Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction
This show was a mixture of anthology stories separated by the conundrum posited towards the viewers: Which stories were true and which were false? It helped convey a sense of interaction and discussion among viewers while setting up an interesting way to depict various stories based on some supernatural themes or with slightly out of this world elements. The end of the episode would reveal which stories were true and which were false, often (very loosely) saying something to the affect of, “Based on research by our editors, this story is true” and later altered to sometimes include an additional phrase such as, “According to our research, this story is fact, and took place in Pennsylvania in the early 1970’s.”
Created by Lynn Lehmann, the show was broadcast on FOX from 1997 through 2002 largely riding the success of The X-Files which was just hitting its peak in 1997 and 1998. The majority of ‘true’ stories came courtesy of writer Robert Tralins, most known for his supernatural books in the late 1960’s and 1970’s including: Strange Events Beyond Human Understanding, Weird People of the Unknown, Children of the Supernatural, and Clairvoyance in Women. Many of the false stories were merely dressed up takes and spins on popular urban legends, making them often easy to spot as fake if astute viewers knew the urban legends they were based off of.
Upon starting, the first season was hosted by James Brolin. The series is far more known for the follow up host, Jonathan Frakes, best known for his acting on Star Trek: The Next Generation as well as directing many episodes of various television shows. The show itself initially stopped in 2000, only to be called back up for a 1 year run in 2002.
Despite its cult following, the show itself only aired 45 episodes over its entirety. The first season was a stop gap fill in with 6 episodes but the success in Season 2 propelled it forward with 13 episodes and 13 more episodes for Season 3. The final season in 2002 maintained that run of airing 13 episodes.
Although it was a short run, the show is still filled with memorable stories distinct enough to have left an impression on fans all over the world. Arguably its most infamous (and best) story actually came in the second episode ever aired called Kid in the Closet. A younger brother proclaims there is a monster in his closet and his older brother and neighbors refuse to believe him. Finally, the older brothers goes into the closet to prove there is no monster, only for the others to hear terrified screams and open the door… to find the boy missing completely. This was one of the more shocking episodes and made more stunning because it was supposedly based on true events although it’s since been believed that the real story had the boy found at a neighbor’s house afterwards.
Another memorable episode came courtesy of a Friday the 13th special with a story called The Wrestler, about a wrestler who was killed in the ring by his opponent. The episode was most notable among the majority of wrestling fans for starting legend Terry Funk whom had just started wrestling for the WWF at the time. Given the recent story of the death of Pierro Aguayo Jr in Mexico and Mitsuharu Misawa in Japan, the story now comes off as pretty dark and harrowing to watch.
Notable among the episodes and stories themselves were many that relied on a downer ending, an ending that did not present the cliched “happy ending” that most stories were necessarily reliant upon. One notable one was a story titled Blind Man’s Dog, part of a special devoted around animal stories, which replicated the common belief that animals recognize or sense differences in a sixth sense this time devoted to deaths of tenants in the building.
While not often featuring notable actors, Jewel Staite appeared in the 2002 episode, Second Sight playing a pair of twins who can recognize what the other is feeling and features a twin saving the other. Staite had been a mainstay in other “science fiction” shows such as The X-Files and Are You Afraid of the Dark in past years as well. For fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Tabitha St. Germain had a brief appearance as a book store clerk in the episode, When I Was Big. Also common director of the show, Tony Randel, is most known for directing Hellbound: Hellraiser II. Another common episode director, Skip Schoolnik, would later direct 5 episodes of Angel under Joss Whedon.
Most of the stories were pretty much over the top acting so it was hard to take them too seriously as good television but there were a few other standout episodes, notable for their surprising creepiness and general horror aspects. Red Eyed Creature, set during a Touch of Evil special, featured a couple and their young son moving into a house with a nanny. The young son starts seeing a disturbing creature as his parents try to logically explain it away and he finally finds a logical explanation, seemingly ending the episode.
The other episode that’s notable for it’s surprising horror was Mirror of Truth about a young woman who sees herself as ugly then treats a beautician rudely for a poorly done makeover leading to the beautician to curse the young woman, of course. This, like the previous episode relied on The Outer Limits style twist ending.
A cult classic show in all the right words and a fun nostalgia trip for those whom grew up watching it. A lot of the stories don’t hold up that well, the acting is hammy and way over the top usually, and there are not that many scares but it’s still a fun show to throw a random episode on and have fun trying to decode with friends and family which are true and which are false.