Netflix is excellent for all the reasons you imagine it isn’t.

You can never quite find the thing you’re looking for; there are films like the one you want to see, but they aren’t that like it; there are only the last three seasons of the TV programme you love, never the first two good ones; you only realise your favourite series is there a week before it’s taken down, or your favourite film is there a week after. You’d therefore imagine Netflix to be the ultimate Boulevard of Broken Dreams. But no! Because, in those dead hours, whilst you flick through the bizarre categories it’s come up with for you on the TV interface, and you find out just how many 1980s Arthouse Gay and Lesbian SciFi Movies with a Strong Female Lead there actually are, you can find some absolute gems that you would never, ever see under any other circumstances that didn’t involve time travel back to the actual 1980s and a visit to a very specific video rental shop and its remainder shelf.

This is how I found ‘Rescue Mediums’.

Of course, I was always going to find it. Netflix and I are old friends by now, and it knows what I like. It knows that I have a higher than average tolerance for the worst of US ‘psychic’ ‘reality’ ‘TV’ ‘shows’. (Honestly. Having put one term in inverted commas, what could I do?)

I love paranormal bullshit. I always have. I grew up in the 70s and 80s; prime schlock ghost era. I read all the King, Herbert and Barker I could, and all my dad’s Dennis Wheatley, before getting a bit esoteric and discovering Crowley, Wilson, Lovecraft, Forteana and associated weirdness. The thrill of finding a Pan Book of Horror Stories in a second hand book shop is still a wonderful thing. I yearn for dramas as good as the odder ‘Tales of the Unexpected’, or Nigel Kneale’s ‘Beasts’, and I even have a vague remaining fondness for ‘Rentaghost’. I compare every ghost hunt I see on TV to ‘Ghostwatch’ or ‘This House is Haunted’ and they all come up wanting. Yes, even ‘Haunted Collector’ and his Museum of Evil. Even, EVEN ‘Most Haunted, these days – although once it was glorious, when Derek Acorah was in full, insane swing with his many voices and his utter lack of awareness of his own gullibility*.

There has been an upsurge in cheaply made Most Haunted-lite imports from the US in the darker recesses of the free cable channels, as I’m sure anyone who works shifts, has young children or can’t sleep will realise. Most of them are not even awful enough to be any good. They’re just a bit rubbish, and rarely bother putting enough effort in to try varying the formula. A team of twenty somethings with one syllable names and an important sounding but ultimately meaningless role on the Team, will usually turn up at an impressively large and ominous building.

North America seems to have made up for its lack of actual ancient buildings with a plethora of abandoned asylums, murder hotels, follies built by mad millionaires, entire abandoned towns, forgotten settlements, money pits, plasterboard castles, roadside legends and other places where you’d think if ghosts were anywhere, then surely…?

There’s the ‘background’ to the show, which will often mislead you into making it sound vaguely interesting. A recreation (why??) of a video call comes in to the team from an anguished couple or young family who have made their selections from the haunted bingo card: cold spots, feeling like they are being watched, items being moved from where they were left, mysterious noises in the night, strange feelings, food missing from the fridge, odd sensations, etc, etc. One of the team is sent off to do enough research about the area that they are absolutely bound to get a hit of some kind – god bless the internet and extrapolation! – and the others set up their equipment.

This is where most of them leave me cold. They get their night vision cameras, their EVP recorders, their EMF meters, their whistles, bells and monitors galore. I especially love if they are recording outside, and are surprised that they capture sounds or movement. We get an hour of fuzzy background noise and static, ‘orbs’ (its dust, guys. Dust and insects), electromagnetic signals from the environment and shrieking from the team, with lots of shaky hand held camera work and shots of huge dilated pupiled eyes in night vision mode. All of this is given great import, and tied into the one unsolved murder or disappearance that their research monkey has found. The end.

Sometimes, it’s like they’re not even trying, honestly.

So, I started watching ‘Rescue Mediums’ without much hope of anything new. I’d been pleasantly surprised, and then bewildered, but sadly, ultimately bored by the Weather Channel’s ‘Super/Natural’, shortly before this. I was prepared to be let down again.

My first surprise was that this was no team of dynamic young people in a Mystery Machine full of pseudo-scientific equipment. The series opened not only with two middle aged ladies, but two middle aged ladies from the North of England. Be still my beating heart! And surely it wasn’t just their endearing Northerness that made them seem so familiar. And indeed, Jackie had previously been on the excellent Ch4 programme ‘My Psychic Life’ in 2015, which I encourage you to seek out and marvel at. I would of course remember her from that, having seen it several times. (ahem)

But, back to ‘Rescue Mediums’. On Netflix, we’re starting from series 6, and so I shall assume there are previously established reasons behind the format choices. On each new case, for example, our two intrepid Rescue Mediums turn up in a different (and frequently bizarre) vehicle. Maybe I’ll have to find series one and discover perfectly good story arcs for all these odd quirks.

We open with our two intrepid ladies, off on their travels to their previously undisclosed location. I assume they just drive until the spirits tell them they’re there.

Jackie and Alison chat to each other the entire time, be they on or off camera, as only two people who have been told to constantly explain what they are doing can.

