If you thought the Kristen Stewart paranormal investigator show Living for the Dead was going to be fun, this new series is better left ghosted. If you’re an emotional queer who believes in ghosts and wishes Queer Eye was spookier, then wow is this the show for you!
First, a clarification: Kristen Stewart is not on this show. She executive produced it and provides the narration at the beginning and end of each episode. Her narration has a lot of very reality competition show intro dad jokes (daddy jokes?) but delivered in her famous deadpan cadence. The jokes aren’t good, but, personally, I think the combination of the jokes and Stewart’s voice is dyke camp.
But let’s move on to the queer paranormal investigators we’re actually watching on-screen! Juju Bae (Cancer) is the witch, a conjurer who pulls from Hoodoo practices. Ken Boggle (Aquarius) is the tarot reader, who reads cards and also is a psychic. Logan Taylor (sun sign unknown!), the official psychic, is a professional medium who conveys direct messages from the dead. Alex LeMay (Aries), the tech expert, uses the latest tools to observe and hear from the undead. And then there’s Roz (Libra), the paranormal researcher, who supplies real history, the only good jokes, and makes Living for the Dead work.
Except for Roz, who has primarily worked as a drag queen and comedian, these labels are not for show. While this is my own personal bias, it doesn’t bother me when Juju is practicing Hoodoo or Ken is reading tarot. But when Ken is in psychic mode and talking to the dead alongside Logan and Alex, the skeptic in me jumped out. It’s not that I expected realism from my paranormal investigator show. I just thought it would be ghost-curious queers jumping at sounds that may or may not have been planted by the producers. I didn’t think those queers would be telling a woman with confidence messages from her dead husband.
I might be a hater! If mediums bring comfort to someone, maybe it doesn’t matter if they’re real. And, look, I believe in the possibility of ghosts! I just don’t believe any of these gays are hearing verbatim messages from them. But Alex and Logan compare their status as ghost communicators to their queer identities. “I remember in high school I didn’t know which one I was more afraid of: telling people I was gay or telling them I saw ghosts,” Logan says like a John Early character come to life.
The Queer Eye reference isn’t a joke — it’s the structure of each episode. The group meets the homeowner or business owner of a haunted space and helps them heal the ghosts and improve their lives. Each episode of Living for the Dead ends with a forced happy ending; a narrative arc in a nice little bow. Our queers spend as much time talking to these people about their emotional problems as they do their ghosts.
Bless the reality TV Gods for Roz. She’s great at the compassionate stuff, even providing comfort to her teammates, but she keeps things light! She’s funny, hot, and has great fashion. It also helps that her official contributions to the show are interesting bits of history rather than messages from that history.
The issue here isn’t just my skepticism. The forced narratives keep Living for the Dead dour and prevent it from being meaningful in a way that’s less forced. The episode that takes place at a former mental hospital is great when Roz is showing documentation of the gender-nonconforming patients. It’s less great when the arc of that episode focuses on the random straight hauntees getting straight engaged.
The more episodes I watched of Living for the Dead, the more I wished I was watching a fictionalized account of the show’s production instead. Imagine: five spooky queers — ranging from total fraud to total believer — clash while making a ghost hunting show. Then, an undeniable paranormal event occurs. Now that would be a TV show worth a binge.
Living for the Dead is now streaming on Hulu.