Surreal Estate (S1E1-2): Syfy’s Latest Supernatural Listing

A Syfy channel series is always a good time. Maybe the production value isn’t always operating at a cinematic level, but, in general, you know you’re going to have a good time. Having just ended my first full binge of Schitt’s Creek (and bawling my eyes out in the final episode), I started getting into Syfy’s Resident Alien. I began seeing a familiar face during the advertisements. Commercials for a fun-looking show about real estate agents who sell haunted houses began popping up during the breaks. The concept gave me a half-smile, and the title made me laugh out loud, but the recognizable Sarah Levy, who played Schitt’s Creek’s diner owner with a heart of gold, Twyla, provided a friendly face in a show I would have otherwise overlooked. Instead, I anticipated the show, frequently checking on it to see if it had started airing yet. Finally, Surreal Estate is here.  

What initially struck me about the concept is that it’s inexhaustible as a “story of the week” series. Like the long-running, fan-beloved series SupernaturalSurreal Estate can literally go anywhere and encounter anything, so long as the market in that area is primed to sell houses, that is. I.E., cave-dwelling werewolves need not apply. The stories are only bound to the imaginations of the writers. Sure, a serial plotline will unfold throughout the season, but the fun will be in what this team of poltergeist and property movers face along the way. The pilot episode suggests hope for this new Syfy show. 

Surreal Estate Title over a gate

In the pilot episode, we’re introduced to Luke Roman (Tim Rozon) arriving at a large house during a thunderstorm. The light from the house catches him just right to resemble the moment Max Von Sydow arrives in The Exorcist. Inside the home, studying med student Megan Donovan (Tennille Read) is disturbed by changing images in her textbook and a malfunctioning radio. The spirit chases her to the door of the lovely, spacious colonial that she clearly would never be able to afford in this housing market as the sole proprietor. Luckily, she opens the door and finds Luke ready to sell her home, ghouls and all.  

Surreal Estate then literally dips into its elevator pitch, having Luke explain what his job entails to Megan while the two wait for her lawyer fiancé at a nearby diner. Things are kept light, and the audience is entertained by what the future holds for Luke and his company of “stigmatized properties.” Things move rather fast, not only between these characters as we get the sense that Megan’s fiancé, Brock (Matt White), and Luke will not be getting along but also in our introduction to the rest of Luke’s team in the following scene.  

Luke takes his findings on the malevolent entity to his team of experts, sitting in a boardroom that suggests the Roman Agency is selling many homes previously inhabited by the previously living. The agency feels a lot like Wolfram and Heart from Angel, and the steely, blue-eyed brooding of Tim Rozon’s Luke makes for a worthy David Boreanaz replacement, even if his facial expressions hint at Timothy Hutton, Edward Burns, Mark Wahlberg, and Mark McGrath. It’s an interesting combination for sure, but Rozon remains likable and charming throughout the episodes. 

Luke stands in a white room with windows and another real estate agent behind him
Luke (Tim Rozon) is a charming character that you find yourself rooting for.

The arrival of motivated seller Susan Ireland (Levy) is the catalyst for introductions to our Surreal Estate squad of apparition evictors. Susan enters the boardroom on the same page as the viewer, not knowing much about what’s going on here but eager to understand. We learn Susan is joining the team after being fired from her last job just before some mysterious fires broke out.  

This inaugural episode seems to follow some cliché plot development but attempts redemption by acknowledging its parallels to other works whimsically without becoming cringeworthy. That is seen in the initial Exorcist cold open, but more especially with Susan’s entrance as a red-headed, pantsuit wearing Dana Scully replica, who verbally likens her first day on the job to Winston Zeddmore’s in Ghostbusters. That line also made me realize I didn’t know Winston’s last name until then, but it makes me that much more prepared for a Ghostbusters trivia night, I guess. However, the thing I found most frustrating between the two episodes is how Luke is written to simultaneously keep Susan in the dark about what their work is while expecting Susan to handle the job. Susan’s first-day orientation is a short car ride to a home where books fly off the shelves. She is then immediately given the listing. I mean, satirically speaking, that is realistic job training in 2021.  

