There was something bothering me through the first episode of Chasing UFOs, but I couldn’t figure out what it was until the episode ended. It’s a fairly conventional setting, following the Ghost Hunters model of a small team of enthusiastic experts attempting to document paranormal activity through gadgets, research, and interviews. And UFOs seem interesting enough as a premise to hang a show from.
Yet I found myself resisting Chasing UFOs, and the reason became clear at the end of the episode. Our three heroes, Jim (believer), Ben (skeptic), and Ryder (who literally uses the word “skeliever” to describe herself) are in Texas, investigating a widespread set of sightings. They hold a town hall meeting, which sadly goes much smoother than a Parks & Recreation equivalent. They interview several serious people. They examine all kinds of footage. They even dig up history over a century old of some kind of unexplained phenomenon.
And then the episode just ends.
As the credits are rolling, Ryder says that the evidence she found was enough to convince her, finally, that something unexplainable was out there. Then Ben declares that it wasn’t enough for him. And that’s it. Fade to black. There’s no debate and no resolution.
The problem: a legitimate sighting of a UFO would be a monumental event. A UFO that also demonstrated proof of extraterrestrial life would be even bigger. And perhaps it’s my own bias here, but I think it would be a far more society-changing event to make a UFO discovery compared to a ghost, or a legendary animal. This genre of show is produced to be about the process of the protagonists: where they go, what they do, who they talk to, what they look like recorded by a night-vision camera. They’re not built for the idea that they might actually uncover something.
So when an episode does everything it can to indicate that something especially odd is happening in Texas, and then just leaves it, it’s a disappointment. I’m not expecting definitive proof, just some kind of denouement. If Ryder thinks that she saw a legitimate UFO, and Ben doesn’t buy it, then why not have a debate? A full weighing of the evidence? A bit less time spent referencing The Blair Witch Project and worrying about wild pigs would allow more time for presentation and rebuttal of the evidence. But the editing is built around travel and research, to construct a personal journey of the hosts’ relationship to the evidence, instead of being about the evidence itself.
Being about the hosts themselves isn’t necessarily a bad things, entertainment-wise. With the Beast Hunter show I linked to above, a charismatic host managed to smooth over the issues of chasing down evidence that was unlikely to exist. That isn’t the case here—partially because of the potential importance of a verified UFO sighting, and partially because the hosts don’t make much of an impression. Ryder is the only one who stands out, but that may be simply because she’s the only woman who has significant air time across both episodes. Despite being presented as opposed in viewpoint, Jim and Ben never really argue or interact in any way other than to discuss what to do next. Nor do they make much of an impression separately.
So if Chasing UFOs doesn’t deal with the consequences of its findings, and doesn’t have supremely charismatic hosts, what does it have going for it? There is a certain level of adventure to the proceedings, and the hosts do seem to be having fun. You can also learn about how dialogue around UFOs work. But that’s not enough to recommend it at this point, even as background noise. On the brighter side, it would just take a slight refocus of priorities when constructing and editing episodes to make Chasing UFOs much more interesting. As it is, it’s most effective as a demonstration of the limits of the paranormal-hunters documentary genre.