The BBC’s hit comedy Ghosts has just come to the end of a successful second season, and fans are waiting eagerly for the Christmas special. If you’ve never come across the team behind Ghosts before, and you are looking to explore some of their work, then you’re in for a treat.
The stars and writers of Ghosts – Mathew Baynton, Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas, Jim Howick, Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond – are all prolific on the British comedy scene, together and apart, and there is plenty of other stuff to sink your teeth into. It was quite difficult to narrow down the list – I could easily have listed half their IMDB entries here.
Yonderland was the first project that the team worked on after they left Horrible Histories in 2013. It ran for three seasons on Sky One, and was a critical success. Debbie Maddox (Martha Howe-Douglas) is a normal mum who happens to find a magical land in her pantry – a land peopled by an extremely colourful cast of characters (and puppets) played mostly by the other members of the gang.
Yonderland is a riot from start to finish; a family show on acid, the humour is more surreal than that of Ghosts, but there are no fewer jokes packed in to every episode, and so much visual humour that you have to watch each episode twice to catch everything. For my money, the third season is the best, but season one has some stand out episodes too.
Jim Howick’s minor character, the Crone, will make anyone with a sense of humour literally weep tears of laughter. Simon Farnaby’s villain Negatus lights up the screen every time he pops up, and Howe-Douglas holds her own against the madness of the surrounding stories and characters. And if you love Ghosts for the sheer amount of filthy jokes that completely go over the heads of younger viewers, then Yonderland will also not let you down. Cuddly Dick walked so that Fanny Button could run – just sayin’.
Where to watch: Available to stream on NOW TV.
The team of six also worked on the film Bill in 2015. Written by Ben Willbond and Laurence Rickard, with the group playing multiple roles again, Bill is a film that imagines what happened in the life of William Shakespeare between the time he was recorded as living in Stratford and when he popped up several years later as a successful playwright in London. It is safe to say that the plot of the film – which involves a Spanish plot to kill Queen Elizabeth I – is probably not what went down, but it doesn’t matter when the film is this much fun.
Like Ghosts and Yonderland, Bill is aimed at that family audience, with stuff for the kids but also plenty of knowing humour for the adults too. Mathew Baynton is a wonderful, wide-eyed Shakespeare making his way in the world, whilst Willbond plays King Philip II of Spain with so much pantomime villainy that it is impossible not to be charmed. But honestly, the whole troupe is on top form in Bill; they stick to their frantic Yonderland pace but also show early signs of the more heartfelt moments of pathos and reflection that I think characterise Ghosts and make it something special.
Where to watch: Streaming on Amazon Prime.
3. The Wrong Mans
As I mentioned, all of the creative team behind Ghosts are prolific in their individual work. Mathew Baynton’s comedy-drama, The Wrong Mans – created with James Cordon – ran for two successful seasons before Cordon’s commitments in America led to the show being cancelled. Their characters, Sam (Baynton) and Phil (Cordon), get themselves mixed up in criminal web of activity when Sam answers a random ringing phone that he finds at a car crash.
Obviously, Baynton’s and Cordon’s comedy pedigree can’t be disputed, and The Wrong Mans was a critical success at the time. The Wrong Mans is ambitious in scope; it’s a sitcom, but the plotting is tight and intricate, more like your standard crime drama. The comedy, therefore, has more of an edge than that of Ghosts (or Gavin and Stacey, for that matter) but if you like Baynton’s dramatic and slightly hapless poet Thomas Thorne then you are bound to also root for Sam in The Wrong Mans.
Where to watch: Streaming on BBC iPlayer.
Mindhorn is another of those individual projects I was talking about, this time from Simon Farnaby. A film, co-written with Julian Barratt (he of The Mighty Boosh), Mindhorn is the story of washed up actor Richard Thorncroft (Barratt) who ends up negotiating with an escaped murderer who insists he will only speak to Detective Mindhorn. The only trouble is, Mindhorn is the fictional detective played by Thorncroft twenty-five years previously. Farnaby also stars in the film, as Thorncroft’s old stunt double and the new lover of Thorncroft’s ex.
Mindhorn is an interesting addition to this list. It is full of the jokes you’d expect from two writers such as Farnaby and Barratt; a little bit surreal, dry and slightly ludicrous. But it also has those more heartfelt moments which I recognise from Farnaby’s writing on Paddington 2, or his work on the Ghosts episode, ‘Redding Weddy’, in particular. He always comes across as a very off the wall personality, but there is no denying the strength of his emotional writing as well. I should also note that Barratt turns in a typically excellent performance with the material as well, and he’s a real joy to watch.
Where to watch: Streaming on Amazon Prime.
5. Stath Lets Flats
Now for something slightly different. Stath Lets Flats makes this list not because any of the writing team from Ghosts worked on it, but because the two shows share so many other creative links.
Tom Kingsley, director of Ghosts, is also the man at the helm of Jamie Demetriou’s BAFTA winning Stath Lets Flats. Kiell Smith-Bynoe and Katy Wix, two of the stars of Ghosts, also feature prominently here, and several other actors are shared between the two shows in one off guest appearances. According to Kingsley, even the pigeon is the same one.
Stath Lets Flats has a similar ensemble cast feel to Ghosts, for all that Demetriou is the star, and similar tightly plotted, pacy episodes. The characters get out and about a bit more than the ghosts, but it all feels very contained to their small and slightly bizarre world of dodgy letting agency shenanigans – just as the ghosts are concerned with their small Button House existence. If you’re missing Ghosts and looking for another smart and laugh out loud comedy to fill the void, Stath Lets Flats is not at all a bad one to choose.
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