(Photo: Kevin Estrada/Fox)

When I suggested last week that Ghosted could fix its A-story/B-story problems by segregating the Bureau Underground staff into their own little show, separate from the top-level antics of Adam Scott and Craig Robinson, I wasn’t expecting the series to take me quite so literally, quite so quickly. But that’s exactly what the love-themed “Whispers” does: sends Max and Leroy off to a Tampa-area resort to talk out their romance woes and track down a Sumerian she-demon who literally steals men’s hearts (subtle!), while, back at the base, Annie and Barry get stuck running surveillance on LaFrey’s rebellious teenage daughter. The two plots briefly intersect at the top and bottom of the episode, but for most of their runtime, these could be two entirely different shows.

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And you know what? It kind of works. Barry’s weird reactions and convoluted backstory are going to work for me in pretty much any context, while the air freed up by Scott and Robinson’s absense allows Amber Stevens West and Ally Walker to do more with their characters that just play out the most basic of logline descriptions. LaFrey gets to find some shade in her relationship with her smartass daughter, while West—wonder of wonders—is given the chance to tell a couple of actual jokes, most notably one about her neglectful mother’s crisis-ignoring birthday party. (“And the theme…was cocaine” cracked me up, mostly on delivery.) I have no idea if these little B-team runners are sustainable in the long run, but they didn’t make me want to put my notebook down and walk out of the room, so they’re a definite improvement over the Max-and-Annie material that happened last week.

(Photo: Kevin Estrada/Fox)

In fact, it’s the Max-Leroy stuff tonight that was a little more hit-or-miss; I’ll take my Seth Morris cameos where I can get them, but the pair’s pursuit of heart-surgeon-turned-resort-photographer Keith spent too much time in “Max and Leroy fight each other” mode for my tastes. I’ve watched enough Ghosted at this point to know that I get a lot more joy out of these guys’ relationship when they’re playing along; Robinson’s constant shut-downs can get one-note, a running litany of “No, I don’t want to do that”s fending off Scott’s endless enthusiasm. But when he and Max get on the same page—as they do in the episode’s penultimate scene, where Leroy reveals his disastrously awful attempt at a Jumbotron wedding proposal to his ex-girlfriend, Tonya—it feels like they’re capable of egging each other on to new heights of funny.

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Also, I’ll give the series credit: This is my favorite “take down the baddie” sequence Ghosted has done to date, from the absurdity of the solution being foreshadowed by Tonya’s favorite song, to the sound of a demon-distorted Robinson crooning “Walking In Memphis,” to the third time’s a charm return of the giant Adam Scott mask getting stabbed into Natalie (Megalyn Echikunwoke), the creature trying to get Leroy to off Max for the second week in a row. (Also, here’s to Blake Lively blog facts ultimately saving the day.) After a sluggish start, “Whispers” gets somewhere close to great in its final third, even before a legitimately interesting ending that (briefly) reunites Max with his missing wife.

(Photo: Kevin Estrada/Fox)

Ghosted has yet to settle on whether these characters are fundamentally cartoons or people; Max, especially, seems to be getting more absurd by the week. But as I’ve noted before, the show’s writers seems to know that they can toss in a real emotional beat pretty much whenever they like, with total confidence that their stars can land them on a dime. Max’s nervousness before going in to see his wife is as human as he’s been since the pilot, and it produces a moment of real sympathy with Robinson that’s as funny as it is sweet. I’ll even admit to feeling a pang of actual heartbreak for the guy when it became (inevitably) clear just how badly he’s being played by his clearly-plotting-something, probably-possessed missus. That might have just been “Walking In Memphis” getting to me, though; if Marc Cohen can fend off a demon, it’s not like I’m going to stand a chance.

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Stray observations

  • Max’s bad gun discipline—especially his firing just to get Leroy’s attention—is very funny to me.
  • Aw, Max and Barry are buddies. Makes sense.
  • Leroy on fashion: “I don’t like when my clothes billow. I feel like a wind.”
  • “And the Jumbotron guy. He wouldn’t cut away. Just hung on me…sobbing.”
  • “Not crazy, there’s a succubus next door!”
  • Max’s bachelor party persona is the confusing but delightful “Mitch Bachelor.”
  • Tonight, in un-subtle Ghosted foreshadowing: I can forgive the “Walking In Memphis” stuff, but Keith’s “I ONLY USE REAL FILM, NOT DIGITAL” was clunky as hell. (See also: Max jamming the symbols together in the dark room until they just kind of fit.)
  • Barry has four moms: “Mum, Mom, Mummy, and Lynn.” It involves “a few remarriages and a lot of lesbians.”
  • The sight of the Max mask staring up from where Natalie had been thrown off the balcony made me laugh out loud; I want one.
  • I don’t normally watch broadcast TV, so this gig is exposing me to commercials I never normally see. I’m fascinated right now by KFC’s slow descent into madness. Tonight’s spot saw one of the many extant Colonels arguing with a bunch of talking portraits of himself.

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