If you’ve not yet discovered the BBC comedy Ghosts, which is currently airing the second series on BBC 1 (with the whole thing available to stream Netflix style on iPlayer) then you’re missing a trick.
The first season, about a young couple who inherit a house full of ghosts, was a runaway success in the notoriously difficult family-ish comedy slot, and the show was renewed for two further seasons by the BBC. This second seasons of Ghosts finished filming literally a day before TV production shut down across the country back in March, and now is airing just in time for a spooky October.
It’s hardly a ghost story – although great use of horror movie tropes are made in the early episodes of series one – but if scary stuff isn’t your bag (it definitely isn’t mine) then these ghosties are likely to be much more up your street. Here are five reasons you should check out Ghosts on iPlayer.
1. If You Liked Horrible Histories or Yonderland
If you’re a British person of a certain young millennial/old Gen Z type, then you probably watched Horrible Histories back in the day on the CBBC channel. That show was a massive success and its main cast – Mathew Baynton, Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas, Jim Howick, Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond – are the creative brains behind BBC Ghosts, producing, writing and starring. Ghosts isn’t their first rodeo either; the six of them also created Sky One’s fantasy comedy, Yonderland, which ran for three successful series between 2013 and 2016.
The troupe is often compared to Monty Python, mostly due to their slightly surreal humour, habit of playing multiple roles and the fact that there are six of them, but I wouldn’t take that comparison too seriously if Monty Python isn’t your thing. They have their own vibe and Ghosts especially has less of that surreal humour and plays more on subverting expectations of what straight situational comedy can look like.
2. The Comedy Pedigree of the Great Cast
If Horrible Histories wasn’t your thing, and you missed out on Yonderland, then it doesn’t really matter as you’re bound to recognise at least some of these faces from the British comedy circuit. Farnaby, Willbond and Baynton are probably the most recognisable, but Howick has been doing great work in the last ten years as the spiritual successor to Martin Freeman as the comedy everyman, and if you love Peep Show, you definitely know him. Howe-Douglas has had plenty of TV roles, including in the popular Doctor Foster. Rickard is more of a writer, when he isn’t working on projects with this group, but you’ve probably watched something that he’s worked on.
Lolly Adefope and Katy Wix, drafted in as extra ghosts, are also well-known comedy actors and Charlotte Ritchie and Kiell Smith-Bynoe who play young couple Alison and Mike have such great chemistry between themselves, with Ritchie’s ability to blend in seamlessly with the established troupe really quite notable. It can’t be any easy feat.
3. It’s A Comedy For Everyone
It isn’t always easy to find shows – especially comedies – that you can watch with the whole family. This is an issue with a lot of genres obviously, but comedy always feels especially subjective, especially if it is trying hard to appeal to kids or going totally in the opposite direction and being inappropriate or offensive. Ghosts doesn’t have any of those issues.
It’s a family show for sure, but the 8.30pm slot should let you know that it isn’t some fluffy nonsense. Like all of the best comedy, it works on several levels and because of that, gets away with a breath-taking amount of jokes that you wouldn’t expect from a ‘family show’. Many of these jokes rely on wordplay that is going to go straight over kids’ heads – in episode 1 of Season 2, for example, a lot is made of the fact that one of the characters is called Fanny. The writers know their trade and their audience inside and out; the line is clear, but it is always toed to the extreme. Ghosts boasts some remarkably clever writing.
4. Genuine Moments of Pathos
Ghosts is a ballsy, fast-paced comedy, with a dazzling array of characters, from Rickard’s caveman ghost Robin to Farnaby’s trouser-less Tory politician who died in a very dodgy sounding scandal.
There are so many jokes and so much visual comedy packed into every episode that each one probably warrants being watched at least twice to make sure you catch everything. But the writers are also excellent at injecting moments of genuine pathos, which are very moving, and often catch the viewer off guard. Let’s not forget that this is a show about dead people, after all.
In Season 1, we discover how Howick’s ‘Adventure Club’ (Scout) leader died, and follow him through his ‘Death Day’ in a beautiful episode written by Willbond. In Season 2, in another episode by Willbond, co-written with Farnaby, we find out more about Willbond’s own character, the belligerent WW2 captain, and get a taste of why he might be like he is. Ghosts turns on a hair – from jokes to tears and back – so quickly and skilfully that it should give any aspiring writers out there serious envy.
5. Excellent Characters and Strong Representation
When it comes to comedies with large casts – Ghosts has ten principal actors – it can be difficult for audiences to forge genuine connections with characters, especially if the character is there as a one-note trope or stereotype. Ghosts doesn’t have that issue; all of the characters have their moments in the light, in almost every episode, and definitely across both of the seasons.
None of them feel underdeveloped and they all have multiple facets to their personalities which make them compelling to watch and get to know. My favourites are probably Katy Wix’s Mary, the unfortunate victim of a witch trial, Lolly Adefope’s bouncy Georgian noblewoman Kitty and Rickard’s Robin, but ask anyone and you will get a different answer. All of the characters are endearing, even Baynton’s lovelorn and slightly irritating poet, or Howe-Douglas’ uptight Edwardian matriarch.
There is also developing LGBT representation, especially in Season 2 – no spoilers – which is still not a guarantee from TV shows even now, especially comedies. And, more importantly in 2020, it is refreshing to see a show that includes actors of colour in the cast and doesn’t make a big deal about it. Kitty, our favourite Georgian, is played by a black actress and there is no explanation, no attempting to justify it. She just is.
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