Jonathan Frakes embraces his viral meme status 25 years after Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction

Some folks only recognize Jonathan Frakes from the memes. You know which ones. The supercuts of the Star Trek veteran saying "you're wrong" in different scenarios or the compilations of all his dad-joke puns.

So much time has passed that many people don't even realize where these clips came from. But those in the know will tell you that this year marks the 25th anniversary of the premiere of Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction, the anthology series in which Frakes presents stories about supernatural occurrences that have been dramatized by actors. It's up to viewers to determine by the end of the episodes which stories are fact and which ones are fiction.

Frakes' favorite of the memes is "the half-speed drunk," he tells EW. He's talking about the video in which slowed-down clips of him hosting the show make him sound inebriated. "It gave me more cachet than the show ever did," he says of the memes. Frakes is slightly in awe of them. "Somebody put a lot of effort into the editing of those… It's a phenomenon that I'm quite thrilled to be part of."

Jonathan Frakes on 'X-Factor: Das Unfassbare'
Jonathan Frakes on 'X-Factor: Das Unfassbare'

RTL ZWEI Jonathan Frakes on 'X-Factor: Das Unfassbare,' the German reboot of 'Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction'

Beyond the memes, Beyond Belief has brought Frakes back in a significant way. The show, which is available from FilmRise on various platforms, has become the most-watched free TV series in the streaming space. Celebrations, including promotional stunts on social media and a 24/7 weekend marathon of the original show, are being staged over the next few months.

Frakes was also tapped to return for X-Factor: Das Unfassbare ("the unfathomable"), a German version of Beyond Belief that's billed as the official fifth season of the show (season 4 ended back in 2002). The new episodes, produced this year, will be available to stream on the German platform RTL+ starting Saturday, before the show arrives on the German television station RTL ZWEI. No premiere outside of German-speaking territories has been announced, though there are plans to bring the season to the U.S.

Frakes shot a pilot last year for the continuation, and the ratings were apparently strong enough to warrant a full season of fresh episodes. You might say he's a big deal in Germany.

"It honors the original in every way, down to the set, the costume, the style of the writing, the questions, the stories," Frakes says. "For some reason, which I couldn't fathom, it's a massive hit in Germany, as it was with people who follow it closely here. There's a niche. Only there it was a big enough niche that they found some money to make more episodes, which I was pitching as a good idea now that this is the 25th anniversary… So we'll see what happens."

Frakes had essentially become a spokesperson for the paranormal while he was playing William T. Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation. He hosted 1995's Alien Autopsy: (Fact or Fiction?), a Fox special investigating the infamous video of an alleged alien autopsy recorded by the U.S. military. And he hosted 1996's The Paranormal Borderline, another tinfoil hat investigative series.

"I said yes to all that s--- because, you know, Patrick wouldn't do it," Frakes says of his Star Trek brother-in-arms Patrick Stewart. "So I gladly became alien-friendly because of the connection with Star Trek." He also said yes to Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction, created by Lynn Lehmann. "[Executive producer] Barry Adelman wrote what we call 'the Adelmans,' those wonderful eye-rolling endings, which were generally really bad puns," he points out. (The stuff memes are made for.)

It was an easy gig. Frakes, usually donning a black suit, would stand around a smoky set filled with an assortment of tchotchkes. A camera, sometimes attached to a mini crane, would follow him about as he read the various eerie scenarios from teleprompters, whether they involved ghosts, UFOs, or other paranormal encounters.

"We'd knock 'em all out," Frakes recalls. "We used to do them in L.A., and then they found a cheaper production company in Vancouver. So we'd go up for a weekend with a Canadian crew. It'd be three or four [episodes] on Saturday, and three or four on Sunday, and knock out almost half a season."

Jonathan Frakes on 'X-Factor: Das Unfassbare'
Jonathan Frakes on 'X-Factor: Das Unfassbare'

RTL ZWEI Jonathan Frakes on 'X-Factor: Das Unfassbare,' the German reboot of 'Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction'

They'd cover about 20 stories in a season, and each wraparound — Frakes' pun-heavy openers to set up the scenarios and closers to reveal the facts — came with its own unique props tied to the episode. Frakes experiences his own "fact or fiction" question as he thinks back to some of these gags.

One episode saw Frakes whipping a tablecloth off a table without disturbing the dishes and utensils on top. "Why do I think that may have been faked? Because I'm sure I couldn't do that trick," he remarks. "That sounds like fiction to me." He thinks that was the magic of editing. "They probably did a cutaway where I grabbed a tablecloth and they had an insert of somebody who actually knew how to do it. That would be my guess."

Frakes has been asked many times over the years to do something Beyond Belief-related. Of those times, he actually went through with filming similar sketches for the German Netflix series How to Sell Drugs Online Fast and a video game promo for PUBG: Mysteries Unknown. It's the second-most-talked-about gig from his career that fans bring up at conventions, after Trek.

"The same thing when I work on Cameo," he says. "There's a lot of people who just want to do Beyond Belief references." Again, he has the memes to thank. "This is not a show that would've had that kinda legs, I don't think, if it hadn't been for the memes."

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