“Ghost Studz” commits a lot of little sins on its way to a mediocre finish line, but the worst has gotta be promising a capital-R Reckoning from Lennon Parham and then failing to deliver. Parham’s not the most high-profile guest star on tonight’s episode—that goes to Workaholics’ Blake Anderson and Anders Holm, playing a couple of goofy, self-serving TV “ghost hunters” who Max and Leroy have to protect from themselves—but when the show revealed that she was the face behind dreaded Bureau Underground accountant Dierdre, I sat up and paid attention for the first time all night. On Playing House—and especially her wonderfully demented appearances on the Comedy Bang Bang podcast—Parham is an endless font of whackjob energy, and I was really hoping her payback against Barry would be something gleefully excessive. Instead, Ghosted did that knock-off The Office thing that occasionally crawls out of its DNA like some sort of unwanted and unloved specter of better TV shows past. I’m not sure who’s tuning in to the funny monster-hunting show for all this milquetoast office budget comedy, but it’s definitely not me.
We get (slightly) better stuff out of the episode’s A-plot, which sees our heroes infiltrating the set of Ghost Studz in order to keep tabs on its stars, Jared and Chaz (Chet? Chaz.) as they stumble onto an actual supernatural event at an abandoned hospital. This is the second time a big heap of Workaholics DNA has bled into Ghosted, but where the Kyle Newacheck-directed “The Machine” managed to steal some of the Comedy Central series’ manic energy, here Anderson and Holm feel too trapped in their meathead characters to make this meeting of the comedy minds as fun as it possibly could be. It’s funny to see the duo straightfacedly assert that ’80s well victim Baby Jessica “got hot” (once she was “Woman Jessica,” obviously), but for the most part, the episode only gives the pair one joke to play—”We’re dumb and stoned and famous”—and proceeds to run it into the ground.
Meanwhile, Ghosted continues to do itself a disservice by giving Max and Leroy each about half of an emotional arc to play out each week, and then just letting them sort of listlessly fizzle out as the episode progresses. Tonight, Leroy’s sad he doesn’t get respect or “perks” any more, and Max is bummed that his old student Jared has turned into an attention-seeking idiot. As usual, these are both resolved with roughly a single line of dialogue each, demanding the question: What was even the point? Ghosted’s damn good at its main job of telling jokes; it doesn’t need these beats that feel like they were mandated by some Screenwriting 101 “Outline of a TV show” flowchart. The pair’s conversation about doing what’s right in front of the devil fridge (oh, there’s a devil fridge that sucks people into a hell dimension, by the way) at least landed a little harder, on the strength of Adam Scott and Craig Robinson being on the same page this time.
As usual, the episode’s best moments come when it forgoes the plot in favor of tiny odd interactions, mostly between Scott and Robinson. The “Do you know what your hand smells like?” conversation was all over the promos for tonight’s episode, but it’s not like I’m not going to laugh any time Adam Scott 180s to take a question super seriously. (I’m also partial to Leroy’s snack obsession, from his assertion that it’s impossible for anyone to truly know that those little snack packs are exactly 100 calories, or his running fascination with gum.) Anderson and Holm get in on the fun, too, once everybody’s in the nightmare dimension; their playfulness is still hampered by the idiocy of the characters they’re playing, but there’s some fun to be mined from these four talented improvisers bouncing jokes off of each other. (Holm yelling “So much plastic!” as they moved through Curtain-Land made me laugh.)
“Ghost Studz” had everything it needed to be a top-tier Ghosted episode: Good Max-Leroy riffs, three great guest stars, and even a little bit of flair to the production design. (The alternate universe might look like “the set of a Nine Inch Nails video,” but at least it’s more lively than the hotels and golf courses we’ve been to so far.). It’s just a shame that so many funny elements couldn’t come together into something more concrete.
- Annie and Barry get the one good exchange from the office B-plot: “Your Donettes are gone, too.” “I will cut someone.” “Well, that’s just the lack of Donettes talking.”
- Anderson’s look of realization on “I’m actually really, really stupid” was a nice, funny touch.
- “You guys are like, really soft and smooth.”
- Max’s bad faux-nytail isn’t quite on the Max’s face-mask level of great Ghosted props, but I loved his defiance when he revealed it. (And then the reveal of the fake Max at the end of the episode, the best visual gag of the entire night.)
- “My guy looks like he breathes pigeons.”
- Cop Leroy could get free pizza anywhere…except for Dominoes. (No great loss.)
- The best Max-Leroy moment tonight was Leroy’s promise to “dunk all over your ass” in the made-up game Max wasn’t actually playing.
- “Did you see how many kinds of gum they have? SEVEN!”
- Fox is promoting the hell out of that awful-looking Dylan McDermott pilot show, huh?
- I want to see that “haunted treadmill” case.
- At one point, I have “Damn it, Barry, don’t talk to Listler like that” jotted in my notes.
- The quick-edit sequence of Max and Leroy gearing up, then ungearing up, was a funny concept, but Edgar Wright has ruined that particular joke for me.
- “I gotta get a selfie with this guy, he’s got like no face!”