For the most part, investigative paranormal shows leave me totally cold. Almost without exception they consist of people in a room, in the dark, performatively overcompensating to clanks. If you have seen one episode of any investigative paranormal show, you have seen every episode of every investigative paranormal show, and anything more than that is overkill.
And then I saw Conjuring Kesha and completely changed my mind. As you may have already grasped, Conjuring Kesha is an investigative paranormal show that happens to star Kesha, the famous pop star. And that means it is, by some degree, much better than anything else the genre has ever produced.
I have to be honest, even I don’t know how ironic I’m being here. Because to break Conjuring Kesha down to its constituent parts would be to reveal a show that is deliberately incredibly stupid. There’s the host (famous pop star Kesha) who vacillates between spouting the kind of bland, faux-inspirational tripe that idiots usually sew on to blankets – “I hope that the light I carry inside me is strong enough to protect me from evil”, to give one example – and viscerally not wanting to have anything to do with this stupid show.
There’s the presentation, in which Kesha films the action on an old VHS camcorder, which would be a neat trick if it wasn’t rendered completely redundant by the professional camera crew that has been hired to film her filming the action on an old VHS camcorder. There’s the fact that, and this is more a flaw of the genre than the show, literally nothing ever happens. Nothing. It’s Kesha and one of Kesha’s friends standing in a dark room, wildly trying to convince themselves that they are being haunted by something other than their own lack of dignity. The show is a mess. On paper, it has nothing to recommend it whatsoever.
But good Lord it’s fun to watch. The first episode takes place in a creepy old abandoned prison, where 10,000 prisoners are said to have died in all manner of violent and alarming circumstances. An old warden, who almost certainly peddles the ghostly shtick to keep herself working, tells a story of one prisoner who staggered along the corridors with his throat slit, blasting arterial blood into all the cells as he went. Two other people, women who have some claim to the land that the prison was built on and are only doing this so developers do not touch it, boggle their eyes and wiggle their fingers and tell of The Creeper, the resident demon who crawls across the floor like a spider. There is even a ghost hunter, employed to bring in apparatus that bleeps (to give Kesha something to react to) and a bell that can summon angels (because that just kind of sounds quite neat).
For this episode, Kesha is joined by Whitney Cummings, a woman who immediately outs herself as far too gullible by shrieking in the car park because a spirit has grabbed her by the wrist. Their job, as with all investigative paranormal shows, is to wander through the rooms of the prison looking more and more perturbed. It is a job that Kesha is only partially qualified to do. “I feel pukey,” she whines at one point, less like a woman haunted and more like a six-year-old who just chugged a slushy and then ridden on a rollercoaster. Her emotional highpoint comes right at the end of the episode, when she flatly announces “Bummerville” before telling the crew that she wants a milkshake. I can’t say for sure whether Conjuring Kesha was explicitly designed to be a sort of spooky Simple Life, but that’s how it often comes out.
Luckily, where she has a habit of understating her fright (“Demons cause death,” she announces at one point, “I don’t love that.”), her guests are more likely to swallow the bait whole. In episode one, for instance, Cummings single-handedly creates one of the most staggering moments I have seen on television this year. It is the moment where, and I promise I am not making this up, a demon preys on Whitney Cummings by pretending to be a trans woman.
It is incredibly bizarre. Cummings gets talking to a ghost, who seems to be cagey about its gender. Cummings believes that this is because it is the ghost of a trans prisoner, while an off-site ghost hunter believes that it is because it is a demon who does not have a human form. As Cummings gets more and more worked up, imagining the hell that a trans person would endure in prison, the hunter starts to become hysterical. Pretending to be a trans person to gain the sympathy of a visiting comedian, he screams, is exactly the sort of thing that a demon would do. Everything gets extremely fraught although, you know, nothing actually happens.
And this is why you will wolf down every ridiculous second of Conjuring Kesha. Investigative paranormal shows seem to be a valid celebrity side-hustle now. Demi Lovato has one. Kristen Stewart is making one. But unless they are able to match the pound-for-pound giddy stupidity of Conjuring Kesha, they may as well give up now.
Conjuring Kesha starts on Discovery Plus on 8 July with UK and Australia dates to be announced