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STUDIO: A&E Home Video
RUNNING TIME: 4 hours, 42 minutes
• Feature-length condensed version
“It’s like an invasion of privacy meets The Sixth Sense!”
Loads of disturbed youngsters — none of which have stringy black hair — with psychic/medium Chip Coffey and psychologist Dr. Lisa Miller.
In six bone-thawing episodes, Coffey and Dr. Miller seek out young children haunted by paranormal abilities or experiences and coax them out on retreats, whereupon the children are taught to control and explore their powers, and abjure the forces of evil in the name of Professor Xavier.
I think I would be fascinated by a documentary about children who believe they have supernatural abilities and their relationships with their parents. That’s not what Psychic Kids delivers, despite its claims. Instead, the viewer gets a series of informative demonstrations of confirmation bias, tarted up with fancy editing and dramatic pauses. Now that’s entertainment!
Call me “Wanda!”
No, no it’s not. I’m not just saying that because I’m a skeptic, either. My beef comes mainly from how terribly repetitive the whole exercise is. Every episode follows exactly the same formula.
Step a) Introduce three children who claim to have good reason for wetting the bed.
Step b) Bring those children to a common location.
Step c) Invoke the powers of Mysticism and Science (thanks to Coffey and Dr. Miller, respectively) to confirm those kids’ worst fears.
Step d) Play a game of Captain Planet. “With our powers combined, we can tell the spirit of Blackbeard to cut it out, all right!”
Poor guy died when black socks were still OK.
There’s so little variation that the children, the subjects of this whole “documentary” affair, become indistinct, which isn’t helped by the fact that the show isn’t concerned with the particulars of a given kid’s life beyond that he or she claims to be bothered by some psychic affinity.
That makes me upset, as an audience member, because it gives the show such a narrow focus of appeal. Skeptics get the cold shoulder, and psychological history doesn’t even skirt near the camera’s lens. Anyone trying to be interested in the children as complex creatures with some sort of unclarified problem gets cut free for lack of an anchor. Really, this isn’t so much a documentary as a piece of reality TV, with all the camera-awareness on the part of the subjects that goes along with the genre. Dr. Miller and Coffey lead the children plenty while the cameras are rolling, but just as in the “unscripted” world of reality TV, it’s hard not to suspect that there’s even more direction going on behind-the-scenes.
In this case, I’d feel confident saying that rather than exploring the lives of these children, the producers are exploiting them. I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense, but just descriptively. By focusing on the psychic abilities, rather than the children possessing them, the whole series feels uncomfortably like watching an isolated group of some religion discussing how great that religion is. There’s no reason for me to care, unless I happen to be interested in that religion. What’s more, there’s nothing to be gained from encouraging each other in the tenets of that religion unless you’re physically there in the circle.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Fairy, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…
It’s not worth watching for most viewers, unless — like me — you enjoy sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong. Here’s what gets my goat: There’s never any sign that the children are in danger, but we are meant to believe that they believe they are. If a child is in danger, it’s common to react by wanting to protect them or fix their problem. And, judging by the claims of the show, that’s exactly what Coffey and Dr. Miller achieve. Their exercises place control in the hands of these young girls and boys. Instead of being haunted, the children are taught to stand and face their demons, however literal they may be. I never want to argue that it’s bad to give someone hope and the sense that they control their own lives. I can’t argue that, without knowing more about the lives in question.
Which brings me back to my original frustration. Psychic Kids doesn’t have much meat on its bones, and what little there is occupies a realm man was not meant to know, or something. There’s a certain sympathy that can evolve between the audience and the subjects, but it’s because of the situation they occupy within the confines of the show. No hint of real information troubles the waters of this series, and so it’s hard to spot even a glimpse of interest.
“Mommy, mommy… Something’s shaking the tent and I have a runny nose.”
If you would rather not watch all six episodes— Wait, let me rephrase. You would rather not watch all six episodes. Instead, you can watch the condensed, feature-length version of the whole show. You get all the same questionable methods and dangerous reinforcement of superstitions, but in less than half the amount of time. It’s a steal!