Review: CBS sitcom ‘Ghosts’ proves Network TV isn’t dead — it’s hauntingly hilarious

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews CBS sitcom 'Ghosts'

Streaming may be where the action is, but network television isn’t dead yet thanks to ABC’s “Abbott Elementary” winning Best Comedy Series at the Golden Globes.

If there’s one other network sitcom that rivals “Abbott” for weekly laugh-out-loud viewing, it’s the hauntingly hilarious “Ghosts” on CBS. Season 2 continues Thursday with Episode 15 titled “A Date to Remember,” capitalizing on the romantic mojo of Valentine’s Day.

Based on the BBC original, the American version by Joe Port and Joe Wiseman follows a married New York couple, Samantha and Jay Arondekar, who inherit a country mansion from a distant relative, only to discover that it is inhabited by ghosts who died on the grounds. There’s just one catch: Jay can’t see or hear the ghosts, but Samantha can.

Rose McIver became known to holiday rom-com fans in Netflix’s “A Christmas Prince” and does the heavy lifting here as Sam. Her acting shines the most whenever outside guests visit the mansion as she delivers a performance within a performance, her face showing us that she’s hearing the ghosts, but trying to not to let others see that she does.

Utkarsh Ambudkar (“The Mindy Project,” “Brittany Runs a Marathon”) has the opposite acting challenge as Jay, standing next to a roomful of ghosts but pretending that he can’t hear their dialogue. This allows him to make naive comments or sarcastic quips about being left out of the loop. Bonus points for his lovable comic-book nerdiness.

Freak events allow them both a chance to show their comedic chops. At one point in Season one, Jay gets inhabited by an elderly woman ghost, forcing Ambudkar to speak in a high voice with dainty body movements. Likewise in Season two, Rose gets inhabited by a viking ghost, having to speak in a gruff, cave man voice with a hunched macho posture.

As great as the two leads routinely are, the biggest treat of “Ghosts” is the title ensemble cast of ghosts, which has to be one of the greatest supporting casts ever in a sitcom (i.e. “The Office”) in terms of a deep bench of regular characters with distinct personalities.

Leading the charge is Brandon Scott Jones as Captain Isaac Higgintoot, an American Revolution officer who is jealous of Alexander Hamilton. He died of dysentery, so he emits a foul odor if any human walks through him. He also gradually comes out of the closet in a budding romance with a British redcoat Nigel (John Hartman) living out in the shed.

Danielle Pinnock is bubbly as Alberta Haynes, a Ma Rainey-style lounge singer who was murdered by poisonous moonshine during Prohibition. Finding the culprit becomes a running thread throughout the series, including a creepy podcast host who collects her toenails and other memorabilia. Her gift is that her humming can be heard by humans.

Pete Martino (Richie Moriarty) carries a torch for Alberta, but he probably isn’t her type as an awkward Boy Scout leader who died from a bow-and-arrow accident in 1985. He now walks around with an arrow sticking out of his neck, the most difficult prop to maneuver of the bunch. A running gag is that he is Jay’s favorite ghost, despite not being to see him.

The youngest ghost is Trevor Lefkowitz (Asher Grodman), a Wall Street frat boy who died from a cocaine overdose in 2000. The funny catch is that he died while not wearing pants, meaning he’s destined to wander for eternity with no pants beneath his tie and blazer. His gift is that he can actually move objects and type on computers if he focuses hard enough.

The oldest ghost is Thor (Devan Chandler Long), a Viking who was abandoned by his shipmates while exploring North America over 1,000 years ago. Having been killed by a lightning strike, his talent is being able to affect electricity. He is the funniest character, blurting out macho claims of killing Danes, eating cod and a newfound love of watching TV.

He has a crush on Flower Montero (Sheila Carrasco), who hates monogamy. She’s super smart but lacks short-term memory due to dropping so much acid in a 1960s hippie commune. In fact, she was high when she tried to hug a bear that mauled her to death — and still has the scars to prove it. If the living pass through her, they get high too.

The best character arc belongs to Sam’s great-great-great-great-grandmother Hetty Woodstone (Rebecca Wisocky), the wife of the estate’s original philandering owner. She evolves from an uptight aristocrat who looks down on peasants to a kinder heart with feminist ideas after seeing more freedoms for women in modern society.

Last but not least is Sasappis (Román Zaragoza), a cynical Native American of the Lenape tribe, who is wiser than the other ghosts. He oddly disappears for stretches of Season one before becoming a permanent fixture in Season two, carving marks in a tree each time he sees his long-lost native love before falling for a new “car ghost” parked in the driveway.

With so many dynamic characters, “Ghosts” has an endless supply of fun story lines and back stories to mine over the course of its run on CBS. The British series ran four seasons with just 27 total episodes, whereas the American version is already on Episode 33 this week with no sign of stopping anytime soon. Here’s hoping it haunts us for a long time.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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