A&E’s latest summer offering is a beautiful, stupid MadLib. Asked to select 1) An ’80s Heartthrob with resurrected appeal 2) A relatable family dynamic, and 3) A TV subgenre that’s been done to death, the network answered: Rob Lowe stars with his sons, in a reality show where they investigate paranormal phenomena and conspiracy theories. It’s bonkers. It’s delightful. It’s The Lowe Files.
A warm intro of home movies narrated by a wistful Lowe tells of how he’s always loved stories of the supernatural, and how he bonded with his sons Matthew and John Owen over camp fire tales of ghosts and Sasquatch sightings. But his boys are growing up. They’re both in college now. So, Lowe has concocted a reality show/road trip to spend some “guy time” with his sons. And his absolute excitement over it is undeniably charming. Even when he dabbles in sexist dad jokes, it’s kind of endearing. With that giddy Chris Traeger smile, he kids about how the boys have “escaped the clutches” of wives/mothers/girlfriends to just dude out. Both sons side-eye, and are quick to shoot down such talk, “bowing out of…that metaphor.” But this too delights Lowe, as dads are always not-so-secretly thrilled when their dumb jokes score groans over guffaws.
The first episode, “Haunted Boys’ Reformatory” takes this father-sons bonding session to Preston Castle, a towering red keep where juvenile boys were once cruelly reformed, and some died, along with a head housekeeper who was murdered. Is the place still haunted? Probably! But not to worry, they have a shaman from Big Sur along for safety. Shaman Jon.
Shaman Jon Rasmussen has assured Sheryl Berkoff, Lowe’s wife and the boys’ mom, that he will keep her sons from being possessed. But he’s not above pranking them to think there’s some spooky shenanigans on the stairs, tossing down a deflated ball, and rattling the Lowes. Silliness aside, The Lowe Files does manage to wring suspense from this foolhardy jaunt, largely from the increasingly creeped out sons.
When they arrive, Lowe claims he’s “ambivalent” about whether the place is haunted, but his sons full-on eye-roll. With the least bit of prompting from Shaman Jon that some people can’t see spirits because they don’t have that talent of perception, Lowe runs with the deflated ball spouting out theories about “shadow figures,” “veils” between the living and the dead, then gasping in mock surprise, “So you’re telling me this is a boy’s reformatory built on an Indian Burial Ground!?” Zoiks!
Lowe is about as ambivalent about ghosts as Santa is about Christmas. But his overzealousness plays a solid foil to his more skeptical sons, who want to believe, but are celebrity children very aware they’re on camera for the whole world to judge. When a special device that’s supposed to translate the words of the ghosts so human can hear them begins spitting out words like “pie,” “beat,” and “lady,” Lowe leaps to the conclusion that it’s the dead housekeeper talking. “You’re building the narrative,” John Owen scolds, correcting his father that the murdered woman was not beaten to death, but strangled. Yet his skepticism proves a Scully-like setup for John Owen to be convinced just a few scenes later, when a device that’s supposed to light up when a ghost is present begins to dance with different colors. That this is only captured in black-and-white footage plays to the undercurrent of gawking goofiness that runs through this famous family reality series.
Because yes, on one hand you like Lowe and his boys, the way they are so thrilled to quest together, the way they push back on each other, as young people do against parents who still see them as kids. But another part of you came to judge the Lowes for this loony endeavor. Because even if you believe in ghosts, you might scoff at the family that dared to go on a family vacation to hunt for them, and then broadcast that on television. But whatever your reason for watching, the Lowes don’t care. They’re living out the adventures they’ve long dreamed of and together.
In episode two, they pile into a ship loaded with submersible cameras to explore rumors from Lowe’s childhood about a secret underwater base that hides in a cave under Los Angeles. Does it contain a top-secret government conspiracy? Or maybe Ancient Alien-like tech? They won’t find either. But it’s still a fun family trip. Whether it’s John Owen reprimanding Lowe about “acting” seasick for the camera, Lowe proving his authenticity by hurling mightily over the stern, or Matthew giving a perfect Jim from The Office look to camera when an overzealous “expert” says of a video relay glitch, “I’m not saying it’s aliens, but…,” The Lowe Files is a crisply fun romp.
No matter if you’re a believer or a cynic, this father-sons adventure is alive with charm and just enough conflict to keep it feeling real. Their wacky Scooby Doo expeditions are sci-fi set dressing to an endearing story of a father willing to play the fool to make his boys laugh, or make a reality show that gives him some quality time before they have families of their own.
You can watch The Lowe Files on A&E’s website for free.