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Arts & Culture Editors' Picks Opinion

What’s On, TC?: Poltergeists and Pals

Everyone loves a ghost story. What is it about the ghoulish and the gruesome that excites us? Is it the breathless anticipation of the next jump-scare? The icy tendrils of dread that sprout from the spine when a wooden door creaks open? A barely audible noise that might have sounded like a little girl whispering? Whatever it is about horror that we find so alluring, Buzzfeed Unsolved – Supernatural has tried to bottle it in its third season, with mixed results.

A typical episode of Unsolved runs for about 25 minutes and goes down one of two paths.

The first path: Ryan Bergara, the more gullible of the show’s co-hosts, lays out the details of some creepy conspiracy like Roswell’s UFO crash or the disappearance of the Roanoke Colony. Shane Madej, the show’s resident skeptic, spends the remainder of the episode poking holes in Bergara’s admittedly tenuous research.

The second path: both Bergara and Madej travel to a reportedly haunted locale à la Ghost Hunters and search for evidence of paranormal phenomena. The opinions of the two hosts differ greatly on what constitutes ‘evidence’. Bergara finds nearly every blip on the audio recorder convincing proof of voices beyond the veil, while Madej dismisses even the more compelling recordings out of hand. Madej insists that his skepticism is not a deliberate attempt to stymie their investigation; he is just being honest. As a viewer, the back-and-forth between the hosts makes me wonder what Madej would consider conclusive evidence of ghosts—and what Bergara wouldn’t.

As far as frights go, the season ranges from the Sun Baby in Teletubbies to Scooby Doo on Zombie Island, which is to say from mildly unsettling to just south of scary (for kids). Judging the series on its scare factor misses the point, though. Where Unsolved truly shines is in its hilarious banter between the two hosts. Madej’s skepticism and Bergara’s naiveté often result in side-splitting tangents, which often have little to do about the topic at hand. Their ghost hunts can be just as entertaining, although Madej and Bergara are rarely fruitful in their efforts to prove the existence of spirits.

In the season’s final three episodes, the pair travels to the United Kingdom to research British ghosts (which are apparently distinct from American ghosts), visiting tombs, a castle, and—of course—a pub.

In the pub episode, Madej and Bergara explore the historic Viaduct Tavern of London, which was originally situated between a church and two former prisons (so you know it’s extra spooky). Among the more notable ghosts of the site is an opportunistic beer thief who gulps down the beverages of inattentive patrons. Madej and Bergara stare intently at their drafts, waiting for their drinks to disappear. (Spoiler alert: the drinks stayed put).

Madej deadpans to the camera: “I feel like this is very representative of this entire series.”

After investigating the bar, the two hosts head upstairs to the loft area where poltergeist activity is rumored to be prominent. Construction crews have reportedly witnessed objects such as rolls of carpeting being lifted into the air, which must have been the work of spirits. (They definitely weren’t dehydrated, exhausted, or drunk or anything.) Earlier in the series, Father Gary Thomas, a priest with exorcism experience, advised the hosts not to invite spirits to interact with them. Such invitations can attract unwanted attention from ghosts, poltergeists, and even demonic entities, he told them. They rarely heed his advice.

“We’ve been having a good time, why don’t you join in the fun?” Bergara asks the loft ghost. Somewhere in the distance, Father Thomas sighs.

Further ignoring the priest’s wisdom, the two head to the tavern’s cellar. Supposedly, the water that runs beneath the pub carries energy with it that may “catalyze paranormal activity.” My house in Maryland has well water—give me a second to call my mom and tell her to smudge the bathroom sink with sage.

Obviously, much of the fun in Unsolved is in laughing at the ridiculousness of it all: the dowsing rods, the night vision cameras, the “spirit box” sessions (as ghosts can apparently speak through the radio, like Rush Limbaugh, but somehow scarier). But there is so much else to love about this series. The deep dives into conspiracy theory rabbit-holes, the nighttime tours of eerie landmarks, and the humorous rapport between its hosts are all worth watching for. Look past the EVPs and the floating orbs of light—or laugh at them, if you wish—and enjoy the delightful bite-sized episodes of Unsolved’s third season.