- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
As anybody who has engaged in a property search or watched House Hunters can tell you, it’s always easy to talk yourself out of a place. You can get hung up on the noise from an airplane flight path, the confusing electrical wiring or the dozen ghosts living in the attic. It’s equally easy, though, to talk yourself past almost any impediment, usually relying on one of a few familiar real estate cliches — “Location, location, location” or “You can repaint” or that eternal classic, “It’s got great bones.”
I’m not sure if that’s my description of the plot of CBS’ new comedy Ghosts or my review of Ghosts, which tells the story of the extremes that a Manhattan couple will go to in order to escape an urban shoebox apartment. It’s a thin series that in its first three episodes has already wasted too much time establishing and reestablishing its premise, full of loosely sketched characters that are already wearing thin, but it’s got great bones. Buried in the front lawn.
Based on the popular BBC One format, Ghosts focuses on freelance journalist Sam (Rose McIver) and apparently unemployed chef Jay (Utkarsh Ambudkar), who inherit Woodstone, the country estate owned by Sam’s newly deceased great aunt. Jay looks at the place and sees either a quick sale or a mounting pile of renovation debts, but Sam sees a lovely bed-and-breakfast and the perfect place to raise kids.
Oh, and Sam also sees ghosts, but not immediately. Woodstone is haunted by eight primary spooky spirits and an assortment of other supporting ghouls whose lives ended in the general vicinity, leaving them trapped in the house for all eternity or some unspecified period of time. They include growling Viking Thorfinn (Devan Chandler Long), effete colonialist Isaac (Brandon Scott Jones), generic Native American Sasappis (Román Zaragoza), hippie Flower (Sheila Carrasco), singing diva Alberta (Danielle Pinnock), former lady of the manor Hetty (Rebecca Wisocky), sketchy finance bro Trevor (Asher Grodman) and guy-with-arrow-in-neck Pete (Richie Moriarty). The living normally can’t see the dead, but something happens in the pilot — which airs in tandem with the second episode — that enables Sam to see the ghosts, allowing for some hilarity to ensue.
The prospect of the house being overrun by the living upsets the spirits for various reasons that Ghosts half-explains, because this is a show that spends the three episodes sent to critics on plot mechanics that probably could have been more efficiently dealt with in 21 minutes. I’m sure that American co-creators Joe Port and Joe Wiseman would say that boiling down the premise to only one episode wouldn’t have allowed as much time for introductions to the ghostly ensemble. I’d counter that other than Sasappis (I know his name only because of press notes), all the ghosts and their single-trait personalities are introduced in the pilot, and then that single trait is reintroduced in each subsequent episode to the point where I’m already worried about Long and his nonstop Viking bellowing and bored with the apparently unrealized creepiness (in a sleazy way, not a scary way) of Jones’ and Grodman’s characters.
The show could use an infusion of zaniness to live up to its Beetlejuice-y aspirations, especially in its often-bland direction. And three episodes is too long for a weekly broadcast show to go without establishing what the actual show is. And if you prolong the anteroom deliberations and rule-making sessions as long as Ghosts does, it becomes increasingly obvious how claustrophobic the series is and how many of its jokes have quickly grown repetitious and illogical. Like I need somebody to explain to me how, over a thousand years, Thorfinn has learned to speak English, but he hasn’t learned even the rudimentary concept of a car, or why Trevor knows about the internet, but has been written and styled like an ’80s extra from Wall Street. I don’t want to get hung up on dumb stuff like this when I’m watching a sitcom about house-haunting ghosts, but if you aren’t committing to a more involving story or delivering tighter punchlines, I’m going to get impatient.
What kept impatience from setting in was McIver and, to a slightly lesser degree, Ambudkar. McIver spent five years giving one of TV’s most versatile and consistently underrated performances on The CW’s iZombie, capitalizing on the show’s brain-eating conceit to play a different wild character every week. Her wide-eyed credulity and enthusiasm is integral to selling this Haunting of Silly House, and I think part of why characters like Trevor and Isaac aren’t entirely unappealing is that Sam responds to them with engaging innocence. If you squint, you can even pretend that this engaging innocence extends to the open curiosity that might make Sam a good writer. But that would require that you believe Ghosts really cares about her occupation.
McIver and Ambudkar, whose character is much less convincingly defined, bicker and flirt in believable and agreeable ways. Ambudkar stretches some humor out of Jay’s not-overplayed skepticism, though it’s hard to feel like Ghosts is getting full value out of his varied skill set. Oh, and how do you make a number of very, very stale jokes about Hamilton in a sitcom featuring the musical’s original Aaron Burr (workshop, pre-Broadway) without finding a way to make that part of the gag?
As for the rest of the ghosts, the performances are all fine and all quickly stagnating. It’s not a great sign that I’ve gotten more laughs out of the nameless, sleazily creepy ghosts in the cellar than from the featured spirits.
The third Ghosts episode is a big test, because it’s the first to deviate entirely from the source material. I can’t tell if it’s good or bad that this half-hour is essentially more of the same, neither disappointingly stripped of its original voice nor encouragingly refined in its new voice. It’s amusing, instantly disposable and carried by McIver and Ambudkar. Nothing here is bad enough to be a deal-breaker, but Ghosts won’t be able to sustain my interest on “good bones” forever.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day