Hollywood Medium is the worst show on television, and perhaps the most brazen. It is the TV equivalent of a man calling you to schedule a break-in, you saying, “Sounds good,” and still being surprised when all your shit’s gone. So much of this deceptively cruel little experiment in exploitative programming hinges on host Tyler Henry’s insistence that he, an alleged homeschooler who grew up in the middle of nowhere without ever turning on a television or surfin’ the world wide web, has no idea who his clients are. It’s an unprovable claim, and one that I didn’t think anyone would take seriously when the show premiered late last year.
But the show’s fast-tracked second season, with its fancier packaging and slightly higher-tier clientele (that’s not saying much), proves that plenty of people are taking it seriously! They’re swallowing Henry’s rancid tripe by the bowlful, and it’s going down smooth. (Though I guess if you believe the ghost of your dead friend is casually chatting with a wild-eyed 18-year-old who’s being followed by E! cameras while scribbling in a scary Ring-like notebook, you’re willing to believe just about anything.)
This week, one of Henry’s marks was Carole Radziwill. As someone who doesn’t watch much Bravo, I didn’t know who she was. Fortunately, we live in a high-tech century wherein questions have no business being unanswered, and I was able to learn everything Henry claimed to be ignorant of in under three minutes. In my research, I learned: 1) she was best friends with Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, 2) she was related to her by marriage to Anthony Radziwill, 3) said husband died around the same time as Carolyn, 4) she’s a cast member of Real Housewives of New York.
When recounting his first meeting with Radziwill, Henry describes her as “a very elegant woman,” but adds, “I had no idea who she was.” That’s his M.O.—he burns celebrities with an “I don’t know her,” then provides a little ice in the form of a half-assed compliment.
Once they’re seated face to face, Henry tells her, “I don’t know what you do for a living. I don’t watch much TV.” That right there? That accidental revelation that he knows she’s in TV (not to mention on Bravo, which is owned by NBC Universal, the same parent company as E!) and not some other medium (ha) is what, according to my marginally problematic love for the movie Maverick, poker players like to call a “tell.” So he quickly recognizes his flub and adds, “You may not be in TV, you could be Broadway.”
Like a fish hungry for closure, she takes the bait, and later reveals that she was flattered by his guess. Broadway? Me?! God, he’s good.
After Radziwill hands him a ring, Henry calls upon on the Google Chrome tabs he read on the car ride over and says, “There’s a weird reference to an individual who died tragically? Like at a very early age? The amount of life that she had in her was intense. If she walks in the room, like everyone looks at her.” Caroline recoils. “Do you know of anyone who would fit that bill?”
“Yeah,” Radziwill replies. (Of course she does.)
“Wow,” Henry says.
“Is she happy?”
“Yeah!” After a few moments he continues. “I do have to go on the record and say she viewed you like a sister.”
Their close friendship is an easily Googleable fact, but Radziwill takes this statement as confirmation of something she already knew. Confirmation she didn’t actually need.
After attempting to get a connection with an old watch, Henry declares that no one’s answering his call. The watch, Radziwill later reveals, belonged to her late husband, who died of cancer soon after Bessette’s own tragic death. Though this seems like a rare misstep for Henry, he quickly shows off that his tricks are more complicated than they appear at first glance.
“Oftentimes what I will find is that in a reading is that the clearest communicator will come through,” he tells her. “[Bessette] is that figure who needs to say what she didn’t get to say, is how I would put it...I have no doubt that your husband and she have a connection on the other side.”
“That makes sense. That makes sense.” (This should not make sense unless you believe the movie Ghost is based on a true story.)
Tyler then continues the reading by saying Bessette is “She’s with a dog that passed, as well.”
Radziwill gasps once again. Carolyn had a dog named Friday who died tragically after the plane crash that killed both herself and JFK Jr. “Random,” she says. But is it? A quick search reveals several articles have been written about Friday’s death, including this one, from The New York Post:
But I’m not done, and neither is Henry. One of the last things he tells Radziwill—which appears to be an attempt to remind her of the whole “I don’t know who my famous, easily researched clients are” shtick—is, “She’s giving me a reference to something about reality?”
“I am on a reality TV show. That’s nuts,” says Radziwill
“OK great. Awesome.”
The show ends with Henry sitting in a chair, looking at the camera, and telling us, his miserable audience, this:
“Everyone can benefit from knowing that Carolyn Kennedy is at peace. And that she came through and had a very close connection to a dear friend.”
People like to defend the work of psychics and mediums by saying things like, “If it helps them find peace, how could it be bad?” But I refuse to accept that. The loss of a loved one causes its own special, terrible category of pain, and to exploit someone’s grief in a way that presents the afterlife as this bleak, murky place where our dead friends and family members are constantly on the hunt for people like the Hollywood Medium—or the woman with the office by the flower shop, or the guy who does readings on the pier—to spread a message that is almost without fail, “I’m fine,” doesn’t just con their desperate, mournful targets out of a few hard-earned dollars, it does a disservice to the memories of those they lost. I’m pretty sure Carolyn Bessette isn’t talking to anyone, Carole. And if she is, she has plenty of better options than Tyler Henry.