2020 or otherwise, Ghosts is a lovely and heartwarming antidote to the stresses of life.
Following Horrible Histories’ final series with its original cast in 2014, it is my belief that most fans of the show have felt like they were missing a piece of themselves since it finished. Luckily, six members of the original cast (affectionately nicknamed the Six Idiots) have stayed close friends and collaborated on several other projects, the most recent of which is BBC One’s Ghosts. Ghosts is a sitcom centred on a young couple who unexpectedly inherit Button House, a dilapidated ancestral home, and, unwittingly, the variety of opinionated and un-cooperative ghosts that inhabit it.
The inheritance comes as a blessing to Alison and Mike (played wonderfully by Charlotte Ritchie and Kiell Smith-Bynoe) after the trials and tribulations of London renting, and they plan to renovate the house to make it profitable. The ghosts, however, are outraged at sharing their home with the new arrivals, especially with the prospect of Button House turning into a hotel. Conspiring to get rid of them, one ghost uses his (moderate) kinetic powers to push Alison out of a window. But she escapes with her life and a newfound ability: she can now see the ghosts of Button House.
The eight ghosts that Alison meets and comprise the core of the show vary both chronologically and temperamentally. Highlights include Laurence Rickard as Robin, a caveman with the classically supernatural power to make lights flicker, as well as a chess ability which could rival Beth Harmon; Martha Howe-Douglas as Lady Fanny Button, a small-c conservative distant relative of Alison’s; and Simon Farnaby as Julian Fawcett, a large-c Conservative MP who died in a sex scandal in the 90s and remains trouser-less in the afterlife. My personal favourite is Thomas Thorne, played by Mathew Baynton, who swaps Eminem-inspired rap in the guise of Charles II for 19th century Romantic poetry. Thomas falls in love with Alison instantly, and is reminiscent of a hapless but well-intended Regency version of @beam_me_up_softboi on Instagram.
The first season explores the unsteady but increasingly symbiotic relationship between the couple and the ghosts. The show quickly settles into confident and flawlessly executed situational comedy and slapstick humour, as Alison and Mike attempt to refurbish the house and turn it into a form of income without angering their unruly supernatural housemates. Episode 4 excels when the couple rent out Button House for the filming of a Regency period drama: Thomas is jealous of the protagonist and lambasts the historical inaccuracies, Robin wreaks havoc with the light system, and Lady Button is outraged by some NSFW scenes. Later in the season, Alison finds the ghosts enraptured by an episode of Friends and figures out that she can use the box set as blackmail leverage. The show is charming, genuinely funny, and allows me to use phrases like ‘the plague victims in the cellar are a particular highlight’ (they are!).
Having introduced the premise and characters in Season 1, Ghosts really comes into its own in its second season, with its characteristic blend of comedy and heartfelt moments. A new feature of season 2 is that several episodes involve flashbacks which give the writers an opportunity to explore the backstory of each ghost in depth. Thomas Thorne’s death is the subject of the fourth episode, and my favourite plague victims get a flashback of their own as well. However, the standout storyline is undoubtedly that of the Captain (Ben Willbond) – ghost of a Second World War army officer and fan favourite – and his romantic feelings for his second-in-command, who tragically left him for the front.
All the while, the humour continues. In the first episode, the ghosts discover that Lady Fanny Button is able to be caught on camera, leading to several great double entendres. Julian provides opportunities for mild but enjoyable political satire (shouting ‘order’ à la John Bercow), and episode 5 sees the ghosts attempt to communicate with Mike whilst Alison’s away. Whilst the series has many funny moments, it is also genuinely moving. I may or may not have cried during the series finale...
The Christmas special is almost perfect; whilst I slightly resent it for making me sympathise with a Thatcherite MP, this is nevertheless indicative of its subtle power and emotional value. The commission of a Christmas special cements Ghosts’ status as primetime, critically acclaimed, and impeccably produced TV. Its wholesome nature and playful humour distinguish it from other sitcoms, and it’s one of the BBC’s best ongoing shows. 2020 or otherwise, Ghosts is a lovely and heartwarming antidote to the stresses of life, and with Season 3 already commissioned, I can’t wait to see where it goes next.