Has it really been nine seasons since four intrepid Bigfoot researchers began their quest for the legendary creature on Animal Planet’s ongoing “Finding Bigfoot”? If you’ve only seen, say, the first episode of Season One and worry about now needing a scorecard to keep up with the proceedings, fear not: Finding Bigfoot is one of the most consistently predictable reality shows (is that an oxymoron?) on the air. And that might just be its saving grace. Confused? Well, read on!
Let’s summarize for the uninitiated populace out there that has not yet caught hep to the cheesy fun that is Animal Planet’s jaw-dropping version of Ed Wood’s “Plan 9 From Outer Space.” The premise is simple: Four investigators — Leader of the pack and founder of the B.F.R.O. (Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization) Matt Moneymaker (not making that last name up, dear reader), field researcher and all-around sceptic Ranae, wide-eyed and over-earnest evidence sifter Cliff, and loveable field caller Bobo — travel to different locales throughout the country, and yes, even the world, week after week in search of the legendary and elusive Bigfoot; a large hairy hominid-like creature that supposedly haunts the forests of the Pacific Northwest and other woodsy areas around the globe. The team usually sets their compasses to so-called “hot spots” that report unusual number of sightings and then spend one-two days and nights investigating the area and conducting “town halls” where scores of witnesses to this strange phenomenon turn out to share their encounters with the foursome. From these town hall meetings, the most intriguing and sensational cases are culled by Matt and the gang and these are quickly looked into, usually in the form of an overnight trek through dense wooded regions.
A little about these overnight forays into the underbrush by the Finding Bigfoot team: these quick trysts involve a variety of methods of Bigfoot detection from the scientific (video and audio devices, the casting of unusual prints for analysis in a lab) to the downright bizarre: The oversized gentle giant Bobo routinely “calls” out to the supposed creatures in the form of a huge bellow, bacon is cooked up in a frying pan in hopes of attracting sasquatch, huge gatherings of fellow “squatchers” wander through the woods rather haphazardly with the team. And oh, the camouflage; the episodes of Finding Bigfoot could almost substitute as one long commercial for the camo industry, or at least act as one long love letter to Bass Pro shops worldwide.
Part of the problem with the show is alternately part of the appeal: It seems that there is just no real effort put forth after so many seasons to find the titular Bigfoot. By now the show has settled into a formula of the most mundane kind. One wonders whether to blame Moneymaker — oh, what a name! — for the blink and you miss them “investigations” of the areas the creature has been reported at, or whether the “Finding” crew is simply rolling with the shots called by Animal Planet higher-ups. A true scientific investigation into the mythology and phenomenon known as Bigfoot would seemingly dictate much longer stays in some of these so-called hot spots (two weeks to a month in each location, for example) by the team and something other than the team’s current “shock and awe” approach to rousing up any nine to ten foot animals homesteading in the Oregon pines or vacationing deep in the California wilderness. For example, what would happen in a research trip that didn’t involve the team producing loud knocks, emitting ear piercing shrieks or towing around a separate camera crew to document the proceedings?
After nine seasons of the “tried-and-the-true,” would it hurt to take different approaches to investigation? What might happen if, on top of doing their routine town halls, the team spent a solid week of hitting the town libraries and historical societies? What would happen if Bobo suddenly took to calling himself “Bob” and visited a barber shop? Ah, but therein lies the quandary: It would no longer be “Finding Bigfoot” but rather a much lower rated series that would run, at best, a half a season on the Smithsonian Channel before having the plug pulled. In short, you don’t mess with a formula that seemingly works for a large portion of the television viewing audience that, whether they would admit to it or not, don’t really want their hairy hero found.
And now we get on to the appeal of the show which is its very predictability. By now we know that Ranae is the Dana Scully of the group, Cliff and Matt are the Abbot and Costello of the proceedings, seeing Bigfoot in every grainy photo or video and hearing him in every odd sound in a pitch black forest, while Bob — er, sorry, Bobo – is every wide-eyed kid who holds onto their belief in magic and Santa Claus through thick and through thin, despite evidence to the contrary. The group have become — wittingly or not — “types,” caricatures that are thin and easy to latch onto without much thought.
This reviewer recalls a time in my dim past when I once spent an entire day on the living room couch recovering from a bout of food poisoning and watching an epic Finding Bigfoot marathon. The entire time I had one hand on the remote and one hand poised at the ready for a nearby trash can, lest the Chinese food from the night before made another appearance. I don’t recall many specifics of the episodes themselves. After an hour or two it all seemed to congeal into one huge blob of sameness. But that didn’t matter. What did matter to me is that, unbelievably, I had a fun time watching this huge bloc of programming. I was actually comforted by the sameness of it all and the inexplicable loose ends that were left at the end of each episode. Television, at its best, is supposed to be transformative and to take us away from our own realities. In that regard, Finding Bigfoot achieves a cheesy panache that is nothing short of addictive. My advice: Watch the show for the cheese and forget about anything more substantive than that.