Syfy’s “Deep South Paranormal” a creepy gumbo of reality series trends

Befitting its Bayou/Southern setting, Syfy’s new series Deep South Paranormal, premiering April 10, is a gumbo of elements from other reality/Southern/paranormal programs that have proven to be successful. And the final mix is mostly pretty tasty.

There is the whole ghost-hunting element, to begin with, which is the premise of a number of shows; the Southern setting, particularly its focus on swampy areas of the Deep South (perhaps a callback to any number of the shows with “Swamp” in its title); its genial, plain-speaking, folksy characters; the night vision and infrared cameras we’ve become familiar with from shows like Ghost Hunters; some taunting of spirits, like in Ghost Adventures; and even some gators and a bit of fishing thrown in, in the first episode, at least. And, two of the ghost hunters have long beards not unlike those made popular by the Duck Dynasty fellows.

Now, while various gumbos may be put together using similar ingredients, one of the things that makes one stand out over another is the artfulness with which the chef prepares it, and, in particular, flavors it, and personalizes it, even, with unique spices. So, while Deep South Paranormal may seem made up of a mixture of like elements that you’ve tasted before on television, is it spicy enough to try? Well, from the first episode, at least, I thought so, if you’re into this type of show.

The premiere episode is called “I Fear That Train a Comin’,” and follows the Deep South Paranormal (DSP) team on a Louisiana investigation of an abandoned sawmill and train depot. It’s been reported that the area is haunted by the spirits of workers killed while doing dangerous jobs — one worker was buried in an avalanche of sawdust, another was pushed into a wood chipper by a jealous coworker, many were accidentally killed working on an intimidating-looking piece of equipment called “The Skidder,” among other fatalities.

The Deep South Paranormal team consists of Hart Fortenbery (one of the bearded ones), known as the group’s “Godfather,” who wields a Gris-gris stick that’s been passed down in his family, and who seems to rely on old-school ways to find and interact with potential ghosts (he also frequently comes down with what he calls the “frissons” when he gets particularly spooked, recalling a French word for “shudder”). Also in the group is Keith Ramsay (also with a beard), who strums his guitar to attract ghosts; Randy Hardy, who’s fearless in trying to get ghosts to show themselves; Benny Reed, who cracks jokes to break tension during investigations; Kevin Betzer, the gadget guru; Jonathan Hodges, the science and tactics chief; and Kali Hardy (Randy’s little sister), who keeps the boys in check.

If “I Fear That Train a Comin'” is a good representation of what to expect throughout Deep South Paranormal, this gumbo has its savory moments. I liked the folksy narration, almost like we are being told an old ghost story around the campfire at spots (the group does meet around a campfire at the end, in fact), and the sawmill setting was effectively eerie, including some nice, impactful nighttime shots of the place lit by the moon, along with the traditional night-vision shots. The investigation also was not limited to only one building, which can be somewhat dull in these types of shows — the group spreads out to various buildings across the premises. And while (not surprisingly) no conclusive evidence of the paranormal was found (to my liking, anyway), there were chilling enough moments to entertain viewers — again, as if you were in an old ghost story.

And speaking of old ghost stories, Deep South Paranormal seems to recognize that the South is a treasure trove of spooky, Gothic tales of the supernatural, given its long and sometimes sad history (other series seem to be tapping into this history as well; Ghost Hunters has spent some time in the South recently, and a new series called Cajun Paranormal is also in the works for this summer on TLC). Other investigations coming up this season on Deep South Paranormal will include Alabama’s Old Cahawba ghost town and historic St. James Hotel; Mississippi’s Mont Helena Plantation House; Louisiana’s Bayou Sale, and Olustee Battlefield — site of Florida’s largest Civil War battle.

One part of the gumbo that I found a bit bland was the effort to show us how “down-home” the group is, like when they have a “fish-off” to determine who would have to spend the night alone monitoring activity at The Skidder. I think each of their personalities is established and interesting, strong and fun enough without having to perhaps force in “redneck” humor or the like. Fortunately, not too much of that is on hand, and there are enough tasty spices to make Deep South Paranormal a Southern-style paranormal reality gumbo that I likely will sample again.

Deep South Paranormal airs Wednesdays at 10pm ET/PT on Syfy beginning April 10.

