Early in the first episode of E!’s Hollywood Medium, while being driven around Los Angeles by his mother, Tyler Henry says, “I woke up this morning, and there was a grandmother coming through really strongly. She was adorable.” Even though the adorable old woman was adorably dead at the time, after hearing the news, Tyler’s mom just keeps on driving. To her, this is just another normal day. But to skeptical viewers, it reads as bullshit.
While watching the show’s 20-year-old “medical intuitive” (???) go from door to door like a modern-day snake oil salesman, I found myself thinking, “Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit!” every few seconds—specifically during scenes in which Henry’s “abilities” are explained. “I open myself up, set the intention to connect with someone, and then I randomly...get pieces of imagery,” he explains. After traveling through Henry’s unreliable dial-up connection with the other side, the images are brought to life through a kind of automatic writing. “I have a pen, I have a notepad, and I scribble.”
He’d like to you believe the scribblings are ways he works through messages from the dead, but I believe they’re bullshit—a way of misdirecting his marks during the con. Isn’t it funny how mediums often expect us to believe that the dead, in their desperate attempts to tell their survivors that everything’s just great on the other side, are only able to communicate in single words or syllables? The afterlife is apparently filled with stuttering apparitions of the formerly living, wandering around like humans in need of better phone reception.
“There is a reference to a B initial. B B B B B,” he says while scribbling.
Jaime Pressly gasps. “Brittany Murphy.” His bullshit worked.
Though Jaime Pressly’s friendship with Brittany Murphy is something easily learned about online, Henry says he never researches his clients, and adds that growing up in a small town provided him a much lower baseline of pop culture knowledge than most people his age. “I never want to offend my clients by not knowing who they are,” he says coyly, in what could almost be interpreted as shade.
In one scene—at an LA “party” we’re meant to believe was neither planned, scripted, populated, or lit by E!—he “randomly” runs into Bella Thorne. (Again, he says he has no idea who she is. And again, I think that might be shade.) Does she want a reading? Sure, why not. She smacks gum as he mentions something about a vehicle accident that happened seven years ago. Vehicle accident. Seven years ago. What could it possibly mean? Thorne’s eyes narrow. Her father died seven years ago in a motorcycle accident. She’s mentioned this before.
During a reading with NeNe Leakes (whom he claims to recognize only from Glee), Henry says a female spirit is coming through his 28.8kbps modem and yapping about a kidney. Woman. Kidney. Woman. Kidney. Presumably sensing a lack of belief from his client, Henry pulls out another reliable move from his bag of tricks and begins to sweat—a lot. Kidney. Woman. Sweat. Kidney. Woman. Sweat. Yup, Leakes’s mother died of kidney failure. Though that information is easily Googled, I will give Henry credit for the sweat. It’s bullshit, but it’s dramatic and uncomfortable bullshit.
In the episode’s final reading with former basketball player John Salley, Henry once again starts sweating. After buckets pour out of his skin—a biological function that briefly convinces me that he isn’t actually one of the droids from A.I.—Henry gives Salley a name. Moses. He says he’s never gotten that name before, and sort of laughs it off as though he hasn’t done his research. Moses Malone was Salley’s good friend who died last year. “I feel enhanced and blessed,” he tells E!’s camera. I feel like I’ve just watched an auditorium filled with 5-year-olds believe that the magician actually split that lady in half.
In Samantha Hunt’s Mr. Splitfoot, a novel that was coincidentally released this month, two 17-year-olds are recruited by a con artist named Mr. Bell to convince sad people they’ve made contact with deceased family members. When describing the ease with which Mr. Bell finds new clients, Hunt writes, simply, “Everyone has dead people.” On future episodes of Hollywood Medium, “everyone” will include Tom Arnold, Monica Potter, and Amber Rose. Because bullshitters bullshitting can be mesmerizing—and because it follows Keeping Up With the Kardashians (a show Henry has, again coincidentally, appeared on recently)—I’ll likely watch several.
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Images via E!.