Getting back to the rest of the Roman Agency, we have Father Phil (Adam Korson), a fallen priest who does background checks and general research of the property listings. August Ripley (Maurice Dean Wint), a quote-wielding engineer of the agency’s ghost management technology. And finally, Zooey (Savannah Basley), the goth-dressed office manager. The team’s names and titles are done so quickly that my mind considered two routes the show could take these characters. My thoughts started with Lin Shaye introducing her team in Insidious, to the first time Hermes, Zoidberg, and Amy are introduced in Futurama. The first time Specs and Tucker are introduced in Insidious, their roles feel clearly defined, and they stick to those character parameters. However, I’m hoping, because the introductions are so fast and we never get too much of a feel for these supporting characters, they will develop into loveable and possibly quirky characters, further developed in the forthcoming episodes. Episode two, “The Harvey,” definitely presents more depth to these characters, revealing Father Phil’s Mikado loving partner Anthony (Paul Ewan Wilson), August briefly on the scene showing off his proprietary technology and quoting Edgar Allen Poe in the show’s first gut-wrenchingly painful pun. And, finally, Zooey standing up for herself against Susan and showing her assertive side through a coffee scene that lacks context but assures viewers that conflict exists between these characters.  

Susan stands in the doorway of the boardroom of the Roman Agency smiling wearing a seafoam green pantsuit.
Susan (Sarah Levy) as Susan rocking a seafoam green pantsuit and red hair. Dana Scully, eat your heart out.

Surreal Estate’s pilot seems to be setting up a season-long arc that’s pushing Luke and Megan together. I mean, not only does her house contain some sort of Hellmouth/ghost nexus point, but also the ghost of Luke’s dead mother. Obviously, we’re heading into love triangle territory if this continues, but as Luke’s dead father Carl (Art Hindle)—who either apparently died at a minigolf and batting cage property or is attached to something that is following Luke around—muses there may be longer-term things in store for Luke and Susan, which may cause conflict given her previous involvement with a boss at her last job cost her the job. Susan finds Luke at the batting cages to speak with him about the problems at the Lenore property, the listing she was given, where Luke tells her that rational explanations are still encouraged. This scene also feels like another instance of relationship-building in a Mulder-Scully fashion, but, after two episodes, the dynamic that Roman and Ireland are imbued with doesn’t reach that Mulder-Scully level. That’s okay. Mulder and Scully don’t attain that relationship in the first episodes of The X-Files either, but the leads certainly have the kind of chemistry to reach that in the series, though I think the writers need to allow that to work itself out. Honestly, the first episodes of the show seem to fit more into the Friday the 13th: The Series relationship between Ryan and Micki, though that could also be because the first episode of that series, “The Inheritance,” parallels Surreal Estate’s “The Harvey” because both utilize similar themes and locations in dealing with children and playgrounds. 

As the pilot stories diverge, Luke lets Megan crash with him after a night in the house turns almost deadly. Megan is stalked by the doctor she saw in her textbook earlier and nearly sliced open in an operating theater. The doctor resembles Nicholson’s Joker from Batman in a scene otherwise reminiscent of the House on Haunted Hill remake. When they wake up the next morning, Luke figures out that the hell hound Father Phil encountered may be protecting something in Megan’s grandfather’s unfinished wine cellar. When they can finally enter the room, Megan is summoned by something in the floor to join them. The very long and extremely surprising arm was a fun jump scare utilization and shows that the effects the show uses are well done and better than our average Syfy series. However, despite the arm choking our Megan, the pair seem to close the portal relatively quickly with few little resistance. 

A surgeon in white makeup laughs in a surgery theater complete with an audience
The Surgeon (Greg Malone) appears Joker-Esque laughing in a crowded surgery theater.

Susan’s story I found to be much more interesting. As the violence of the supposed book-throwing ghost is revealed to be the Lenore’s daughter Lauren (Jessica Clement), whose hormonal changes are causing her to have telekinetic freak-outs. It is then further suggested that Susan understands Lauren because she has also experienced them and may have been the Firestarter at her last job. This revelation provides an interesting depth for Susan’s character, one I worry about for the show’s future and hope the writers think carefully about before turning Susan into X-men‘s Jean Grey.

The explanation Surreal Estate provides in allowing Megan to stay in her house is questionable overall. Luke says, “Without the energy from the open portal [the dog] will move on.” But as the pilot fades out, Luke sees his mom in the upstairs window, maybe because she died in the house rather than came from the portal, I guess. However, there must be more issues in the Donovan home because Megan shows up again, briefly, in episode two. 

With “The Harvey,” episode two, the show finds better pacing. I never trust network pilot episodes because they all try to cram too much into their first episodes in the hopes of being picked up. Surreal Estate’s pilot is better than average, but half the pilot episode is character and world-building and less about story development. “The Harvey” gives us more of what fans will see on a weekly basis. The episode name “The Harvey” is a not-so-subtle reference to the Jimmy Stewart masterpiece about a man who befriends an imaginary six-foot-tall rabbit, and the Roman Agency believes their latest clients, the Quincy’s, may have one tormenting their son. 

