Like anyone who’s done or watched a property search House hunter I can tell you it’s always easy to talk your way out of a place. You can get hung up on the noise of an airplane flight path, the confusing electrical wiring, or the dozen of ghosts that live in the attic. However, it’s just as easy to talk yourself out of almost any obstacle and usually rely on one of the few familiar real estate clichÃ©s – âlocation, location, locationâ or âyou can repaintâ or the eternal classic, âIt has great bones. â
I’m not sure that’s my description of the plot of CBS’s new comedy Ghosts or my rating of Ghoststelling the story of the extremes a Manhattan couple seek to escape an urban shoebox apartment. It’s a thin series that has already wasted too much time establishing and re-establishing its premise in its first three episodes, full of loosely sketched characters who are already thin, but it has great bones. Buried in the front yard.
The bottom line
Sympathetic leads underline a sometimes lifeless adjustment.
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 estate of Sam’s recently deceased great-aunt. Jay looks around the house and sees either a quick sale or a growing mountain of renovation debt, but Sam sees a lovely bed and breakfast and the perfect place to raise children.
Oh, and Sam sees ghosts too, but not right away. Woodstone is haunted by eight creepy main ghosts and a host of other supportive ghouls whose lives ended nearby and kept them indoors for eternity or indefinitely. These include the growling Viking Thorfinn (Devan Chandler Long), the weak colonialist Isaac (Brandon Scott Jones), the generic Indian Sasappis (RomÃ¡n Zaragoza), Hippie Flower (Sheila Carrasco), the singing diva Alberta (Danielle Pinnock), the former mistress of the mansion Hetty (Rebecca Wisocky), the sketchy financial brother Trevor (Asher Grodman) and the guy with the arrow down his neck Pete (Richie Moriarty). The living can’t usually see the dead, but in the pilot – which airs with the second episode – something happens that allows Sam to see the ghosts, which creates a certain hilarity.
The prospect of the house being overrun by the living upsets the mood for a variety of reasons Ghosts half explained, for this is a show that spends the three critical-sent episodes with plot mechanics that could probably have been handled more efficiently in 21 minutes. I’m sure American co-creators Joe Port and Joe Wiseman would say that reducing the premise to just one episode wouldn’t have left that much time for the introduction to the ghostly ensemble. I would like to counter that, except for Sasappis (I only know his name from press releases), all ghosts and their individual trait personalities are introduced in the pilot, and then this individual trait is reintroduced in each subsequent episode, up to the point where self I do worry that Long and his perpetual Viking will roar and get bored of the seemingly unrealized creepiness (in a shabby, not in a scary way) of the characters of Jones and Grodman.
The show could use an infusion of craziness to live up to hers Beetle juice-y aspirations, especially in its often boring direction. And three episodes are too long to be broadcast weekly without determining what the actual show is. And if you extend the anteroom consultations and rulemaking meetings for as long as Ghosts It becomes increasingly clear how claustrophobic the series is and how many of its jokes have quickly become repetitive and illogical. As if I need someone to explain to me how Thorfinn learned English over a thousand years, but he didn’t even learn the rudimentary concept of a car or why Trevor knows the internet, but was written and styled like an ’80s extra from Wall street. I don’t want to get hung up on stupid things while watching a sitcom about haunted ghosts, but if you don’t commit yourself to a more engaging story or tighter punch lines, I get impatient.
What kept impatience from setting in was McIver and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Ambudkar. McIver spent five years making one of television’s most eclectic and consistently underrated appearances on The CWs iZombie, from the show’s mind-eating imagination of playing a different wild character each week. Your wide-eyed gullibility and enthusiasm are critical to selling this one Haunted Silly House, and I think part of the reasons characters like Trevor and Isaac aren’t entirely unattractive is that Sam responds to them with engaging innocence. If you screw up your eyes, you can even pretend that engaging innocence extends to the frank curiosity that could make Sam a good writer. But that would require you to believe Ghosts really cares about her job.
McIver and Ambudkar, whose characters are much less convincingly defined, bicker and flirt in believable and pleasant ways. Ambudkar extends some humor to Jay’s not exaggerated skepticism, though it’s hard to feel that way Ghosts can make full use of his diverse abilities. Oh, and how do you make a bunch of very, very stale jokes about Hamilton in a sitcom with the musical’s original Aaron Burr (workshop, off Broadway) without finding a way to do that part of the gag?
As for the rest of the ghosts, the performances are all fine and all stagnate quickly. It’s not a good sign that I’ve got more laughs from the nameless, greasy-creepy ghosts in the basement than from the featured ghosts.
The third Ghosts Episode is a great test because it is the first to deviate completely from the original material. I can’t tell whether it’s good or bad that this half hour is essentially the same, neither disappointingly deprived of its original voice nor encouragingly refined in its new voice. It’s amusing, instantly disposable, and worn by McIver and Ambudkar. Nothing here is bad enough to be a deal breaker, however Ghosts will not keep my interest in “good bones” forever.