They See Dead People
The cheeky charms of CBS’s surprise hit sitcom ‘Ghosts’
Ghosts is an odd choice for network TV, most especially CBS, the home of the aging Letters-Colon-Place franchises and Chuck Lorre laugh tracks. Based on the BBC show, Ghosts tells the story of Samantha (Rose McIver) and Jay (Utkarsh Abudkar), who ditch life in the big city for a totally haunted backwater mansion Samantha unexpectedly inherits from a distant relative. They’re uncertain whether to sell or convert their new place into a hip B&B, but the resident spirits are determined to keep their eternal afterlife homestead private. Their attempts to spook the interlopers away not only fail, but also accidentally kill Samantha for just a few minutes. When she wakes from her coma, she’s ready to head back to her old life, until she realizes she can see…Ghosts.
Each of the show’s titular spirits lived (and died) in a varying time period, and though the world has moved forward, their worldviews have not. There’s a fierce Viking, sarcastic Native American, snooty robber baroness, saucy jazz singer, dorky Girl Scout leader, dippy hippy, and a Wall Street bro, all destined to be dead together forever. Aside from the indignity of being eternally earthbound, each spirit must forever remain in their death-day attire, even if they weren’t wearing pants when they passed. (It happens.)
Ghosts feels like a spiritual soul-sister to the early days of the Fox Network, when wacky shows like Herman’s Head were the standard because there was absolutely nothing for the fledgling station to lose…basically where every network is now. Even the gimmick of Ghosts harkens back to Herman’s Head, at each ghost’s dominant personality trait exists to provide fresh insights and growth for Samantha as she tackles issues in her day-to-day life. Every episode ends with a subtle rumination on the week’s lesson, and determination to do better next time. It’s squishy feel-good comedy at its finest.
That’s not to say the show is cheesy or stupid. It is enjoyably packed with dense wit, warmth, and even a light sprinkle of emotion. The apparitions are tetchy at their worst, but ultimately, are a group of wildly different people who’ve learned to mostly overlook each other’s shortcomings because the alternative is literally an eternity of misery. Ghosts never shies away from cheekiness, and revels in flauting the line between innocence and innuendo.
The performances really make the show work. In particular, Critics Choice Television Award nom Brandon Scott Jones wholly steals the show as Captain Isaac Higgentoot, a Revolutionary War zero who arrived too late to sign the Declaration of Independence, died of dysentery, and holds an undying grudge against his rival Alexander Hamilton. He’s also super gay and has no idea at all.
As the clueless husband who can’t see what’s going on right under his nose, Abudkar gives sublime reaction face, and the swift juxtaposition of what he sees versus the world of the spectres is a fun experiment in contrast. McIver, who proved her versatility on iZombie, could handily run circles around this material, but the generic wifey material contains and restrains her. Gags and physical comedy enjoyably fill up the time, but it’s obvious these sharp leads could lift a lot more.
And that’s the biggest weakness of Ghosts. There’s potentially a whole house (and basement) full of diverse spirits to weave in and out of the world, allowing for near infinite storytelling possibilities, and everyone certainly seems eager to participate, but so far, no one else has been given quite enough development to fully come to life on their own. Many of the roles feel cast for a “type” instead of a person, and the ideas and their corresponding actors have yet to fully merge. It’s difficult to trust network television will allow them time to do it, but hopefully, it will happen. Overall, Ghosts is a deftly clever comedy that deserves to haunt the airwaves for many days to come.