An almost honest-to-goodness P.I. show, UPN's Haunted starred Matthew Fox as FRANK TAYLOR, a private eye who specialized in finding missing children and -- after a near-death experience -- began to "see dead people."
Four years ago, Frank had a job (police officer), a wife (Jessica) and a son (Kevin). But that was then, and this is now. Now, Frank is "haunted" by disturbing memories of Kevin, who was abducted and never found. And his job and his marriage have both gone down the tubes, too. Plagued by guilt over Kevin's disappearance, and his inability to prevent it, he's become a private eye, living hand to mouth and case to case, throwing himself into his work. Hired to track down another abducted child, Frank tussles with a suspect named Simon, who he is forced to kill to save himself. But Frank is left on the brink of death, and indeed, as the doctors work frantically to save him, he is a near-death experience (complete with dim lights and Kevin).
As Frank slowly recovers, he discovers that he's now really haunted -- he starts to receive messages from beyond the grave, from both benevolent spirits who wish to help him solve his cases and from Simon, the man he killed, Simon. Unfortunately, Simon, a nasty piece of work, living OR dead, isn't quite as helpful, frequently misleading Frank and otherwise diverting him.
When I saw the first episode of Haunted, I thought that in many ways it was similar to Hack, another P.I. show also making its debut at the time -- it too, had impressive production values, a dark vibe and a guilt-ridden , divorced dad trying to work out his angst (or exorcise his demons, if you will) by rescuing a child. But I wondered how far they could stretch Haunted's Dead Zone vibe before it collapses under its own solemn, joyless pretensions. The first show was very good, genuinely frightening at some points, but the pop-up ghost gimmick was already annoying by the end of the show, yet Simon is supposed to be a regular. It would have been far better to downplay the supernatural, and play it as a straight P.I. series, albeit perhaps with the detective suffering from an occasional troubling vision that he can't quite explain. Let him do actual detective work and not count on too much help from the beyond, or this series will wear out pretty damn fast.
And, to tell the truth, Haunted bore a thematic resemblance to a show I used to watch and enjoy very much, a Canadian show called Seeing Things, which featured a bumbling, not very bright but lovably flawed reporter who also had visions, which of course, nobody believed. Because the show was played for laughs, and because the lead, Louis DelGrande (who also wrote and directed) was such a delight to watch, Haunted inevitably suffered by comparison. When you've spent several memorable hours laughing at a concept, it's hard to take a subsequent oh-so-solemn drama based on the same idea too seriously. And that's the real problem with Haunted -- it was so damn relentlessly bleak, and ultimately even Frank wasn't all that appealling.
Which may explain why only seven episodes were aired, the remaining four episodes finally making their appearance on the DVD collection eight years later.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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