TV Review: In Search Of…

Whenever the inevitable question comes up regarding what first got me interested in the paranormal, my answer is always the same: the old In Search Of… television show hosted by Leonard Nimoy. In fact, I even make reference to it here on the blog in my bioIn Search Of… was a syndicated TV series that ran from 1977 to 1982, and was hosted and narrated by Nimoy, best known as Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame. Over the course of 144 episodes, the series explored a wide range of topics in the paranormal, supernatural, and unexplained realms. Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, aliens, UFOs, ghosts & poltergeists, the Bermuda Triangle, Atlantis, ESP, Stonehenge, the Pyramids, Jack the Ripper, the Tunguska explosion, the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, the Kennedy assassination, the Lincoln assassination, and the disappearance of Amelia Earhart all got the In Search Of… treatment and are hallmark episodes of the series. Watching it every weekend with my dad, the show had a huge impact on me, as well as many other paranormal enthusiasts, and how could it not? A weekly foray into the unknown, with its spooky, foreboding music (which I can still hear in my head), exploring the worlds creepiest mysteries. And yet we were all coaxed along every week by Nimoy and his unmistakably dulcet yet gravelly voice, a comfort for those of us who knew him as Mr. Spock. It was scary, but we felt safe going along on the journey with him. I still remember seeing the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot footage for the first time on the show, and it was forever etched in my mind. Another episode, apparently showing the silhouetted body of a extraterrestrial in an army tent, will also stick with me forever. Hoaxes or not, they inspired me, as well as millions of other impressionable kids, to want to investigate the dark recesses of reality. And here I am.

In Search of... hosted by Zachary Quinto
Zachary Quinto, host of the new In Search Of… on The History Channel

The series was released on DVD a few years back, and a short-lived revival aired on the SyFy (then still Sci-Fi) Channel in 2002, hosted by Mitch Pileggi, better known as Agent Skinner of the X-Files. The reboot only lasted 8 episodes, sadly, and I never really got into it. Mitch Pileggi was a great host, and Loren Coleman even served as an adviser, and yet it didn’t have the same impact as the original show. Perhaps Sci-Fi didn’t give it the attention it needed, as it was deep into its “all paranormal, all the time” phase with Ghost Hunters and assorted other paranormal shows (to be fair, they were airing reruns of Sightings at that time, and Sightings was cool, man). But now the History Channel has revived the show yet again, and they’ve even gotten another Mr. Spock for hosting and narration duties: Zachary Quinto, who took over the role of Spock in the Star Trek reboot by J.J. Abrams. The premiere episode aired last night at 10pm. Does the new In Search Of… live up to the legacy of the Nimoy years?

The short answer is a resounding yes. But first, let’s address the elephant in the room. Look, nobody can ever replace Nimoy. His narrations of the original In Search Of… shows are legendary, and he narrated countless other documentaries. But Zachary Quinto is a great fit for this reboot. His role here is more that of an active participant and investigator, in contrast to Nimoy’s more objective storyteller and guide. Quinto (who also serves as executive producer for the series) dives right in, with a strong interest yet healthy skepticism, as he tackles this week’s topic: aliens. And he also brings a more modern enthusiasm for his investigations as opposed to the more sterile “docudrama” approach of the 1970s.

First up is Kyle Bond, a mechanic who claims to have been abducted by aliens on a regular basis since the age of 6. His story is typical of most alien abduction stories: paralysis, levitation, a bright light, strange markings on his body the morning after. Quinto notes that Kyle seems sincere, and is even more intrigued and encouraged after Kyle agrees to take a polygraph test.

A quick detour takes us to an anecdotal story about a USO (unidentified submerged object) that was tracked by the U.S. Navy, and then a quick recap of the newly released videos of United States military aircraft apparently tracking UFOs. We then check back in on Kyle as he takes his lie detector test. And fails. This surprised me, honestly. They could have faked the results to make it seem like he was telling the truth, or even just interviewed other abductees until they found someone who legitimately passed. Because the rule of the day with most paranormal shows seems to be “proof = ratings.” So good on In Search Of… for presenting evidence that, while legitimate, isn’t very exciting to those who are looking for proof.

Next, Zach travels to West Virginia to visit SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Life, where he learns about the massive radio telescope arrays and how SETI looks for unnatural (i.e., alien-made) signals from the cosmos. We then meet Steven Colbern, who claims to have extracted an alien implant from his toe. Since he is a chemist, he has already performed some tests on the object and found that it shared many properties with meteorites, which to him bolsters his own argument that it must be alien in nature. Despite the object looking like a very small rock, he insists that it’s an alien probe or homing device, meant to monitor him and his vital signs. Zach asks if the producers can have the object tested and analyzed in a lab, and Colbern agrees. You can probably guess where this is going, but first we head over to METI, or Messaging Extraterrestrial Life. Unlike SETI, which searches for aliens by listening for their radio signals, METI actively targets distant stars, and sends signals their way. Which apparently has ruffled many feathers in the alien communication community, because as Stephen Hawking pointed out, if the aliens find out where we are, they may come pay us a visit. And their intentions may not be good.

Back to the results of Steven Colbern’s implant, and it turns out that it’s probably just a pebble from some soil. It’s still a bit of a mystery as to how it got embedded in his toe, but the answer probably isn’t aliens. Finally, Zach meets with another abductee, April Malloy, who helps Zach experience what it’s like to be levitated. Not the most exciting ending, but it’s an ending.

Overall, I dug the show quite a bit. The production values are great, much better than the usual paranormal fare. Between the outer space themes and Quinto’s soft, soothing narration, this felt very much like an episode of Cosmos (another show I desperately wish would return to the airwaves). The music was subtle, but very fitting. I like the hour-long format, too. Quinto, as I stated earlier, is a great fit here as host, narrator, and investigator. He brings some name-recognition and gravitas to the series, but is not the overly-exuberant and giddy celebrity that they easily could have chosen for the job. He seems to have a genuine interest in paranormal phenomena, but also possesses a cautious skepticism about him. And I like that they didn’t shy away from showing test results that completely went against any extraterrestrial explanations. The show didn’t seem to have an agenda, catering neither to believers nor skeptics. It just presented the stories and their experiments, and the results were what they were. Quite refreshing after years and years of “Dude, run!” and “What the hell was that?” moments.

I have to say that I don’t usually review shows immediately after watching them. For example, my review of Terror in the Woods (now renamed These Woods are Haunted) wasn’t written until I had seen the first 3 episodes of the series, and not until I watched each episode a few times. I liked that show from the get go as well, but I had a little more perspective when sharing my thoughts. So this is my first sort of “gut reaction” review. I really enjoyed this premiere episode, and hope the series stays strong and true to its objectivity. It will never match the campy awesomeness of the original run, but that’s okay. In Seach Of… airs every Friday night at 10pm Eastern Time on the History Channel. Next week’s episode: Super Powers.

And because it’s been in my head for hours now, a little earworm for you…

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