For the uninitiated, the premise of Ghostsis that a cash-strapped young couple inherit a huge but dilapidated house via the distant great-aunt of Alison (played charmingly by Charlotte Ritchie, recognisable from Taskmaster, Call The MidwifeandFeel Good). She and her husband Mike (the ever-funny Kiell Smith-Bynoe) begin attempting to refurbish the house and follow their dream of turning it into a hotel – but they haven’t accounted for the fact they have unexpected company. The rest of the recurring cast are a motley crew of nine ghosts from assorted time periods (many of whom are played by a group known as the Six Idiots, perhaps most famous to the younger generation for their five-series stint in Horrible Histories) who are decidedly unhappy about the presence of new people in the house, and hatch a plan to drive Mike and Alison away. Through a series of these attempts that end with her being pushed out of a window, Alison ends up, by the end of the pilot, with the ability to see and communicate with the ghosts.
I don’t think I need to launch into a spiel about the appeal and relatability of a sitcom about a group of eclectic people stuck in a house they are unable to leave (although in the case of ghosts such as caveman Robin – Laurence Rickard – who has been there for thousands of years, they’ve been stuck inside for longer than us, even if it’s felt like milennia for some of us). Ironically, the show’s first series aired in 2019, and so any coincidences with the world as we know it right now are purely coincidental, which in a way is part of the appeal – there’s one joke near the end of the first series involving a snobby woman using hand sanitiser after shaking hands that very much hits differently after the last year and a half.
But the main reason you should watch one of the BBC’s most popular shows? Because I think it might hold the cure to tired old sitcoms. The ghosts are from such a broad range of time periods thatthey bounce off one another in an infinite combination of ways – we get to see how the ghost of a disgraced Conservative party member who died with no trousers (Simon Farnaby) interacts with a repressed Edwardian Lady, a closeted WWII Captain and a 17th century peasantwoman (played by Martha Howe-Douglas, Ben Willbond and Katy Wix respectively) – as well as watching a scout leader from the 1980s (Jim Howick) teach a young Georgian noblewoman (Lolly Adefope) how to dance the mashed potato. Add all that to a living couple in the modern world – who let the Tory play virtual golf on their phones, leave Loose Women on the television for the peasantwoman, turn book pages for the severed head of a Tudor, and accidentally show moon landing conspiracy videos to the caveman – and the possibilities are endless. The main problem with many sitcoms is that eventually the writers run out of fresh situations to plant their characters in that are actually comedic, and for once I don’t see that being a problem.
In addition, the ghosts are consistently products of their time – from scout leader Pat’s inability to accept the renaming of the Marathon bar to peasant woman Mary’s superstitions about how to ensure a lucky marriage – which creates problems for them to solve in and of themselves, but also gives them room to grow. None of them are two-dimensional – they are not templates or tropes. Even Mike and Alison, who I initially feared would simply act as blank sounding boards for the ghosts’ antics, have their own lives and family issues. For everything you would expect from each character there is something to contradict your assumptions. A multitude of themes can be explored – from bereavement and infidelity to sexuality and self-acceptance. The balance between the light-hearted and the heavy is perfectly struck in this show, and if an episode makes you cry it’ll have you laughing ten minutes later, and vice versa. It explores the sense of loss over a long period of time – how things that hurt can come back to you decades later, and you can still miss things from decades ago, but even though they’re gone it still matters that they were there, however long it’s been. Ghosts does not attempt to puppeteer its audience or force fake emotion just to beat accusations of its being too comedic without an emotional punch – all of the events within it feel naturally occurring.
Perhaps best of all, although it airs just after the watershed it’s relatively tame in terms of inappropriate humour – many parents have taken to social media to say that they’ve enjoyed having a comedy they can show to their older children. It’s something to watch together, and the show’s themes open up important discussions with your children. For those of us who have grown up with the showrunners on Horrible Histories, it’s also a chance to come back – to see the actors again in a show for the same generation, just older.
All three series are currently available as a box set on BBC iPlayer – and for those in America, a CBS adaptation has been airing.
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