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Science Channel’s ‘Mysteries of the Abandoned’ uncovers the secrets of ghost towns around the world

Beautiful and informative, but is it really mysterious?

The third season of Science Channel’s exploration of abandoned communities kicks off with an extra long, two-hour episode, diving into stories behind both mysterious and infamous ghost towns around the world. Each episode features experts in geology, engineering, journalists, and local experts to reveal the science and history behind why these towns flourished and what caused their residents to leave them behind.

Not only do you get stunning images of nature surrounding (and in some places reclaiming) these sites, but also stories of murder, government corruption, propaganda, Nazis, and how far people are willing to go to turn inhospitable places into a living space to go after fortunes.

 

Episode 1: ‘The World’s Strangest Ghost Towns’

This extra-packed episode covers 10(!) ghost towns, scattered across the globe from Argentina, to West Virginia, to Nambia, to the arch of the boot in Italy. The show is beautifully shot, blending archival video and photographs with drone footage and traditional cameras to give a full view of each site. The local experts walk through areas of particular interest in each place, telling the story of how each town was settled, and what led to its downfall.

The episode does an excellent job of choosing sites, using both well-known towns like Centralia, Pennsylvania, where an underground coal fire has been burning since 1962, causing the enter town to be abandoned in 1983, to Villa Epecuén, Argentina, where the saltwater lake that attracted so many tourists eventually flooded and covered the town, leaving it coated in salt once the waters receded.

Not only are the views gorgeous, but the stories behind each town are fascinating. The range of expertise in the talking heads exposes different aspects than you get on most shows. For example, geologist Dougal Jerram describes the science behind how landslides occur and why the construction in the Italian town of Craco helped them cause half the town to slide away, and how earthquakes made the rest uninhabitable.

What disappointed me is that while the show has many experts and is beautifully shot, the editing and story structure undermines that sense of credibility by leaning into a false idea of “mystery.” Each town is introduced with wide shots and experts describing the decrepit nature of the towns, speculating on what might have caused the abandonment.

It’s awkward and makes the experts look a bit silly. The voice-over is also incredibly dramatic, with each town getting a different “mysterious” descriptor. I understand that’s the hook of the show, but each town has a specific reason why it was abandoned. None of them actually contain a mystery, except to the unknowing viewer.

But the biggest villain in “The World’s Strangest Ghost Towns” is the soundtrack. It plays constantly under the entire show and is dominated by intense and spooky tones. It feels like it’s trying way too hard to make these places feel mysterious, when the incredible images and fascinating stories are more than enough to grab the viewer.

Overall, the views and stories are definitely worth tuning in for, even if the production gets a bit annoying.

The season premiere of Mysteries of the Abandoned, “The World’s Strangest Ghost Towns,” debuts tonight on Science Channel at 9:00 eastern time.

AiPT! Science is co-presented by AiPT! Comics and the New York City Skeptics.

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