Hear us out: Ghosts, the charming CBS sitcom about a freelance journalist and an unemployed chef who inherit a quaint country estate inhabited by dramatic denizens who died on the property, is actually a workplace comedy.
It’s been five months since audiences—and the rest of the spirited specters—watched Sam (Rose McIver) and her doting husband, Jay (Utkarsh Ambudkar), fall through the floor of their foyer after welcoming their first guests to Woodstone B&B, the quaint country estate that they hoped to turn into a family business. The cold open of Thursday’s premiere deals with the most obvious question: Can Jay, the man who believed his wife could see ghosts after suffering a life-changing head injury, now see the rest of his housemates himself? (No spoilers here, but the decision that the writers made will ultimately keep the high-concept premise running for years to come.)
Fast forward a few weeks, and Sam and Jay are preparing for their second reopening after their first guests, who witnessed the fall, canceled and left them a one-star review on Yelp. Determined to start off on the right foot this time around, a tightly wound Sam enlists some of the ghosts to spy on an overly critical, middle-aged couple that has a history of leaving scathing reviews on the same app. This does not go over well with Jay, who rightfully raises the ethical concerns of spying on guests during their stay. As onscreen husband and wife, Ambudkar and McIver shared an agreeable (albeit toothless) chemistry in the pilot, but the evolution of their witty repartee makes their characters’ relationship feel more lived in and worth rooting for.
The show’s spirits, on the other hand, really are an embarrassment of riches. Showrunners Joe Port and Joe Wiseman, who used the British version of Ghosts as a framework to develop their American adaptation, have deftly mixed and matched the colorful characters to get a plausibly different dynamic each time, due to the generational (and at times centennial) divides between them. All of the characters, who fully lean into who they are and share very little in common on paper, are forced to spend almost all of their time in a single location, resembling the environment of a successful workplace comedy (even if Sam and Jay, a.k.a. the “Livings,” are the ones doing all of the work to get the B&B up and running). But there are three standout ghosts in the early episodes screened for review: Hetty Woodstone (Rebecca Wisocky), Alberta Haynes (Danielle Pinnock), and Sasappis (Román Zaragoza).
As the former lady of the manor and wife of a robber baron (whom she banished to hell last season), Wisocky plays Hetty with a merciless wit and such steadfast conviction—down to her distinctive gait and parlance—that she steals every scene with a quippy one-liner. An early favorite from this season? “Allow the resentment to fester until the hatred becomes so ever-present you must turn to the sweet, sweet milk of mother morphine to numb the pain.” (She also delivers the first big laugh-out-loud moment of the season, when Hetty is forced to rethink her relationship with a broken washing machine in the second episode.)
The second and third episodes also attempt to expand the world of Ghosts beyond the confines of the Woodstone Mansion, with Sam deciding to start a murder-mystery podcast about Alberta’s death and uncovering more about the jazz singer’s life in the 1920s, and Sasappis revealing a sentimental connection to an old tree on the property that the new neighbors want to cut down. Any time we are able to go back in time and see the ghosts in a different light—and different costumes!—feels like a delectable treat, and Pinnock and Zaragoza both walk the fine line of being earnest and not preachy when revealing the true motivations behind their characters’ actions.
The ghosts, as zany as they are in the present, are almost always more compelling in flashbacks. But therein lies a potential problem for the writers: How will they balance the slow reveal of the ghosts’ backstories with the realities of guests coming and going every week? (The first episode might have focused on the reopening of the B&B, but there is no mention of any guests in the second or third.) The show could also stand to ask more of some of its other supporting players, who seem to be learning the same lesson over and over again. How many times can Thorfinn (Devan Chandler Long), for instance, get his feelings hurt and guilt-trip another character into apologizing like they’re children? There seems to be a considerable divide between the simple lessons that certain characters learn and the more profound ones that are imparted by others.
With the breakout success of Abbott Elementary earlier this year, Ghosts, despite being a hit with both viewers and critics, was criminally overlooked during awards season. But regardless of accolades, both second-season shows highlight the value of current network sitcoms, which, if done right, can have intergenerational appeal and provide a sense of optimism about humanity, without completely shying away from the realities of the real world. With the right combination of broad comedy and heartfelt humor, Ghosts has avoided the infamous sophomore slump, continuing to breathe new life into an old-age premise that will survive as long as the writers don’t forget its strong bones.