Luke waves to an off camera character while standing next to Megan
Megan (Tennille Read) and Luke (Tim Rozon) say hello.

I enjoyed the second episode mainly because of young Molly Lewis’ portrayal of “imaginary friend” Cindy. Lewis’ facial expressions display some sinister enjoyment over the haunting of David Kohlsmith’s Jamie Quincy, and it is haunting at times. Like when Cindy threatens to jump off the roof in a coercion tactic to get Jamie to follow her, laughing in sinister fashion as his parents appeal to Jaimie to get down. Also, the costuming for Cindy, a red gingham print dress and ponytails, help give the feeling that this girl could be the devil incarnate… Though maybe by way of sneaking a Wendy’s promotion into the episode.  

Another thing episode two does right is bring up one of Luke’s mistakes. At the start of “The Harvey,” we see a family attacked in their home as the power goes out, only to be blown up moments later. This becomes a parable for the way Luke does things at the Roman agency, as he uses the story to ask Susan to slow down in her attempts to move the property. One wrong move in this business and someone could wind up hurt or dead, and Luke reflects on having a family move into the home before too soon. Knowing that Luke has failed to protect people in the past means that he may not be able to protect everyone in the future. This means that we may see some clients or Roman Agency staff members fall, meaning that no one is perpetually safe from what might be lurking in the houses.  

Though Luke expresses his wishes to the still onboarding Susan, he again offers nothing in training her for this not-your-average real estate position. This leads to Susan’s squabbles with literally everyone in the office but somehow manages to save the day when it comes to Luke having a showdown with Cindy by backing off of Luke while having his back at the same time. The big fish in the paranormal pond approach does feel arduous. I mean, if Luke is going to give her the listings, shouldn’t he be more focused on training her to deal with a property’s ghostly inhabitants? It’s really the one part of the show I haven’t quite understood. Susan is pushed into the deep end here, isn’t allowed to do anything the way she’s used to, and her boss passively teaches her through error instead of setting her up for success.  

Cindy stares plotting something sinister.
Cindy (Molly Lewis) just has that conniving look.

Susan loses the account when two potential buyers run out of the house after hearing Cindy crying and screaming to run them out. The Quincys fire the Roman Agency, but Luke knows that something evil is in the home. While Susan gets a calming talk from her mom, Luke visits August and figures out that “The Harvey” is actually a Little Red’s Granny, or LRG, named for the wolf posing as the sweet grandmother to lure in Little Red Riding hood and eat her. Luke tells Susan that Cindy is priming Jamie for the same. Luke can only rid Quincy’s son of his demonic best friend if he can get her to release her true form. Once the LRG is revealed, he can use the M.R.G. August gave him. I’m not sure what the M.R.G. stands for, but it looks like a new age Ghostbusters ghost trap and dissolves ghosts on an atomic level. 

Luke and Susan storm into the Quincys’ home, ridiculously, as the Quincys ponder “what he’s doing up there” with their son from the base of the stairs. It’s about as silly as watching them both yell for Jamie to get off the roof instead of trying to get up there. Seriously, someone should report them. Luckily, Susan is transformed into having everyone’s back at the Roman agency, bringing in coffee and calming down the parents of a boy about to be eaten by his imaginary friend. Of course, Luke emerges victorious in saving Jamie from the LRG; it is only episode two, after all. But, again, we have this build-up to another rapid payoff. Luke crushes the LRG’s ego, and when it reveals its shadowy form, is instantly vaporized on an atomic level, which, now that I think about it, seems really dangerous to use in a child’s bedroom.  

Cindy begins to turn into something dark and wicked. her eyes are black and her teeth look razor sharp and pointed.
The effects on the show are above average for network television.

At two-tenths into the season, I can safely say that Surreal Estate is a little rough around the edges, but I think that the show will fit in well with fans of Syfy’s slate of other long-running series like Haven or Warehouse 13. The formulas in all of these shows are not dissimilar, and the character-building is fantastic. Plus, any fans of Wynonna Earp may be happy to follow Rozon from that show to this one. It’s entertaining so far, though it occasionally suffers from the kind of small oversights and occasional convolution that viewers may grow weary of over time. Regardless, I think there’s a lot of potential, and it’s a good pick-up for fans missing Supernatural and The X-Files. Surreal Estate may be a bit of a fixer-upper, but it’s got good bones, and with a little time, I would love to see what showrunner George Olson is going to build out of it.  

Surreal Estate airs Friday at 10 pm on Syfy Channel.

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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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