By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
The month of October is perfect to get caught up on what William Shatner is up to. The former captain of the Starship Enterprise is now the face of The Unexplained, a History channel program that looks at the paranormal world in all its myriad forms. This new series started mid-Summer and I waited for the season to be over to binge-watch the entire eight-episode run. Had the producers been smart, they should’ve simply called it Weird or What? season five.
This previous version was a much more entertaining show. It had more of Bill’s wit and panache. He would always end the episode saying, “Isn’t that weird… or what?” As much as I’d love to see him in the field investigating these mysteries, my guess his heart may not handle being it.
While he’s in fine cranky form in the horror movie Devil’s Revenge to challenge the minions of evil, this reality program deals with a lot more. It tries to bring a few new theoretical explanations to why certain unexplainable things may take place than to give concrete truths. Episode three’s focus on cryptids offers a very far fetched theory about alien DNA landing on Earth and creating the Mothman. I find this idea hard to swallow.
Podcast personality David Whitehead is a regular and is a contrast to the excitable Giorgio A. Tsoukalos personality who frequents Ancient Aliens. Different themes are explored. While Shatner’s product is to deal with various abnormalities, the other program grasps at straws in order to open viewers mind to other possibilities. Amazingly, Michio Kaku makes select appearances; in episode four, “Unnatural Nature,” he is the standing physicist who can explain Nature’s primordial oddities. “Bizarre Rituals” is my favourite. Not only does it examine the Voodoo tradition and its use in pagan healing rituals, but also reveals its not all about zombies. This segment simply concludes, “it’s all in the power of belief,” and I certainly believe that more than its truly magic.
Another chapter examines why people love watching gladiatorial games–whether that’s with the MMA, WWE or cage matches. The reason is simple: a little part of the brain that still exists when we were once primal hominids gets activated. The later episodes are far more engaging than the early ones. Despite knowing three-quarters of the topics this series explores already, what’s old feels news again.
Ultimately, this series has more pizazz factor involved in its production; Shatner is not at home, in the comfort of a ranch. Instead, he’s on a soundstage and simply introducing the “segment of the day.” He may be reading from cue cards to give him key points to discuss. He doesn’t seem as keenly curious as the previous show, but that’s the problem of the format Prometheus Entertainment chose to update to than to keep from before.
Sadly, Weird or What? ran from 2010 to 2012 and It faded to memory as other docu-paranormal TV reality programs arrived. None have been as great as In Search of… (1976–1982) featuring Leonard Nimoy (and soon to be updated with Zachary Quinto as the host). I simply wonder if Bill is simply capitalizing on boldly going where no man has gone before, or just needing to keep engaged with his fans no matter what?
I think it’s a bit of both and hope his latest gets a home video release since the other didn’t in North America. I still can’t get over the comedy segment of him wearing a Ghostbusters uniform and shooting a fake ghost. That’s a moment of paranormal tv history to treasure; we won’t see him being that fun with The UneXplained.
S01E01 “Evil Places”
S01E02 “Mysterious Structures”
S01E03 “Strange Creatures”
S01E04 “Unnatural Nature”
S01E05 “Bizarre Rituals”
S01E06 “Life Beyond Death”
S01E07 “Mysteries of the Mind”
S01E08 “Incredible Survivors”