Channel hop

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 May, 2006, 12:00am

During the 1980s, if there was something strange in your neighbourhood or something weird that didn't look good, there was only one call you were likely to make. But with Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson in their 60s, Bill Murray focusing on representations of the male mid-life crisis and Dan Aykroyd in danger of busting nothing more sinister than a chair - when he sits on it - it would seem the days of the Ghostbuster are well and truly over. Indeed, now that X-Files agents Mulder and Scully, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel have retired from the spook-swatting business, there is little to prevent things that go bump in the night from ... well ... going bump in the night.

Fear not. Help is at hand in the form of the Winchester brothers, the pair of ghost hunters at the centre of Supernatural (TVB Pearl, Thursdays at 9.30pm). This new mystery drama, which is also showing one week ahead of Pearl on AXN (Thursdays at 11pm), begins in seriously spine-chilling fashion with a disconcerting prologue that takes place 22 years ago in Kansas. During a terrifying incident that results in their family home being burned to the ground by wraiths unknown, the infant Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki) and his five-year-old brother, Dean (Jensen Ackles), are rescued from the flames by their father. Their mother is not so lucky.

Fast forward to the present day and Sam is attending Stanford University, in California, where he is attempting to lay his eerie past to rest, having severed contact with his ghost-hunting dad and brother about two years ago. His hopes of leaving the poltergeist-removal business behind are dealt a blow when Dean shows up in the middle of the night. Their father has gone AWOL while on the trail of a malevolent spirit and Dean needs Sam's help to find him.

And so begins their ominous odyssey, as they drive from town to town in search of their father while taking on the ghosts, ghouls and demons they meet along the way. Their first case involves the apparition of a buxom beauty dressed in white who preys on men who stop to give her a lift in a town called Jericho. Picking up hitchhikers, it seems, is never a good idea - even hot, scantily clad ones.

The duo are helped by clues left by their father, not to mention an impressive array of weapons, fake IDs and martial-arts moves. The vibe of the show is similar to that of Buffy, Angel and Smallville and anyone pining for those series will find sweet solace in Supernatural.

The two leads are instantly likeable, bouncing insults and jokes off each other in true brotherly fashion, and the wise-cracking Ackles bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Emilio Estevez. But the most pleasing aspect of the show is that it delivers a perfect balance of chills and thrills, much like a good ghost train. The special effects are movie quality, while several of the plot twists are genuinely shocking and not for the faint-hearted. Who you gonna call now?

But while seeing a ghost is a frightening experience, The Scholar (Star World, today at 9pm) deals with an even more alarming prospect: paying for a university education in the United States. It seems you can have all the grey matter in the world but unless you have the green to accompany

it, you might as well be a remedial reader, with some of the most prestigious colleges charging up to US$50,000 a year in tuition fees. Like a teenage version of The Apprentice, The Scholar aims to redress the balance for one lucky student, with a top prize of an academic scholarship at a college of their choice worth up to US$240,000.

Ten high-school students compete in quizzes and the kind of team challenges Donald Trump's proteges are usually set, while the scholarship committee (above; left to right: Marquesa Lawrence, Peter Johnson, Shawn Abbott) helps decide who will and won't proceed to the next round. The cameras also go behind the scenes at the house the students share for the duration of the show and reveal their family life; some of their stories are genuinely touching. This and the fact all of the contestants are, to a degree, likeable, raise The Scholar above most other new reality-television shows, while the carrot of a life-changing scholarship ensures the drama, excitement and tears of the competitors are all too real.

It raises the question, though: how far can reality TV go? Surely it is only a matter of time before we see Operation, in which 10 terminally ill patients compete to win the life-saving surgery they can't afford, or It's Your Funeral, where pensioners play for a no-expense-spared send-off to ease the financial burden on those left behind. You have been warned.

Also starting this week is VIP Weekends with Ian Wright (Discovery Travel & Living, today at 10pm), which follows the Londoner as he is shown around various locations by native celebrities. The first episode sees Wright visiting Hong Kong with Karen Mok Man-wai as his guide. The pair appear on

a radio show, do some karaoke, go to a martial-arts gym, visit a recording studio, shop in Shanghai Tang and ... that's about it. Wright is the consummate cheeky chappie (see page 10) and this show certainly has potential, but how he manages to have such a boring time in one of the most exciting cities on Earth while accompanied by one of its most beautiful and famous denizens is beyond me. I guess, like everything else in this town, it all depends on who you know.