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Sunday, September 20, 2009


It took me a few discs to build up a tolerance to GHOST WHISPERER: THE FOURTH SEASON, but once I stopped expecting a serious (or scary) paranormal drama and accepted it as the schmaltzy tearjerker that it is, I began to kind of enjoy it.

Basically, this show is a slickly-produced and richly-photographed series of variations on the movie GHOST, with most episodes doing their best to reproduce that famously emotional "Ditto" finale in one form or another. Although supposedly inspired by the experiences of certain real-life spirit communicators, this rather conventional series dwells on the more fanciful, romantic, and melodramatic storylines that can be drawn from such a premise.

Jennifer Love Hewitt stars as Melinda Gordon, who, just like Haley Joel Osment's character in THE SIXTH SENSE, "sees dead people" and tries to help them solve whatever problems are keeping them earthbound so that they can cross over into the light. Her paramedic husband Jim (David Conrad), antique store employee and best friend Delia (Camryn Manheim), and Delia's teenage son Ned (Christoph Sanders) are aware of Melinda's "gift" and help her whenver they can. In this season Melinda also acquires a new friend, Dr. Eli James (Jamie Kennedy), who has recently gained the ability to hear ghosts and becomes her reluctant sidekick.

Most stories play like a Halloween episode of "Touched By an Angel", with a few mildly scary elements giving way to heart-tugging emotional situations once Melinda discovers the ghost's problem and seeks to solve it. These apparitions are usually just troubled people with unfinished business or unresolved issues, although on some occasions they may have more sinister or destructive intent.

The standard ending for these supernatural sob stories is a prolonged scene of reconciliation between the troubled spirits and the living, with Melinda relaying the ghost's final sentiments before he or she enters the light with a beatific smile. More often than not, these scenes are allowed to drag on until they become unbearably cloying. "Bloodline", for example, starts out as an interesting "angry ghost" story, but the blubber-fest ending, complete with maudlin piano music, lasts about five minutes too long. Several episodes also contain an inordinate amount of sappy emo ballads popping up with disconcerting regularity.

"Body of Water" is about as horrific as the show gets, with a teenage girl going for a late night swim in a pond which she discovers is filled with decaying corpses. It turns out that a failing funeral home director (David Clennon) has been dumping the bodies after the furnace he was using to cremate them broke down, and their spirits are upset and ashamed that their loved ones must now be called upon to identify their gruesome remains. But by the end of the story Melinda straightens everything out in time for the obligatory extended cry-a-thon.

The most noteworthy aspect of season four is a prolonged story arc that begins with Melinda and Jim's concerted efforts to conceive a child, then veers suddenly in a totally unexpected direction. (Skip the rest of this paragraph and the next if you don't want to know what happens.) In episode 6 of the season, "Imaginary Friends and Enemies", Jim is accidentally shot by the police while trying to disarm an assailant, and, to Melinda's horror, dies in the hospital soon after. But while visiting Melinda in her car the next day, Jim's ghost witnesses a man's death in a traffic mishap. After seeing the accident victim's spirit rise and go into the light, Jim enters the vacated body and returns to life, only to wake up with a different identity and total amnesia.

For much of the rest of the season, considerable time is spent showing Jim (now "Sam") trying to get his memory back and coping with his new life. Living in Melinda's garage, he finds himself falling for her all over again until the surprise appearance of Sam's fiancee, Nikki (Terri Polo), complicates things further. Not only must Sam now decide between his old and new lives and loves, but an inexplicably vehement new skepticism toward anything supernatural becomes a massive stumbling block between him and Melinda. Needless to say, this continuing subplot which spans several episodes is pure soap-opera stuff.

As Melinda's husband, David Conrad is just the kind of sensitive, supportive, yet hunky guy needed to compliment such a saintly heroine. Jennifer Love Hewitt's Melinda comes off as a cross between Mother Teresa and Marlo Thomas in "That Girl", with a calculated, superficial acting style that's more about the way she looks in her pouty closeups and various outfits than anything else. Not to mention the fact that her cleavage often plays such an important co-starring role on the show that it should get its own billing. Jennifer does, however, have the ability to squirt out streams of tears on cue, which proves invaluable in many scenes.

Camryn Manheim, whom I can't stand, does her usually capable job in the role of Melinda's friend Delia. Replacing regular castmember Jay Mohr in the season's first episode, "Firestarter", is comedian Jamie Kennedy as college professor and psychologist Eli James. After a fire in which Dr. James dies for a brief time before being resuscitated, he suddenly finds himself capable of hearing (but not seeing) ghosts. Melinda helps him cope with his newfound ability and he soon becomes an invaluable helper in her paranormal endeavors. Kennedy is well-suited for this role, playing it with just the right comedy touch while remaining a believable character.

The CBS/Paramount DVD set contains 23 episodes on 6 discs which are boxed in three slimline cases. The anamorphic widescreen 1.78:1 image and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound are fine. Extras include the featurettes "The Jamie Kennedy Experiment", "Season 4: Love Never Dies", and "Scoring the Spirit World" with composer Mark Snow ("The X-Files"). Disc six features an interactive haunted-dollhouse trivia game, interactive fashion style guide, The Other Side III Webseries, and another trivia game called "Grave Mistakes." Closed-captioning for the hearing impaired is available.

If you're a sucker for mildly spooky ghost stories and shamelessly sappy chick flicks, GHOST WHISPERER: THE FOURTH SEASON is a combination of the two which should provide several hours of mildly spooky and shamelessly sappy entertainment. Others may find the show's sickly-sweet oversentimentality to be the scariest thing about it.

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