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.