October 24, 2005 12:00 PM

CBS (Fridays, 8 p.m. ET)

Ghost Whisperer, starring Jennifer Love Hewitt as a woman whose extraordinary psychic powers keep roping her into duty as an express courier between the dead and the living, is not the best title for a series. It sounds too much like The Horse Whisperer, and suggests a series about horses that have gone to the Pasture in the Clouds and now neigh, snort and maybe even stomp their hooves in order to communicate one last message: I’m eating all the alfalfa I could ever want and I’m at peace. But despite the title, Ghost Whisperer can be surprisingly moving. It treats the grief of the living (and the dead) with a reverence that’s undeniably mawkish, but so what? It feels genuine and tinged with a sad acquiescence of the gulf between here and beyond. The show’s heart is closer to Touched by an Angel than Medium. It’s Touched by Jennifer Love Hewitt.

She plays Melinda Gordon, a woman who has been able to see, hear and speak with spirits since she was a girl. (Her grandmother, we learn in a flashback, had the same power). Now, even though she’s a newlywed and trying to run an antiques shop, spirits keep invading her space. She should probably just install a little buzzer or bell by the front door. A soldier who died in Vietnam hasn’t been filled in on the fate of the pregnant wife he left behind. A child killed in a train accident lingers by the tracks, afraid that his mother is angry with him (in fact the poor woman is frozen in sorrow). Hewitt deals with these intrusions with great tact and gossamer sweetness. If her performance isn’t as interesting as Patricia Arquette’s in Medium, that’s because Arquette’s character is grounded in raising a family and solving crime. There’s otherworldly friction and everyday aggravation. Sometimes it seems Hewitt should be astride Rainbow Brite, strewing petals and little stars in her wake. At least she’s comforting.


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