Thomas. Hailey. Joey. Ray. Oh, and of course Michael. Members of the latest hot new Swedish pop band? Nope. Rather, they’re the featured players of Spirits, a drama series that opts to go with the clairvoyant (ghost? Anne Rice?) niche of New Orleans’ many subcultures.

Spirits debuted on January 6 and is slated to run for 8 weeks, culminating with the Mardi Gras Festival and the final episode on February 28. The series features the lovely Haley Finnegan playing Hailey Brennan, and follows this Dallas-based recent college grad as she spills-all to a webcam.

Her life post-boyfriend Michael, who disappeared during Hurricane Katrina (which destroyed the levees, and apparently disrupted the dead), has been difficult. Especially since Michael is communicating through various channels that link the living to the other side.

Hailey is our fearless, if emotional leader bent on righting the wrong in the spirit world, and with her red-headed, girl-next-door-meets-model looks and subtly bubbly vibe, she makes up for most of Spirits’ shortcomings, i.e. its over-earnestness and far too much talking head time.

Ray Carter starts the series with his own v-diary. As he ‘hears a voice’ that turns out to be Michael’s, he is to be Hailey’s initial link to her lost love. At the end of episode 4, Ray closes with a tease: “What’s a Facebook?”

The series bills itself as “interactive”, but the creators at Belo Interactive, Inc. are not unusual in investing in the cult of personality angle that includes Facebook and MySpace pages, as well as encouraging viewers to participate in polls and leave comments. I like the effort, but such extra-video material is quickly becoming a staple of online shows, and unless it’s accomplishing something truly innovative, it’s hardly worth mentioning.

Hailey’s buddy/object of unconsummated sexual tension, Joey is a budding videographer/documentarian who joins her on a trip to New Orleans to track down Ray and interview for a teaching job at a public school. Which public school? The public school that Michael attended as a child (queue dramatic music!), a point which hopeful Hailey naively reports to Joey on camera.

The voice-overs, tempered, cheesy ghostly music, and infrequent, but good-looking shots of New Orleans makes Spirits sometimes seem like a History Channel special on Ghosts in the Bayou. It plays to an audience that is excited by clairvoyance and visits from dead/missing family or friends, but others will only have an ear for plot reporting. As is the case with far too many web series, there’s a fair amount of teasing going on. Individuals talking to the camera with little action to make the story more palatable.

However, when Hailey and Joey meet Moriarity (aka Thomas) at New Orleans’ paranormal research center, The Paraplex, he warns that Ray could be a scam artist. At this point, the plot thickens like gumbo, and apparently there’s room in Spirits for soap enthusiasts and clairvoyant aficionados alike.

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