Unscripted shows that address unexplained mysteries are common on cable networks these days but only one has Bill Shatner: History Television’s Weird or What? The show returned to for its third season premiere on Monday and promised another series of tales on topics that range from the inspiring to the bizarre. Be warned, though, they are not always easy viewing for the faint of heart.
Acting as host and executive producer, Shatner anchors Weird or What? with his affable personality, some corny jokes and a propensity for self-deprecation. Accordingly he supports the drama with just about the right amount of humor to give the show a populist edge but avoid belittling the sometimes life-changing events that it recounts.
It’s true that there’s ample use of the staccato-style of editing that is common in TV documentaries today but only fans of the most conservative form of presentation are likely to find it intrusive. Slightly more irritating might be the decision to herald commercial breaks with choice snippets from interviews to come presented in a climactic context. Thankfully, though, it is never as OTT as the hooks that sometimes precede ad breaks in the likes of Destination Truth and Ghost Hunters. This show is Canadian after all.
Unlike the aforementioned Syfy series, Weird or What? is not dedicated to stories involving paranormal phenomena, myths or weird creatures. Indeed, rather than celebrating the unexplained through the unexplainable, the premiere attempts to intrigue its audience with personal stories about real people surviving against the odds.
In typical Weird of What? style, the three extraordinary tales of human resilience presented in the opener are told through a combination of dramatization, interviews with the survivor’s themselves and expert talking heads. In each case, the fact that the protagonist is still alive against the odds can be explained in multiple ways. Plausible theories are outlined at the end of each story by an expert in the field and the viewer is left to decide which they believe.
If you think real life tales can’t be as harrowing as a blurry monochrome video diary of a night with in the jungle with Josh Gates, think again. Season 3 of Weird or What? kicks off with a story about a man who survived the collapse of one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center from inside the building. In the process, he fell 18 storeys and came out of the rubble with barely a scratch. Even after almost 11 years the footage of the plane crashes and the falling towers still carries a powerful emotional punch. This is tempered only by the incredible story for which these images provide context.
Yet, the unsettling 9/11 coverage is just a warm up. An even more grueling dramatization follows as Shatner tells us about a man who survived being virtually cut in half by a train. It doesn’t bear imagining; nor is it pleasant to look at. Like the only slightly less shocking story of a man attacked by a hippo that rounds out the episode, there is no shortage of blood and some harrowing screaming acted out by the victim’s stand-in.
In subsequent episodes Shatner will be telling stories about aliens that walk among us and man beasts. Together with the season opener, these topics show the broad range of subject matter that Weird or What? covers. On the evidence of the survivors’ stories, Season 3 won’t be kids’ stuff. Curious adults shouldn’t be disappointed, though.