Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Inscrutable Charm of "Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files"

In 2010, the Syfy network premiered a reality program that combined the nerds-blowing-stuff-up charm of Discovery's Mythbusters with the ludicrous phantom chasing of the network's own Ghosthunters.

Fact of Faked: Paranormal Files is reality television at it's best and worst -- both illuminating and frustratingly stagy and convinced of it's own authenticity. It's also supremely addictive to viewers willing to let go and enjoy the show's Law & Order-esque predictability.

The premise of Fact of Faked is simple: Six experts in disparate fields team up to investigate allegedly supernatural events caught on film, with the goal of trying to recreate those events and thus expose them as hoaxes.

That's where the Mythbusters angle plays in. In each episode, the cast members/investigators split into two teams, with each taking apart the details of footage they've screened, and attempting to reverse engineer what they've seen.

Many viewers probably disregard the major message of Fact or Faked. That is: Just about every alleged sighting of a cryptid, UFO or supernatural apparition is either an accidental misidentification of something horribly mundane, or a big fat fake. And those fakes look surprisingly easy to construct based on what the stars of the show manage to pull off with average resources.

To sate those viewers, and because this is a product of the Syfy network, the showrunners frequently add a third act to each segment in which the teams consider the possibility that the footage or pictures they're scrutinizing depict actual supernatural occurrences.

That portion of the investigation is posited as a control aspect to their experiments, but really it's a way to fill a few minutes with unnecessarily amped-up tension that rarely results in anything notable.

As soon as they switch to night-vision -- Fact or Faked's shorthand for spooky time -- is when any sliver of legitimacy disappears. All they ever get out of the control test is an agreement that those who recorded the video believe they saw something extraordinary.

Fact or Faked does much better when, in those instances where they've made clear that the footage was a hoax, they confront those responsible and try to get them to admit the hornswoggling. It's never mean spirited or hammy. These "c'mon dude" moments instead come off like a school teacher trying to elicit a confession from the kid who made fart noises during a math test.

That the six people cast in this show do it all with such conviction is enough of a hook. Theirs is a universe where irony doesn't exist and the kooks get as much airtime as the sane. Why not?

The first episode of season three airs April 17, 2012. Older episodes are online via Syfy.com.