Occult Television: True Detective, Constantine, and Believe

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  March 12, 2014 — 12 Comments

I don’t have cable, and I don’t have a subscription to HBO, so I haven’t seen the runaway phenomenon that has been the first season of “True Detective.” I will just have to wait for it to come out on DVD/Blu-Ray.  That said, I’ve been reading enough pieces about it to know that it mixed elements of Santeria and Vodou, the work of Robert W. Chambers, H.P. Lovecraft, and other literary references in that vein. While opinion has been decidedly mixed on the finale of this first season, that it was a hit has been undeniable. Thus, a second season has been approved, and it will be diving even deeper into occult themes.

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“This is really early, but I’ll tell you (it’s about) hard women, bad men and the secret occult history of the United States transportation system.”

If 2013 was the year witchcraft broke big in pop-culture, what with shows like American Horror Story: Coven, Witches of East End, The Originals, and Sleepy Hollow, all giving us powerful witchcraft-using characters (and with more on they way in shows like SalemThe Good Witch, and a possible Charmed reboot), then 2014 might see the return of another (slightly newer) archetype: the occult detective. This genre has most famously included Kolchak: The Night Stalker and The X-Filesand in addition to True Detective’s upcoming occult-themed series, we will be getting a small-screen treatment of one of the most famous occult detectives from comic books: John Constantine.

“Work on NBC’s Constantine pilot is well under way, and according to writer/executive producer David S. Goyer, the television series will have much more in common with its comic-book roots than the Keanu Reeves film did. In an interview with I Am Rogue, Goyer discussed the work on the pilot — which, by this point, will have begun filming — and teased a bit of what fans of the character can expect.”

So far, show-runners seem keen to avoid the mistakes of the flawed (though eminently watchable when divorced from the source material) 2005 film of the same name. If it succeeds, and lately, our culture seems increasingly hungry for this sort of material, could we see more work in this vein? A third series, which just premiered, while not an occult detective drama, is certainly a paranormal procedural: Believe.

“Created by Mark Friedman and Alfonso Cuaron — the latter of whom directed the pilot — Believe begins by introducing us to young Bo (Johnny Sequoyah), a sweet little girl with abilities beyond her control, who’s being pursued by dangerous people – the kind of people who are willing to kill if it means getting their hands on her. Enter Jake McLaughlin’s Tate, a wrongly-convicted death row inmate whose time is up, or so he thinks. A prison break gives Tate a second chance and in exchange he’s tasked with the duty of protecting Bo, which he reluctantly accepts. And so begins what could be a great duo of characters, as this former prisoner accepts his new responsibilities and comes to understand what’s so extraordinary about this little girl.”

From a broader view, this new slate of shows seem like a no-brainer. Ghost-hunting/paranormal reality shows have been popular for years now on reality television, and blockbuster horror film “The Conjuring” focused on a pair of Christian occult experts. Moving these themes into procedural territory is what television likes to do (and what a lot of people like to watch). It will also mean that occult and supernatural themes aren’t going anywhere anytime soon in pop-culture. We can be sure to see increasing references to modern Paganism, paganism in antiquity, African Traditional Religions, occult practices, ritual magic, rootwork, and other related themes as these shows look for material.

As these trends continue to grow and evolve, it behooves us to be mindful of what pop-culture is saying about our practices, and to be savvy in discussing them. Advocates for our traditions and practices need to be well-versed in these shows, as interviews from the mainstream media will no doubt start bringing them up (if they aren’t already). We have to have a complex and informed understanding of what these shows mean, and why they are popular. This doesn’t mean we have to watch everything, but it isn’t hard to sample what’s out there so we can be ready to talk about the distortions (or what shows got right) moving forward.

Jason Pitzl-Waters

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