Screensavors: A spiritless ghost story

Nobody's normal on the screen anymore, and certainly not Melinda (Jennifer Love Hewitt), the star of YES's new series Ghost Whisperer.

The latest trend in American scripted TV are shows about people with special powers. From The 4,400 to Heroes to The Medium, nobody's normal on the screen anymore, and certainly not Melinda (Jennifer Love Hewitt), the star of YES's new series Ghost Whisperer (cue eerie music). It isn't easy being Melinda. As a kid, her grandmother dragged her off to commune with the dead. "Sit next to this man, Melinda, we're going to help him," grandma would say, and the next thing you know she'd be walking up to a coffin and darn if the same fellow wasn't inside. "You and your grandmother are the only ones here who can see me. Will you help me?" the man asked when she walked back to where he'd been sitting. How could she say no? So it seemed quite natural when the man - who she finally realizes had gone over to 'the other side' - asks Melinda to tell his wife "to keep on having a glass of champagne on Friday night" and "to light the fire like we always do, and make our secret toast to the moon and stars, like we always did." It seems to make his widow feel a little better when Melinda shares that message. Grandma helped Melinda get in touch with her gift, which she couldn't grasp at first. "I don't understand," she told grandma. "Don't worry, you will," grandma assured her as the music and screen got all fuzzy… Whoa. If that wasn't the hokiest beginning we've seen in this world or any other, it was pretty close. But wait! Now we're in the present and - surprise - Melinda has grown into a beautiful woman played by a Party of Five star with a body to kill for. Lucky kid. And it's her wedding day!! But even the caterer can't help our bride - while dancing with her hunky husband, she sees something that looks like the points of a compass on a distant window. Fortunately, hubby knows she has "powers," although he murmurs that it "would be nice to keep the celebration among the living." No such luck, of course. Besides a set-up for a swerve later in the show, Melinda just can't resist the ghostly callings she sees and hears. She can see dead people, hear dead people. Heck, it beats running that little antique shop she and her friend Andrea (Aisha Tyler, once of CSI) operate, where of course she finds the compass she'd seen in her vision. Natch Hewitt has most of her ghostly encounters late at night when she's in bed with her husband, allowing her to trot out a whole wardrobe of sexy nighties. But by now her husband the paramedic's getting a little fed up. "I thought you were going to try to give this a rest," he says when she gets up one night. "Well, when you find the remote that turns that off, let me know," she replies. Unfortunately, we couldn't turn off Ghost Whisperer (which airs Mondays at 9:30 on YES Stars 2) at that point, or we would've. This contrived, mostly stolen format in which a living person tries to help the troubled spirits that walk the earth find their way to "the light" and eternal peace is just plain bad. "H---E-L-L-PPP M-E-E-E!" the spirits scream, this time a Vietnam vet who's "lost" because his spirit has been stirred by the upcoming birth of a grandson. A pregnancy, it turns out, "sends a ripple effect through the spirit world. It wakes up the spirit of someone close." And you thought that was just gas, ladies... "Places aren't haunted; people are haunted," says Melinda in one of about a million know-it-all statements about the dead, to the point where you want to smack her. And the little cutesy parts, like when she helps a dead woman tell her oafish husband where she put the key to the safety deposit box before she died, are just too predictable and childish. But still, there's Hewitt, which seems to be enough for US audiences, since the show's in its second season there. Hard to figure why, except, as we say, the paranormal is 'in' right now. Otherwise it's difficult to fathom how a show that has a ghost carrying on a conversation with his son through Melinda, and in which Melinda actually repeats almost word for word what the ghost says, could survive. It must be the negligees. At least the writers have fewer lines to come up with. "You can see me, can't you?" one female ghost asks Melinda. Yes, she can, but we'd prefer not to. Ghost Whisperer may be a hit in America, but it's just deadly boring and trite on our screen.