOB-4.