Ghosts (US, 2021)

3 out of 5

Created by: Mathew Baynton, Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas, Jim Howick, Laurence Rickard, and Ben Willbond

covers season 1

Ghosts, a high concept comedy about a whole bunch of dead people from different eras – a Viking, an Indian, an 1800s matron, a 50s flapper, etc. – being stuck as spirits in the house a young couple has just moved in to, with the wife of the duo (Rose McIver) able to see and speak to them… is pretty damn bland. It’s a large ensemble comedy, with lots of really bright (i.e. obvious) costumes and broad humor, and plenty of haunting hijinx, and it’s about as CBS as it gets, with every joke telegraphed about 30 minutes ahead of time (note: episodes are 30 minutes long), and any risque humor of a variety that’s straight forward enough for mom and dad to laugh at.

Coming to this remake from the BBC original, the blandness is even more apparent: the cast simply doesn’t have the chemistry of the Horrible Histories team who worked on the other version, and the couple – McIver, and Utkarsh Ambudkar as her husband – are safe-for-TV millenial types, lacking the more droll, everyday vibe of the UK’s lead couple, and filling up episodes making mainstream culture references and being pretty cute together.

But maybe you can trace some typical UK to US remake progressions here, as Ghosts has trouble establishing its own vibe due to trying to directly port over not only the premise from the original show, but also specific episodes, while shifting the tone to that family friendly CBS vibe. It’s like a double whammy of limitations, then, and makes the first few episodes pretty rough, pretty unfunny viewing.

However, once we step away from those guidelines, and once the show has done its rounds to allow everyone to get their over-acting out of the way for their characters, Ghosts US takes advantage of its blandness to pursue a less goofy, and rather entertainingly linear take on its concept, with our couple very much focused on turning their inherited mansion into a profitable bed and breakfast, and every episode building on that in some way. The “safeness” encourages everyone to work as a team, earning its jokes from its durability and slow character build up as opposed to some of the simpler, more direct conceits from the Brit version, like one of the ghosts having a crush on the living.

It’s still very CBS-y, and very predictable, and occasionally cheesy – a couple of episodes have, like, weepy happy endings – but that can all be nice sometimes, having something wholly inoffensive that allows for some quirk by dint of its premise, but essentially adheres to some tried and true TV formulas. It’s the friend who’s perpetual good mood is at first annoying, but then you come to look forward to that reliability. And Ghosts is very reliably what it is throughout its whole season, presented with comfortable confidence once its over the slump of trying to too-closely mimic its inspiration.