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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Ghosts UK’ On CBS, The Original British Series That Spawned The American Hit – Stars Obituary

If you’re a fan of the CBS hit Ghosts, you probably know that it was based on a hit sitcom in the UK that ran on BBC One from 2019-23. In fact, you may have watched the original version, which streamed on Paramount+ until recently. But with the just-ended writers and actors strikes leaving the Eye network desperate for schedule fodder, the original is set to hit the broadcast airwaves starting this week.


Opening Shot: A fog-shrouded country estate. A group of very restless ghosts stand around the bed of the estate’s current resident, waiting for the woman to die.

The Gist: The group, who have all died in the mansion or on the grounds but are stuck there, always hope for a new ghost to join them, so when the old lady finally dies, they’re happy to momentarily be able to talk to her, but are disappointed when she immediately ascends.

There’s Lady Fanny Button (Martha Howe-Douglas), a distant relative of the woman who just died; Kitty (Lolly Adefope), a very simple-seeming 19th-century society woman; Julian Fawcett (Simon Farnaby), a Member of Parliament who seemingly died without his pants sometime in the ’90s; Thomas Thorne (Mathew Baynton), who talks about everything in florid, literary language; Pat Butcher (Jim Howick) a friendly scoutmaster with an arrow through his neck; Captain (Ben Willbond), a military man whose mind is stuck in World War II; Mary (Katy Wix), who was burned at the stake in a witchcraft trial; Robin (Laurence Rickard), a cave dweller with limited language skills; and Humphrey, whose decapitated head (Rickard) is constantly on the floor or somewhere else because his body (Yani Xander) is always misplacing it.

Alison and Mike Cooper (Charlotte Ritchie, Kiell Smith-Bynoe) are looking for a new flat, and while walking through a tiny, bleak place facing a fish and pizza joint, Alison gets a call. Apparently, she’s the only living heir of the woman who just died in Button House, so she stands to inherit it. She wonders if they can keep it instead of sell it, even in its crumbling state.

The ghosts squabble all the time, likely out of restlessness and boredom. The latest dispute: Captain keeps getting awakened by Fanny screaming and throwing herself out the window of his room. But that squabbling stops when they see the Coopers pulling up.

When they overhear the couple talk about turning the estate into a hotel, they panic; they don’t want all of those people tromping through their home. So the plan is to haunt them — though killing them was considered. Robin flickers the lights, Mary makes things smoky, and Julian strains as much as he can to nudge things an inch or so. Nothing really scares Alison, though, so, out of desperation, Julian somehow manages to push Alison out of a second-floor window as she leans out to see Mike pull up with supplies.

After a couple of weeks in an induced coma, Alison is ready to leave the hospital. As they pull back into the estate, Mike tells Alison that the work they need to do on the estate is extensive, and that he’s taken out a loan to cover the work. As the workers show up to start inspecting the place, Alison notices that there are a whole lot more people around than just themselves and the construction people.

Photo: Mark Johnson/Monumental Pictures

What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Ghosts UK, as CBS is calling it, is the original British version of Ghosts, the American version of which is a hit for the Eye network. It debuted in 2019 and just ended earlier this year.

Our Take: Even though the plot of the US version of Ghosts‘ first episode follows the UK original’s first episode pretty closely, there are just enough differences see a comedic distinction between the two.

The biggest difference to us is that the UK version’s pilot didn’t really lard itself down with pop culture references. Instead of squabbling about who Tara Reid was, like in the US pilot, they squabbled about real things, like Penny’s penchant to hurl herself out the window. She’s about to spill the beans as to why when Captain interrupts her. But she eventually manages to say for the first time ever that she thinks her husband did it. That was a heck of a lot better plot point than we saw in the American pilot.

The ghosts are mostly different characters, which is a good thing, but that’s more of a commentary on the US version not trying to replicate the original. Really, the only two ghosts that the shows have in common are the old society lady like Penny who used to live in the mansion, and the arrow-sporting scout master. We especially liked the fact that the pantsless ghost in the UK version is an obnoxious MP whose biggest legislative victory is something that made a far-off war worse. As we see in the second episode, he finds out things about his reputation that he was probably better off not knowing,

The other big difference, and it’s an interesting one, is that Alison came to see the ghosts via Julian shoving her out the window, which was toned down in the US version to a trip over a wayward vase and a tumble down the stairs. Will this come back to haunt (pun intended) Julian, especially as Alison gets used to having the ghosts around? Those who watched the UK original know the answer to that, but it’s certainly a thread of a story we hope gets explored more.

Sex and Skin: None in the first episode.

Parting Shot: Shocked that she sees all the ghosts, Alison turns around to see Humphrey’s headless body, and she screams.

Sleeper Star: This is a good spot to list the creators of the series: Mathew Baynton, Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas, Jim Howick, Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond. Yep, most of the ghosts are also the creators; the group is known as Them There over in the UK.

Most Pilot-y Line: When Alison and Mike are in the solicitor’s office, Mike randomly pipes up, “I feel like I’m in the headmaster’s office.” Mike is the one character that we don’t quite have a handle on; is he just goofy or is he truly not all that quick on the uptake? We vote for the former.

Our Call: STREAM IT. The original version of Ghosts is not only funny, but its characters show potential for fun storylines right off the bat.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.

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