SurrealEstate's Oversells Its Supernatural Drama & Residential Scares
Josh Bell
It's easy to imagine creator George R. Olson coming up with the pun-based title for SurrealEstate first and then filling in the details later. The concept of a real estate agent who specializes in the paranormal seems ideally suited for a 20-minute short film, not an ongoing hour-long television series. The first half of SurrealEstate's debut season already shows the concept's limitations, recycling its basic plot elements in slightly different configurations.
It helps that Syfy favorite Tim Rozon (Wynonna Earp, Vagrant Queen) stars as SurrealEstate's lead character Luke Roman -- giving him the right mix of cockiness and vulnerability. Luke is an engaging character who might work better in a supporting role on a broadly defined supernatural drama; however, as the owner of a business whose sole purpose is to sell homes that are "metaphysically engaged," aka haunted, he doesn't give the show much depth. Luke's business problems are always more or less the same. Furthermore, he and his capable associates resolve each paranormal difficulty with minimal inconvenience.
Sarah Levy and Tim Rozon in SurrealEstate
Sarah Levy and Tim Rozon in SurrealEstate
There's no overarching antagonist on SurrealEstate, which isn't about dangerous world-ending supernatural threats. Even the occasional rival real estate agents come and go without making much of an impact. The ongoing drama comes more from Luke's standard-issue troubled past, including a mother who walked out on him and his father when he was young. Both of Luke's parents are dead, but that's not much of an impediment either. Luke has regular encounters with the spirits of his late parents, working out his issues of abandonment.
The entry point into the series for the audience comes from Luke's new associate Susan Ireland, a real-estate superstar who doesn't know what she's getting when working with Luke. At times, Luke can be brooding and intense whereas Susan is upbeat and productive. While she's better at dealing with clients and making sales, she's also harboring her own supernatural secret -- telekinetic powers that make her the real estate version of Jean Grey.
In its initial episodes, Luke and Susan make for an appealing team, which is good because the rest of the supporting cast is underdeveloped. Luke works with an ex-priest affectionately dubbed Father Phil (Adam Korson), who handles research into the history of the properties that the company takes on; and the eccentric August Ripley (Maurice Dean Wint), who's fond of speaking in famous quotations and creates all of the ghost-catching gadgets needed to rid properties of their hauntings and demonic infestations. There's also Zooey (Savannah Basley), the sarcastic goth office manager whose main function is to roll her eyes at Susan's perkiness.
In the first episode, Susan jokes that she thought she was joining a real estate firm but has discovered that she's actually Winston Zeddemore from Ghostbusters, and SurrealEstate owes a lot to the Ghostbusters movies, as well as to The X-Files and to the wisecracking paranormal investigators from the Insidious movies. But SurrealEstate isn't as comedic as Ghostbusters, as creative as The X-Files or as scary as Insidious, and Olson seems to have trouble figuring out a proper tone for the series.
Despite its opening scene, there's much less humor in SurrealEstate than you might expect. The series takes all of its various hauntings quite seriously. Luke and his team are dedicated professionals, and while they might crack an occasional joke, they don't mess around when it comes to dealing with ghosts and ghouls.
Since the show is focused on residential real estate, the only supernatural phenomena the characters encounter are haunted houses. Even if the houses are haunted in slightly different ways, the narrative progression is almost always the same and its depiction of ghosts is also disappointingly mundane -- although that's possibly a result of budgetary restrictions. The majority of the ghosts just look like regular people and appear so frequently that their presence doesn't seem particularly notable. Occasionally, there are glimpses of specters who are slightly more ghoulish, but for the most part, these ghosts resemble stubborn squatters.
Rozon and Levy have decent chemistry, and the creators seem refreshingly determined not to position them as love interests. Luke has a thing for the owner of the house haunted by his mother's ghost, while Susan is still reeling from the break-up of her affair with her former boss. The duo is likable and would be perfect to hire if you were trying to sell your own stigmatized property, but the show is mildly engaging at best with its one-note premise.
Starring Tim Rozon, Sarah Levy, Adam Korson, Maurice Dean Wint, Savannah Basley and Tennille Read, SurrealEstate premieres Friday, July 16 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Syfy.