Ghosted slows down for some heartfelt zombie action

Ghosted slows down for some heartfelt zombie action

It’s a rare case when a TV show “calming down” involves both a zombie-duct-tape car crash and a rabid teenager in a hot dog costume, but tonight’s episode of Ghosted feels like the show finally stopped for a second so that it could actually catch its breath. There are still a few traces of the clunky exposition that plagued last week’s pilot—and some of the same struggles to integrate the supporting cast with the rock solid comedy duo at its core—but this week’s outing manages to feel reliably repeatable as template for low-key monster-of-the-week fun, as opposed to the airless rush that introduced us to these characters last week.

Feinting away from “Pilot”’s hints about Max’s wife and her abduction—probably wisely, given the show’s clear disinterest in the murky mechanics of plot—“Bee-Mo” focuses on Leroy Wright, top-notch detective-turned “lame mall cop.” The bare-bones emotional beats of the story, which see Leroy struggling to be both a cool friend and a surrogate father to his dead partner’s son, Jermaine, are elevated by two factors: Craig Robinson’s ability to sell the wounded emotions lurking underneath the script’s cliche sentiments, and Adam Scott’s ability to gleefully undercut those same emotions every time they crop up.

It’s not for nothing that the episode’s funniest scene comes right before its sappiest, as Scott’s Max opts out of a heartfelt conversation between Leroy and Jermaine by announcing that he’s putting in his earbuds to let them have their moment together. It works because a) the sight of Adam Scott cheerfully popping out of frame to lie down in the back of a car is very funny, and b), it’s an extension of the same Max-Leroy dynamic that’s driven all of the show’s best moments to date. Robinson made his bones on TV by playing the quietly annoyed straight man to some of television’s most accomplished oblivious jackasses, but Scott is giving them a run for their money here with his endlessly cheerful portrayal of Max.

It’s a very basic bit of comic chemistry, whether the two are rocking out together to “The Power Of Love” on their drive to work, or getting their Doom on in a house full of teenage zombies. “Person A says something dumb, Person B rolls his eyes” is the oldest comedy duo formula in the book, but it works best when Person A delivers their goofiness with absolute conviction, and Person B is a master of the perfectly executed roll. (See also: Scott taking Robinson’s exasperated “What is wrong with you?!” as a grateful invitation for a heartfelt moral inventory.)

Sadly, the reactions aren’t quite as sure-fire everywhere else. “Bee-Mo” knowingly dials Ally Walker’s Captain Lafrey back to being a full-on cipher, confidently managing all of the lycanthropes and other monsters making trouble on Halloween, the Bureau Underground’s busiest night, before retiring to “go do what I do when I’m not here.” Last week, Lafrey’s attitude seemed too fawning, presumably to give Max and Leroy a chance to show their value; tonight, she’s borderline omniscient, handing out assignments and covering every base, and it’s a much better look for the character. Tech savant Annie’s obvious crush on her baddass boss is a good note for her, too, especially compared to the nothing Amber Stevens West had to work with in “Pilot.”

But Annie’s also a big part of the episode’s worst scenes, as an equipment hand-off—giving the guys the tranq guns and armor they need to handle the quasi-zombie outbreak caused when Jermaine gets bitten by a feral cat—transforms into some truly awkward flirting between her and Max. (My episode notes contain not just one, but two all-caps NOPES from these two scenes.) Scott and West are both talented performers, but the chemistry just isn’t there between them, and the (very brief) scenes feel like they drag on pretty much forever. I wrote last week that the show needs to find a way to get its supporting cast working on the same page with the clearly in-sync Robinson and Scott, but a ham-fisted romance feels like the laziest way to go about that goal. (And hell, maybe I’m wrong; I’m pretty sure I’d watch a version of Ghosted where Max and Leroy only ever interacted with the Bureau Underground team via brief phone calls to remind us they exist.)

As I said above, the best thing you can say about “Bee-Mo” is that it’s repeatable; where “Pilot” was a desperate sprint, this feels like the kind of marathon pace a show like this could safely keep up for years. Take a little bit of sci-fi/horror bullshit (what was up with that cat?), add some comedy riffs on old action cliches, and power it all with a whole lot of Adam Scott driving Craig Robinson nuts: it’s a formula that works, and feels like it could keep working for a long damn time.

Stray observations

  • I didn’t talk much about the actual “let’s fight zombies” part of the plot, but the sequence in which Max convinces himself he’s been bitten, only to have to deal with a transformed Leroy after he’s been duct-taped to his seat, was the best the show’s done so far to bring together the comedy elements with an actual supernatural threat.
  • Barry remains a delight; the jump cut from the high-tech phone hacking to his kitty-cat Halloween costume made me laugh out loud.
  • “I did not teach him Tig Ol’ Biddies.”
  • Max’s mom was the best man at his wedding.
  • Don’t ask Leroy to name monsters, he’s going to give up after three.
  • Manwhile, Max can’t believe you’ve never heard of his hero, “celebrity professor Blaine Torgen.”
  • I wish they’d done more with Jermaine’s mom and her video call; that’s the kind of silly heightening of the stakes that this show can do really well.
  • Between “Higher Love” last week and “Power Of Love” tonight, I’m sensing a theme with Leroy’s choices for driving music.
  • Apologies for this going up late; Fox didn’t send out screeners this week, so I had to watch it on my poor, time-delayed, West Coast TV.

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