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Rick Wilson/Syfy

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8 Responses to Syfy’s “Deep South Paranormal” a creepy gumbo of reality series trends

  1. Karl Koenig says:

    I’m a jazz researcher (50 books)and thought you might be interested in Magnolia Plantation in Plaquemine Parish, LA The history goes back 2 centuries and there is a slave cemetery that is on the plantation but in the bayou behind the main house. It is in ruins but still can place all the houses as there is a Sanborn map of the complete property. I wrote a essay and history on the plantation that I can send you. It is very interesting and it was last owned by the Governor of LA. Love the program, Karl, PhD

  2. Cindy says:

    Love it.. I am in love with Keith. I love to listen to him talk. And he’s awesome singer too. He is the kind of guy I’m looking for. Would date him for sure!! I WANT KEITH….. :)

  3. Stacy H says:

    It is obvious that Buzz knows very little about Louisiana so I can understand why he would make these comments. The truth is people in Louisiana do have alligators as pets and jambalaya and etouffet are on the dinner table at just about every holiday. On weekend’s we go to crawfish boils or shrimp boils just to hang out with our family and friends. We are not all from the swamp but the swamp is all around us, so even the most privileged Louisiana residents have driven down Airline Highway and see a huge gator sunning on side the road. So before you jump to conclusion take a little time to do your research. That’s Nawlins! Like it or not. Yall did awesome Benny keep up the great work!

    • Buzz Dengue says:

      In fact Buzz LOVES Louisiana… Buzz is retiring in Madisonville, LA…(enough third person)… drifting on the Tcfuncte is one of my fav things to do… I’ve been to the crab boils, I’ve shaken Les Miles hand pre-game, I really like the Manchac Pass area and Middendorf’s, Tony at Drago’s is one of my culinary heroes. So with that cleared up… What exactly is your point?

      My point is that it is supposed to be a show about the paranormal deep South… why clutter it up with alligators and verbally force-fitted colloquialisms which all detract what could be a great show? Keep the deep south to the locations, the buildings and the history… not and animal act…

      Talk to your director and producers and get is where is should be… the gris-gris stick was a nice touch but not explained well enough… instead you spend time on chicken wire caged gators.

  4. William says:

    can some one plz tell that awesome song that is sung in the first episode. i luv the show and I 4 one do not believe in the paranormal or ghost but luv how folks that do this try and find out real or myth so cool show.

  5. Buzz Dengue says:

    The self-identification in the script, after the opening was verbed as a “jambalaya of ghost hunters”… more like an “etouffee of awful”… For an “unscripted” show this SyFy offering tries just way too hard to be a believable cliche’ of Southern. Tryin’ to fit ten pounds of script in a five pound bag…

    The opening sequence feeding alligators was shark jumping right out of the box. What redeeming value did that “unscripted” scene have? Alligators? Seriously? Are we all supposed to be swooning over the dangerous alligators in the open top chicken wire cage and how they had a ‘feeding frenzy’ on the well manicured grass noshing on semi-frozen chicken thighs? What a waste of production money to stage that B.S. sequence.

    Stop with the lame colloquialisms… puh-leeez!!! I didn’t tune in to hear about the backside of a black cat, or whatever else pile of verbal lameness you try to conjure up… it didn’t work… Stop it already. But with all the episodes in the can, I am sure more linguistical southern atrocities are headed for our eardrums… ugh.

    I am sure Hart is a nice enough guy, but trade the stick for an electric guitar and some “cheap sunglasses”.

    The bright spot for me was Kevin the gadget guy… I wonder what is going through his head as he witnesses the proverbial train wreck happening all around him?

    We are tuning in for “Deep South Paranormal”, ghost hunting,
    not fishing,
    not alligators,
    not supposedly funny/sage southern folksy sayings (that are neither)

    Deliver the purpose for the show, deliver the reason for the series… I can watch Animal Planet for the rest of the fluff you are trying to foist on the viewers.

    I can hope for the series to develop. I will watch again, if for no other reason than to see just how low it can go. I hold out hope, but then again “if you put my brain in a gnat, it would likely fly backwards”.

    • Benny Reed says:

      Buzzy
      Hey brother even though you hate us. We still love you brother….

      • Buzz Dengue says:

        No hate here, Benny. I want you to do well… just focus on why you guys are there with the series — that’s all.

        You didn’t produce the show, not a jab at you guys.

        I will watch again, I was just disappointed at all the tomfoolery and malarkey. We (the viewers) don’t need all that extra stuff (character development as it was attempted) to like you guys, I can tell you are sincere in your efforts… just deliver on the goods with good investigations, document the locations and debunk what is invalid.

        Wishing you success, really.

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