"Ghosts" Review: CBS Comedy Scares Up Plenty of Laughs

Rose McIver and Utkarsh Ambudkar star in a new comedy that feels like a throwback


CBS

You can see the show pitch for CBS’ “Ghosts” laid out before you as you watch the first episode: It’s “Beetlejuice” meets “Newhart”!

Here’s a New York City couple, a chef and a freelance writer, who have just unexpectedly inherited a nine-bedroom country home and decided to turn it into a bed and breakfast! And here’s the zany group of ghosts who have been stuck in the house together since their deaths — a Revolutionary Era politician! A hippie! A Native American! A 1920s jazz singer! An early-2000s Wall Street bro! A Viking! 

In the streaming era, “Ghosts” — a remake of a British comedy — feels throwbacky. There’s no complex mythology, no startling exploration of grief and trauma, no dark backstory, no thought-provoking philosophy. But for CBS, it’s as outré as things get — and it’s charming once it gets going past its very premisey premise.

“Ghosts” stars the charismatic Rose McIver and Utkarsh Ambudkar as the central couple, Samantha and Jay. (Both have appeared in series with more innovative approaches to death and grieving: McIver on the underrated “iZombie” and Ambudkar on “Never Have I Ever.”) The pilot episode plays as particularly broad, almost self-parody at times, as when Samantha says cheerily of their new country home, “Beats the hell out of our fifth-floor walkup, huh?” (Got it. A big country estate is different from a small city apartment.) But it does its job, setting up the basic plot and its twist — after Samantha falls down the stairs and ends up with a concussion, she gains the ability to see, hear and talk to the ghosts.

The eight ghosts start off largely as stereotypes. The family home’s 19th-century matriarch, Hetty (Rebecca Wisocky) is easily shocked by modern modes of dress and behavior. Jazz star Alberta (Danielle Pinnock) takes any chance to sing and talks of bootlegger boyfriends. A hippie named Flower (Sheila Carrasco) reminisces about Woodstock and free love. Boy Scout Pete (Richie Moriarty) and Viking Thorfinn (Devan Long) act just like you think they will.

But some of the ghosts begin to break out of their molds and provide the cleverer laughs. Late-‘90s Wall Street alum Trevor (Asher Grodman) is stuck in eternity with no pants on because that’s how he died (“Tara Reid’s birthday. Enough said”). Native American Sasappis, as played by Román Zaragoza, is sarcastic and cutting. And Brandon Scott Jones steals the show as Isaac, a fussy Revolutionary Era dandy who’s extremely irritated to learn that his rival Alexander Hamilton is the subject of an entire musical.

“Ghosts” is not here to explore the deeper implications of the afterlife, and that’s OK. Some of the funniest bits come from the ghosts trying to pick up on each other’s cultural references across the centuries that separate them. Trevor, for instance, keeps trying to explain movies to the rest of the gang only to sigh, “God, I hate being the most recently dead.” They hold a regular food club. Next meeting: Thor explains the different types of cod. 

There’s also some solid ghost-life-isn’t-what-you-think humor. The characters find haunting itself to be quite taxing. Trevor is the most powerful haunter of all of them, and it takes him minutes of extreme concentration just to push a button on a computer keyboard, even more effort to topple a vase. And when Samantha tries to cleanse the house of spirits using sage, the ghosts find the smell “actually delightful.” That’s emblematic of “Ghosts” itself: actually delightful, if not that powerful.

“Ghosts” premieres on October 7 at 9 p.m. ET.

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