Listen to us: ghoststhe charming CBS sitcom about a freelance journalist and an unemployed chef who inherit a quaint country estate inhabited by dramatic residents who died on the property is actually a workplace comedy.
It’s been five months since the audience – and the rest of the spirited spirits – watched Sam (Rose McIver) and her doting husband Jay (Utkarsh Ambudkar) fall through the floor of their foyer after welcoming their first guests in the quaint Woodstone B&B had welcomed a country estate that they wanted to turn into a family business. The cold opening of Thursday’s premiere addresses the most obvious question: Can Jay, the man who believed his wife could see ghosts after suffering a life-changing head injury, now see the rest of his housemates for himself? (No spoilers here, but the decision the writers made will ultimately keep the high-profile premise going for years to come.)
Fast forward a few weeks and Sam and Jay are getting ready for theirs second Reopening after their first guests who witnessed the fall canceled and left them a one-star review on Yelp. Determined to start on the right foot this time, a badly injured Sam hires some of the ghosts to spy on an overly critical middle-aged couple who have left scathing reviews on the same app in the past. This doesn’t sit well with Jay, who rightly raises the ethical concerns of spying on guests during their stay. As on-screen husband and wife, Ambudkar and McIver shared a comfortable (if toothless) chemistry in the pilot, but the development of their witty repartee makes their characters’ relationship seem more alive and worthwhile.
The ghosts of the show, on the other hand, are truly an embarrassment of wealth. Showrunners Joe Port and Joe Wiseman who used the UK version of ghosts As a framework for developing their American adaptation, they skillfully mixed and matched the colorful characters to achieve a plausibly different dynamic each time, given the generational (and sometimes centennial) separation between them. All of the characters, fully committed to who they are and having very little in common on paper, are forced to spend most of their time in a single place that resembles the setting of a hit workplace comedy (albeit Sam and Jay aka the “Livings” are the ones doing all the work to get the B&B up and running). But there are three standout ghosts in the early episodes that were screened for review: Hetty Woodstone (Rebecca Wisocky), Alberta Haynes (Danielle Pinnock), and Sasappis (Román Zaragoza).
As the former squire and wife of a robber baron (whom she banished to Hell last season), Wisocky plays Hetty with a relentless wit and such unwavering conviction – right down to her distinctive walk and diction – that she steals every scene with a witty one-liner. An early favorite from this season? “Let the resentment smolder until hate becomes so pervasive that you must turn to Mother Morphine’s sweet, sweet milk to numb the pain.” (She also provides the season’s first big laugh when Hetty in the second episode is forced to reconsider her relationship with a broken washing machine.)
The second and third episodes also attempt to expand the world of ghosts beyond the confines of the Woodstone Mansion, with Sam deciding to start a crime podcast about Alberta’s death and uncovering more of the jazz singer’s life in the 1920s, and Sasappis making a sentimental connection to an old tree on the property of the revealed new neighbors want to cut back. Each time we travel back in time and see the ghosts in a different light – and in different costumes! – being able to see it feels like a delicious treat, and Pinnock and Zaragoza both walk the fine line of being serious and not preachy when revealing the true motivations behind their characters’ actions.
The ghosts, no matter how crazy they are in the present, are almost always more convincing in flashbacks. But therein lies a potential problem for the writers: how will they balance the slow reveal of the ghosts’ backstories with the reality of the guests coming and going each week? (The first episode might have focused on the reopening of the B&B, but there are no mentions of guests in the second or third episodes.) The show might also demand some of its other supporting cast, who seem to be learning more and more of the same lesson over and over again. For example, how many times can Thorfinn (Devan Chandler Long) hurt his feelings and make guilt cause another character to apologize like they are kids? There seems to be a significant gap between the simple lessons certain characters learn and the more profound lessons taught by others.
With the resounding success of Abbott Elementary School earlier this year, ghosts, despite being a hit with both viewers and critics, was criminally overlooked during awards season. But accolades notwithstanding, both season two shows underscore the value of topical network sitcoms, which, when done right, can have generational appeal and instill a sense of optimism for humanity without fully shying away from real-world realities . With the right mix of broad comedy and heartfelt humor ghosts avoided the infamous sophomore slump and continued to breathe new life into an age premise that will survive as long as the writers remember their strong bones.