New BBC One sitcom Ghosts comes from the talented team of comedy writer-performers behind Horrible Histories and Yonderland.
It revolves around a group of ghosts who have been inhabiting a run-down country house since their deaths there, including Edwardian matriarch Lady Button (Martha Howe-Douglas), sensitive poet Thomas (Mathew Baynton), upbeat scout leader Pat (Jim Howick), disgraced politician Julian (Simon Farnaby), a stern army captain (Ben Willbond), headless Humphrey and a monosyllabic caveman (both played by Laurence Rickard). Lolly Adefope and Katy Wix join the Horrible Histories/Yonderland regulars to complete the cast of ghosts as optimistic Kitty and simple Mary.
Stuck at Button House with no way of leaving and no humans able to see them, the ghosts pass the time by playing ‘best of twenty’ games of chess and giving tedious talks. At the point we meet them, the agenda for the week includes Kitty telling everyone about the first time she ate an egg and Julian delivering his by-election victory speech. Understandably, they’re driving each other mad… It’s essentially a house-share sitcom with a group of very different people forced to co-habit under one roof, exacerbated by the fact that they can never leave the grounds and don’t just have disparate personalities but are also from completely different time periods.
The ghosts’ mundane existences are soon disrupted by the arrival of Alison (Charlotte Ritchie) and Mike (Kiell Smith-Bynoe), who inherit the huge but dilapidated house when its last owner, and the final member of the Button family, passes away and Alison turns out to be a distant relative. They jump at the chance to renovate the house, with the intention of turning it into a hotel. Naturally the ghosts are unhappy about this (Thomas despairs: “We’ll be overrun by people, taunting us with their life!”) so resolve to give haunting a go, in the hope that the couple will leave.
Although it is more adult than the group’s previous work and airs in a 9.30pm time slot, Ghosts does still fit comfortably into the category of family-friendly viewing and feels like it could have maybe aired a bit earlier in the evening. In episode 1, there are one or two ghostly moments that could perhaps frighten very small children, but it’s mostly quite tame. It also isn’t particularly smutty, save for a moment when Lady Button recalls catching her husband “’pon the groundskeeper with the butler ’pon him” (a scenario known as a “Moroccan tea party” according to Julian).
Ghosts is first and foremost a fun, multi-character comedy that’s jam-packed with jokes. So many, in fact, that it might warrant repeat viewing because you’ll probably notice certain lines or little moments that you missed the first time round. For me, one of these blink-and-you-miss-it moments in the opening episode was Robin the caveman referring to Alison as Kim Wilde, due to an earlier remark made by Pat.
With the “we could always try… haunting” segment that was highlighted in the promos taking up just a few minutes, and episode 1 ending in a way that significantly changes things, it will certainly be interesting to see where the show goes next. Since we rather quickly come to learn why Lady Button keeps feeling compelled to throw herself out of an upstairs window at the same time every night, it also seems likely we will discover how some of the other ghosts met their end as the series goes on. The stories behind the arrow through Pat’s neck and the trouserless state of Julian are sure to be entertaining…
Ghosts continues Monday at 9.30pm on BBC One