There’s a huge amount of talent involved in this series, not only are much of the cast behind the greatly (and understandably) loved CBBC series Horrible Histories but between them they’ve acted and written in some of the best comedies of the last ten years, so I had high hopes that this latest BBC1 prime time effort would be an enjoyable watch. And for once such hopes weren’t dashed in a horrendously cruel manner as it looks like Ghosts could be their best work yet.
The set up is that Charlotte Ritchie’s Alison and her husband Mike (Kiell Smith-Bynoe) have inherited an absolutely massive stately home in the middle of the countryside from a distant relative that they previously didn’t even know existed, but there’s a catch they’re initially unaware of – it’s haunted, and not just by one ghost but by a big old bunch of them who have died at various points throughout history. So there’s Robin (Laurence Rickard), who was once a caveman, former Lady of the house Fanny (Martha Howe-Douglas), MP Julian (Simon Farnaby) who given that he doesn’t wear any trousers probably died in some bizarre sex related accident, headless fella Humphrey (Laurence Rickard, again), an army captain (Ben Willbond), poet Thomas (Mathew Baynton) and Scout leader and seemingly permanently chirpy fella Pat (Jim Howick) among various other characters.
All seem to be previously enjoying their deaths before Alison and Mike turn up, taking turns to give daily talks to keep themselves entertained and playing chess and other games, though they have the odd petty argument as the afterlife still has it’s share of minor annoyances. But they’re horrified when they discover that Alison and Mike plan to turn their home in to a hotel, and so decide that they need to get the couple out of their lives / deaths by any means necessary. Unfortunately they’re a bit rubbish when it comes to the haunting side of things, all except Julian who has the ability to move minor objects, and who may or may not have managed to shove Alison out of a window. When she recovers from an induced coma everything’s changed though, as she can now see our spooky undead protagonists.
It’s a fantastic concept for a series and the wide variety of characters means they can play around with a lot of fun and daft ideas, from the fact that Caveman Robin is probably the smartest of them all to the unfortunate situation that Fanny reenacts her death each and every night, much to the irritation of everyone as her agonised screams wake them all up. The ghosts are a mostly chipper and friendly bunch but each has their own appealing idiosyncrasies, and Alison and Mike are extremely likeable too, and also get funny lines so it’s not just the ghosts who are responsible for the big laughs.
Initially the humour revolves around the ghosts day to day (after)lives and their minor squabbles but there’s some lovely scenes later on where they cleverly use the juxtaposition between the ghost’s haunting attempts (which come with lots of dramatic music and plenty of tension) while Alison wanders around carefree not noticing them at all, while the fact that there’s another bunch of ghosts stuck in the basement also lead to much merriment. That Alison sees our spooky spectres adds a great twist at the end as well and opens the series up to even more craziness, and it’s a rare comedy that makes me laugh a lot and which also contains a gripping storyline.
It almost goes without saying that the Horrible Histories cast are once again all amazing (or it does if you’re aware of their previous work at least) but they’re especially on fantastic form in the show, Lolly Adefope (who seems to be in everything I’m watching right now – Shrill, Miracle Workers and This Time With Alan Partridge at least, but I’m not complaining) makes a welcome addition to the team though, as do Ritchie and Smith-Bynoe, and, well, everyone else, all have strong comedic talents and make the script sparkle.
Beautifully designed and directed as well, I really don’t have a negative word to say about it in the slightest, when it comes to comedy the BBC are on a bit of a run right now what with This Time With Alan Partridge, Jerk, Fleabag and Famalam, there’s been the odd misfire (Warren, The Unexplainers) but it’s immensely pleasing they’re making so many sitcoms in such a wide variety of styles, and judging by this first episode with Ghosts they have another hit on their hands.