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CBS' Ghosts looks like the rare American adaptation of a British sitcom that isn't terrible

  • "You could almost hear the collective groan from across the pond in 2019 when CBS announced another British sitcom favorite would be getting the remake treatment," says Jon O'Brien. "Had they not learned anything from the adaptations of (deep breath) Peep Show, Gavin and Stacey, Spaced, Friday Night Dinner, The Inbetweeners and The IT Crowd, most of which were so hopelessly inferior they failed to make it past the pilot stage? The Office still remains very much the exception to the rule. It remains a mystery why networks feel remakes are necessary in a streaming age which has proven U.S. audiences can handle the odd (shock! horror!) regional accent or culturally-specific reference. See the success of recent London-centric comedies Breeders, Catastrophe, This Way Up and, of course, the Emmy-winning Fleabag, while the recent confirmation that the excellent Derry Girls would be wrapping up after its third season sparked just as much disappointment on this side of the Atlantic. Even NBC’s all-conquering Ted Lasso is grounded in a British sporting world entirely alien to most homegrown viewers." O'Brien notes that the British version of Ghosts has "quietly become one of the jewels in the BBC crown (the third season just aired in its native UK). And judging by the first three episodes available pre-air, this new incarnation seems to have stayed relatively faithful to its simple winning premise. There’s a likable young couple who’ve inherited and moved into a grand estate. This grand estate is populated by a motley crew of spirits trapped in a purgatory-like state at the place they met their maker. And these spirits become visible to just one of their new alive housemates after a fall which puts them in a medically-induced coma. Stepping in for Charlotte Ritchie as the all-seeing lead Samantha, iZombie‘s Rose McIver sells the outlandish premise well, flitting between reluctant believer and woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown with amusing results. Utkarsh Ambudkar (Never Have I Ever) provides adequate support, too, although with his husband character Jay written more of a straight man than Kiell Smith-Bynoe’s sweetly gormless equivalent, he isn’t given as much to do. With the original’s gag ratio much higher than most British sitcoms, the rapid-fire rhythm here doesn’t quite jar as much as other adaptations. It does, however, wimp out of the darker moments that pushed Ghosts into the realm of comedy horror."


    • Before watching CBS' Ghosts, you must watch BBC's Ghosts first: "It would border on irresponsible to dive into CBS’ Ghosts without at the very least giving the original a shot—not just to see the differences between the two, but to really appreciate how charming the 2019 series was, and understand why it’s been airing for three seasons at this point," says Charles Pulliam-Moore. He adds: "What seems to be the biggest difference between the BBC One’s Ghosts and CBS’s adaptation is how comfortable the two shows are simply being stories about a bunch of people hanging out in a home together. As interesting as some of Button House’s mysteries are, the bulk of the BBC show’s episodes are really about Alison and Mike learning that yet another thing about the mansion is beyond their abilities to fix, and they’ll have to think of a new way to come into quick cash like renting the place out to a film crew shooting a Downton Abbey-like period drama. The other most glaring way the new adaptation deviates from its predecessor is with the ghosts exclusively haunting Button House’s basement after dying at some point during the bubonic plague’s spread across Europe. Whereas the plague ghosts of BBC One’s Ghosts are all portrayed by the same actors playing the upstairs ghosts, CBS show drops the running joke by instead bringing in other actors, which has the overall effect of making the haunted house seem like a much more transient space."
    • Ghosts could use an infusion of zaniness to live up to its Beetlejuice-y aspirations: "Three episodes is too long for a weekly broadcast show to go without establishing what the actual show is," says Daniel Fienberg. "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."
    • Ghosts manages to work despite CBS being "the weirdest possible fit for a series like this": "Dilapidated old country estate? Check," says Alexis Gunderson. "A pile of eccentric, bickering ghosts stretching back to the continent’s earliest recorded history? Check. A young, big city couple suddenly in over their financial heads? Check. A near-death bonk on the head that renders the wife a spiritual intermediary? Check! This makes sense: Alongside series writers Joe Port and Joe Wiseman, the entire BBC One creative team ... are on board as executive producers. That said, while the DNA of the American Ghosts is more or less the same as its British forebear, the texture is surprisingly different."
    • Ghosts feels throwbacky: "There’s no complex mythology, no startling exploration of grief and trauma, no dark backstory, no thought-provoking philosophy," says Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. "But for CBS, it’s as outré as things get — and it’s charming once it gets going past its very premisey premise."
    • The chorus of ghosts is a comedic masterstroke: "They’re a mismatched group of oddball personalities who don’t exactly love each other but are stuck together for eternity, like reluctant coworkers," says Dave Nemetz. "(They don’t even share the same cultural references, since they died centuries apart.) It’s a superb cast full of fresh faces dropping quotable one-liners left and right. Every viewer will have a different favorite ghost, and there are no wrong answers here, but Brandon Scott Jones — so great on The Good Place and The Other Two — is an early standout as colonial dandy Isaac, who resents Alexander Hamilton’s fame and takes a not-so-secret liking to Jay."
    • Ghosts Americanized the British version using U.S. history: “We have a hippie, we have this Prohibition-era lounge singer,” says co-showrunner Joe Port. “There is something about the setup that they created that is very portable. I could see them doing this in other countries.” 

    TOPICS: Ghosts, CBS, Ghosts (UK Series), Joe Port, Rose McIver, Utkarsh Ambudkar

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