‘Conspiracy Theory With Jesse Ventura’ on a mission

Television Critic

Jesse Ventura, who used to be the governor of Minnesota and before that was a professional wrestler known as “The Body,” is now the star of a television docu-thriller series called “Conspiracy Theory With Jesse Ventura.” It begins tonight on the truTV network (formerly Court TV), whose motto is “Not reality. Actuality” and whose other shows include “The Smoking Gun Presents,” “Operation Repo,” “Inside American Jail” and “Rehab: Party at the Hard Rock Hotel.”

The idea here is that Ventura investigates -- is seen to appear to investigate is probably a better way of putting it -- some of the best-loved semi-secret narratives of our troubled times, including the 2012 apocalypse and the secret bunkers to which you will not be invited; the Bilderberg Group (“their latest alleged plan is to thin out the world’s population through disease and vaccines”); and the notion that 9/11 was a stunt arranged by George W. Bush.

Attended in his “War Room” by an “elite team of reporters, researchers and operatives,” who resemble a little more closely the kids of “TMZ on TV” than they do the Impossible Missions Force, Ventura casts his gaze into the empyrean thicket where urban legend tangles with political discourse and coincidence can look like causation. The narrative insists that Ventura will keep his mind open, but I don’t suppose any of these episodes will end with the Governor -- everyone calls him Governor here -- judging any of these theories to be bunk. You can leave that to the MythBusters.

If anything, the show stacks the deck in favor of the theorists, who get the most screen time and the best camera angles. Tonight’s episode concerns HAARP, the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, an array of antennae in the Alaskan wilderness that shoots bursts of electricity into the ionosphere, which is said by some to have the capacity to change the weather, cause earthquakes and cloud the human mind. (The funding for the program comes largely from the Department of Defense.) The HAARP spokesman who counters the more sinister claims is said to be “in denial,” rather than “making a denial,” and HAARP itself is described as a “so-called research project” and “a weapon,” though it has never been used as such. (The reply to that, I suppose, would be “How do you know it hasn’t?”)

The show is also conveniently loose in its interpretation of the word “evidence,” which here seems to mean “something somebody says” -- as if my telling you there are monsters under my bed were proof that there are. There may be monsters under my bed, but for evidence you are going to have to go down there and take a picture, and I’m not just saying that because it’s feeding time.

Whatever truth is out there, it’s filtered here through what is arranged more as an adventure series than a documentary: “It all began when I got a call from a guy named Jerry Smith,” says Ventura in his best gumshoe voice. “We met at an out-of-the-way tavern in St. Paul. He looked like an insurance agent but there was nothing mild-mannered about what he had to say.”

I’m sure that the military would like to be able to control the weather and your mind -- who wouldn’t? But you don’t have to believe any of these, let’s say, interesting propositions to find “Conspiracy Theory” enjoyable. In its mix of low budget and dramatic overstatement it has the amiability of a B-movie or Saturday afternoon serial.

The Governor’s quest brings him right to the gates of HAARP, where he is denied entry (and his cameras go haywire). “An operation that’s run by the Navy doesn’t shut out a former Navy SEAL unless they’ve got something to hide,” he says, and though this is an arguable statement, you put enough of them together and soon enough you’re wearing a colander on your head to keep the voices out.