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Considering that she’s been acting virtually her entire life, with as many guest appearances as leading roles, Michelle Trachtenberg career has shown tremendous versatility to say the least. She’s done comedy, drama, and plenty of genre stuff—but if there’s one thing people tend to forget out of her body of work, it’s easily her brief stint as a horror host.
Yeah, that’s right. During the sixth and seventh seasons of Buffy, Trachtenberg starred in the Discovery Kids series Truth or Scare as your guide to all things that go bump in the night. This was the heyday of Sci-Fi Channel shows like Sightings and Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction, right before the grand kickoff of endless “reality horror” shows like Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, Paranormal State, Destination Truth and countless more.
These weren’t anthologies. Michelle Trachtenberg wasn’t doing her best Elvira or Peter Vincent. This was an educational program, for the most part, diving into the folkloric history of classic monsters such as witches, vampires, werewolves and zombies. There were a number of shows like this in the early 2000s, but they disappeared for a long time—although we’re finally seeing a return to this kind of show with Amazon’s Lore, which should hopefully spark more imitators in the near future.
Discovery Kids was smart for looking at the climate of television around them and realizing that the history behind vampires and werewolves and other monsters, the question of whether or not they could really exist, was something that by definition should appeal much more to open-minded kids and teens than the average adult. While this show is virtually impossible to track down, if you can find a way to see it, it’s absolutely worth it. Michelle Trachtenberg is, even in the least interesting episodes, delivering her best Jonathan Frakes—and, at the series’ best, channeling her inner Robert Stack.
And then, of course, there’s the Buffy of it all. It’s not just the fact that Michelle Trachtenberg played Buffy’s little sister and also hosted a spooky paranormal show that makes this whole thing fantastic. It doesn’t just stop there. Michelle was hosting this show while she was on Buffy. She’s often wearing the same wardrobe, she was hosting Truth or Scare on sets that look like a direct cross between one of Buffy’s stock tombs and Giles’ library.
Imagine if Dawn was secretly hosting a local-access TV show out of Spike’s crypt that spilled the secrets of Sunnydale and all of its supernatural inhabitants right under her sister’s nose. That’s exactly how I would best describe Truth or Scare. It’s not technically a Buffy spinoff, but the success of that show forms the foundation of everything in this Discovery Kids afterthought clearly designed to only be shown around the Halloween season.
As a kid, I was a nut for any show or special that tried to shine a light on real monsters—anything that told me that the world might be more magical and interesting than it seemed. I think a lot of kids take comfort in ideas like that. Re-airings of the specials hosted by Patrick Macnee , documentaries on the history of Dracula, things like Witches, Werewolves and Vampires were the things I looked most forward to every Halloween season. I already had a young crush on Trachtenberg by the time I discovered Truth or Scare, so the show seemed designed to cater entirely, specifically to my interests and my interests alone.
It’s hard to say Truth or Scare is necessarily good, but that doesn’t make it bad, either. It’s exactly what it needs to be for the kind of series that it is. It’s dangerously cheesy, with all the hokey stock footage and re-enactments that you might expect, but those are things I not only expect from a show like this—I need them. Truth or Scare is, in some ways, Unsolved Mysteries for kids. And that will always be something I’ll celebrate the existence of.
Shows of this kind are a staple of the Halloween season. If they happen to star Michelle Trachtenberg, all the better. She’s no more or less campy than anything around her, delivering every line in the slow, melodramatic fashion one expects from a host in a foggy crypt—even if the host’s “creepy” look might be limited to black lipstick and leather pants. She’ll even break, every now and then, to pepper in a Crypt Keeper-esque pun.
This is a largely forgotten show. Even if it’s overly silly and campy as hell, these things specifically make it worth tracking down. If you’re in the mood for spooky specials, it might be worthwhile to track down an episode or two. There’s a charm to this show that even some of it’s big time Sci-Fi Channel counterparts always hoped to achieve and never did.
If you can manage to find it, it makes for perfect Halloween viewing, especially for kids.