“Do we know where we’re going today, Jackie?”

“I’ve no idea, Alison. Do you?”

“No, me neither, Jackie. I hope we don’t get lost! Wouldn’t that make for a very boring show for the viewers?!”

“It really would, Alison!”

But, before they arrive at their ‘entirely unknown’ location, they always do a bit of precognition work, and some ‘psychic art’.

(I would draw your attention at this stage and throughout the show to the amount of paperwork and general background produced but not referenced. It’s always worth considering with any ‘psychic’ show just how much stuff doesn’t make it to screen. Particularly on shows like those with the execrable John Edwards, James Van Praaaaaagh and their ilk, there are hours of misses for every ‘hit’ you see that makes it to screen. For every ‘Karen’ – which is the name of that lady’s dead daughter, and how could he possibly know?? – he’s gone through Katie, Kylie, Kevin, Keith, Kora, Cathy, Camilla, Clothilda, Caroline, Claude, Chenille, Cosmo, Cumin, Martin, Table… You get the idea. And even so, you will still only remember the bits that are relevant later, not the bits that aren’t. That’s how this stuff works. Sorry. It’s a very similar deal with a private sitting, or reading your palm, or your cards, or even your horoscope.)

Jackie is, amongst her other talents, a Psychic Artist. And, having seen examples of psychic art before, she’s actually not that bad, comparatively. Whether her psychic art looks like who it’s supposed to look like during later revelations is another matter entirely, but when you’ve only got one fuzzy black and white photo to go from, it’s kind of a moot point. So, they write down some key phrases, dates, do some drawings of random stuff and off they go in their Very Random Vehicle to this week’s troubled family.

There’s a quick meet and greet, then they compare their random phrases from their precognition session to the family’s random phrases about their experiences. They are often pretty much the same, oddly enough. Still, these ladies are psychic!

I bet, having been reading this far, you’re feeling pretty psychic too, and can guess the sort of phrases they come up with. To be honest, I bet you could guess some of the dates, too. This is set in the US, after all… But wait! We spotted that this series had a markedly different feel to so many of the other imported US psychic shows, and it took us a couple of episodes to realise that this was because it is actually based in Canada. No wonder everyone is so polite!

But, I digress. Being set in North America, the date range for spooky events and historic figures is usefully limited, research-wise. Anyone can happily play Psychic ‘guess the year’ with US shows, and get a fair to good hit rate, and ‘fair to good’ is enough for anyone with a bit of moxie to make a living at. QED.

Having impressed the troubled family with their precognition and drawings, along with their gentle Northern British accents, (which, according to the opening credit illustrations, make them posh upper class ladies, by the way) the Rescue Mediums proceed to explore the location. They don’t have any fancy electronics, or any strange equipment. They might burn a bit of sage or fetch a crystal out of a pocket if the atmosphere isn’t very nice, but that’s it.

It’s all delightfully friendly. Maybe it’s the combination of Northern British straightforward, nice-cup-of-tea homeliness and Canadian polite practicality.

They wander around in their comfy but stylish, classy catalogue clothes, looking like one of your Auntie’s mates who she sees down the pub on Fridays. You know the one, she works part time as a receptionist, and has her hair done every month, gets lowlights in autumn gold, and actually is a good laugh, and you should have seen her at Julia’s hen night… I think I’m in love with their ordinariness. It’s no surprise that they’ll be on a Psychic Cruise. I can see them on a cruise.

Anyway, they do a bit more chatting about how they’re walking around and how they’re feeling as they’re walking around. Once they find the problem area, they’ll agree they’ve found the problem area, and probably have a bit of a sit down.

Usually, they’ve spotted a spirit by then, too. Sometimes, more than one. To help the audience relate to this, we get a bit of camera trickery, which would seem to be one of the crew in reverse image (to look more spooky?) playing the role of the spirit. It’s usually one of the same three people, anyway; a man, a woman or a smaller person/child as suits the spirit they’ve spotted. Jackie and Alison decide between them what the spirit’s problem is – maybe it’s sad, or confused, or lost – explain things to it, and send it into the light.

If it’s an angry spirit, they put it in a ‘Crystal Cave’, then give it the choice of going into the light, or staying in the crystal cave. The episode I saw with an angry spirit, the spirit chose to go into the light. Again, it’s quite a simple process, and took about as long as it took me to type that. Luckily, spirits aren’t too cunning, and it didn’t say it was going to go into the light, then snuck away at the last minute or anything.

I’m being facetious here, and have no understanding of the complexities involved, I readily admit. Maybe spirits can’t do that, and it is that simple.

But there we go. Job done.

They take a deep cleansing breath, have a little smile and get up and let the family know how they’ve fixed everything. They show them how the history of their house or the area match some of the specifics they noted in their (extensive) precognition papers, everyone hugs, and then the Rescue Mediums go off and have a cheeky drink at a seemingly odd and random location chosen PURELY so that they can end on a very bad pun!

Which I think is simply glorious.

I’ve no idea if the Rescue Mediums are the sort of mediums who genuinely believe in everything they’re doing. Maybe they are. Bless them. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit.



*See additional comments from Dr Ciaran O’Keeffe here, too.