Between the success of NBC’s Medium (which just won Patricia Arquette a Best Actress Emmy) and tonight’s debut of CBS’s Ghost Whisperer, we have learned an important lesson about the dead: they can be a real pain. Always with the nudging! Always with the demanding! "Tell my wife I love her!" "Avenge my death!" "Help me find my way to the light!" Waah waah waah! In the Ghost Whisperer pilot, a lady spirit even asks Melinda (Jennifer Love Hewitt), a young medium, to tell her husband that she left the key to her safe-deposit box in her raincoat. "Listen lady!," you want Melinda to tell her. "Find a bathroom mirror, levitate a tube of lipstick and spell it out yourself!"
She doesn’t, of course–this is CBS, which means that death and the departed must be respected and their issues resolved with heart-rending closure. It might have been better if the series were a little more irreverent (as the superior Medium occasionally is). Instead, J-Love plays Melinda as a doe-eyed pushover, jumping at the beck of the lost souls who ask her to help them attend to unfinished business and apologetically butting into the business of the living. In her first case, she tracks down the son of a dead Vietnam vet (Wentworth Miller, who’s simultaneously playing a live jailbird in Prison Break–now that’s scary!).
This first storyline is predictable, and more so are the lessons it lays down along the way: death is sad but part of life, love never dies, savor every moment you’ve got. (Dangerous, that last one: you probably wouldn’t spend 60 minutes watching this show if you believed that hour could be your last.) There’s a mechanical problem to Ghost Whisperer‘s setup too. You end up with a lot of touching scenes whose drama is squelched by Melinda’s having to repeat what the dead say: "Tell him I’m proud of him." "He says he’s proud of you." "Tell him to go home to his wife. She needs him. "He wants you to go home to your wife," etc.
Yeah, it’s a quibble. But it would all be easier to take if Ghost Whisperer’s syrupy dialogue were interesting the first time you heard it.