Synopsis: Following on from series one, Alison (Charlotte Ritchie) and Mike (Kiell Smith-Bynoe) are back to square one. They are struggling to renovate Button House, whilst also having to manage the complex and often hilarious “needs” of the various ghosts from throughout the ages. Yep, the whole gang are back for series two, with a whole host of fresh problems and calamitously chaotic solutions . . .
This time around there were more back stories, which was important. We saw more of Pat’s (Jim Howick) death (and a good extension and reference to that in the last episode), too. Mostly though, the first three episodes of this series very much ran with the “problem of the week” format, which sees things promise to get better, but then revert to normal. Standard stuff, that works. This is very much how the second series kicked off, with episode one giving Fanny (Martha Howe-Douglas) the limelight. We learn that she’s appeared (as an apparition) in photographs for years. There’s usual antics too and good development as Alison (Charlotte Ritchie) tries to teach Mary (Katy Wix) to read, and to pronounce her words better. Meanwhile Fanny (Martha Howe-Douglas) remains true to herself, disapproving strongly when Kitty (Lolly Adefope) discovers a trashy, romantic novel and starts to enjoy reading it.
Episode two sees the ghosts take umbrage after Mike (Kiell Smith-Bynoe) and Alison have a party. Pat (Jim Howick) starts enjoying himself and cutting shapes on the dance floor, despite the fact he’s on strict orders from the Captain (Ben Willbond) to demand the party’s brought to an abrupt end. There’s some hilarious scenes told via flashback as the chaos is slowly recalled. Some wonderful romance writing starts too, as subtle signs of growing feelings start to show between Robin (Laurence Rickard) and Mary (Katy Wix). It’s all set to a standard, time restrictive issue needing to be resolved, as the house is going to be assessed as a potential wedding venue. Of course, it doesn’t go smoothly.
Episode four has a different spin and is more drama based, belonging to Thomas (Mathew Baynton), which of course it would give his penchant for drama. It makes clever use of the unreliable narrator trope, and whilst it is generally more emotive, there’s still the usual hilarity. The timings are what are the success factor to pretty much all good comedy writing, and this show absolutely nails it. “The Head”, also Laurence Rickard in a different role, puts his own unique perspective on things, and does what he can to identify who’s who and “who dunnit” by their footwear. Great stuff!
By the end of the series there’s been a good mix of storytelling. Each episode is contained, but a good overall narrative develops too. Not easy to get that right. The series finale really acts as a way of showing how well the writers do to manage all the characters, the plot and the humour. They make it look astonishingly easy, but it’s not. The trick is not being overly ambitious and trying to recreate the wheel. That’s why the show works and has enjoyed critical and ratings success. Traditional British sitcom writing, but with enough modernity and well thought out ways to show how times have changed.
Acting and Characters
The interactions are what make Ghosts so good, and the unlikely pairing of characters from history. All those involved do a terrific job and know their roles. The alliances and rivalries work wonderfully, and seem natural. Captain (Ben Willbond) assuming command doesn’t always mean the others accept that, but Pat (Jim Howick) usually does, reluctantly accepting his lower rank. Yet, when he has had enough and snaps, the impact of having been with others for years really gets portrayed powerfully.
Julian (Simon Farnaby) is a wonderful creation and must be loads of fun to play. He’s the unnofficial villain of the group, but not enough to be thought of as and out and out baddie. Farnaby delivers the role of a sleazy, entitled and out of touch former high ranking politician wonderfully. He’s often pitted against Thomas (Mathew Baynton) and his Enlightenment era strict moral code. They play off one another with ease, and each show the other’s characters flaws, which is great comedy work.
The many references to pop culture are managed wonderfully, and the reactions many of the characters have are honest and feasible. Standout moments are Robin’s reaction to learning about the moon landing, Thomas’s attempt to woo Alison with a Joey Tribbiani “how you doing?” flirtation, and Pat’s dancing. Some strong examples of cerebral and physical comedy done well.
The two living in the house are of course crucial to things, but Mike (Kiell Smith-Bynoe) does a great job of taking the supporting role. He adds to Alison’s character, wit his believable everyman demeanor, in typical hapless ways. Alison being able to see the ghosts means that Kitty (Lolly Adefope) is never far away, and whilst her cloying attachment is funny, Adefope gets the theme of loneliness across really well. On that note, Robin’s character also does that with skill and poise. His emotionally intelligent acting skills let you see how much he values having the others around, and also how well anyone can adapt to situations if they have to. Some, don’t want to, and that’s where Fanny (Martha Howe-Douglas) fits in, as Howe-Douglas really cements her status as the matriarch of the group and Lady of the house. Her unwillingness to change her character and constantly try to “train” Alison are what make her so good.
CGI & Action
There’s no real big punches pulled with the CGI and effects on this show, because there really doesn’t need to be. Much of the effects aren’t that different than those in the Horrible Histories T.V. and film franchise, because they don’t need to be. The way things are done are a much less comic, and look more realistic, but generally there’s no big or innovative stunts or technical wizardry. The effects that make the ghosts appear as if they’re “there but not there” are clever, and the team responsible know what they’re doing, which you’d expect. Humphrie’s body and head being separate are a great use of special effects, and the impact is comedic in the theatrical sense. Similarly, Mary’s (Katy Wix) appearance is clever, as it doesn’t need her to appear burned all over. The blackened soot is plenty enough to make her story feasible in the world of the story.
Costumes are great in this show. Another aspect that can be traced back to the Horrible Histories show. The B.B.C. must have access to a great deal of attire from all down the ages. Everything looks accurate and that matters in a show like this, as the appearances are vital. The fact it’s not too grizzly means that whilst this is a much more adult-humour based show, those over the age of about twelve can enjoy it too without having nightmares.
It’s always a tough act to follow a strong first series. Ghosts season two has managed to do exactly that by keeping things simple but also varying things too. Ghosts worked because of the shift towards more drama based events and screen time when it was needed. If it only repeated the same idea (aforementioned “problem of the week”) but tweaked it, people would soon get sick of it and probably tune out. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Ultimately, you have to care for the characters you’re seeing. That was achieved wonderfully, and the fact it was shows that people care about people, regardless of where or when they’re from.
Whilst the setting of this show is very much a fantasy one, make no mistake, it’s a sitcom. One of the best and most enjoyable for some time, too. Brilliant characters (who doesn’t love a caveman helping with a crossword), very talented actors and a real show for the B.B.C. to be proud of. Whilst this may not ever be able to compete with the likes of shows on Netflix, etc., it will entertain the British public at a time they really need it. The poignant moments about the lasting impact of death, and grief, will have a particular pull right now. very funny, lighthearted enough to relax to and one of the beebs best offerings for some time.
- Acting (Including Characters)9.5
- Overall and Incidental Music9.6