Monsters and Mysteries in America: TV Review
10 p.m. Sunday, March 24 (Destination America)
Mike Sinclair, Fay Yu
Sheepsquatch, Mothman and other legends are investigated by a channel that loves meat, ghosts and America.
Buried deep within your cable package is a channel you probably haven't switched to very often: Destination America, which is part of the Discovery network. The channel says it's "emblazoning television screens with the grit and tenacity, honesty and work ethic, humor and adventurousness that characterize our nation." This apparently includes introducing us to something called the Sheepsquatch, featured on the new series Monsters and Mysteries in America, which travels around the country chronicling the unexplained.
Destination America seems to primarily have two niche interests, the paranormal (with series like Paranormal Project, A Haunting, Ghost Town Gold and Hidden in America) and food (United States of Food, Fast Food Mania, Food Factory, BBQ Pitmasters), particularly that which regards burgers, steaks and bacon. The programming is like one long backyard cookout where everyone is talking about that one time somebody thought they saw a ghost.
The channel itself has actually been around since the mid-90s as a holding ground for Discovery's more niche programming and reruns. It went from Discovery Traveling & Living to Discovery Home & Leisure to dropping the Leisure and later morphing completely to the short-lived Planet Green, which featured ecologically-themed shows built around celebrities (it was a bust). Last year, the channel decided to turn the dial in the opposite direction, focusing on meat and ghosts, in the name of Americana (the channel has also aired many 9/11 tributes).
As for Monsters and Mysteries, the show kicks off its first week focusing on Appalachia, a place a lot Americans are already afraid of just on its own. So what do the "shoot first, ask questions later" Appalachian people fear? Sheepsquatch, aliens and the Mothman, and other things you find deep in the woods. (Hint to the people of West Virginia: stop going so deep into the woods! As one Sheepsquatch believer says, "I think he just wants to be left alone.") Appalachia is not the only region targeted with tales, though; in the second week, the show moves to the Pacific Northwest, where the original Sasquatch, a lake monster and other spooky sightings are detailed.
This series, like most of Destination America's fare, seems born from a genuine place, which deserves some credit. It takes a serious documentary approach to its bizarre subjects, creating reenactments and featuring first-hand accounts of the monsters in question (having three monsters in each episode also gives just the right amount of time to each before getting too repetitive). It's refreshing in its lack of snark, and even though there are many unintentionally hilarious moments ("he thought the night would offer up romance … but it led to a monster instead"), it's not the exploitation TV that is rampant in the current documentary scene. Instead, there is just a collection of odd little vignettes which make for great, bizarre conversational fodder, and are surely sending hack writers everywhere scrambling to write a "based on a true story" schlock-horror (or next Syfy original movie) script for Sheepsquatch.
Monsters and Mysteries is not going to go into the canon of great TV, but who can resist a show that describes the Sheepsquatch as "a crossover between mutton and man. A sheep ... that's gone savage." That's fantastic stuff if you're in the right mood for it. It's tinfoil hat time for sure (the military makes a lot of appearances regarding the alien and Mothman stories, allowing just enough doubt to launch a thousand conspiracy theories), but it's also kitschy, lower brain state fun.