Ghosted, FOX’s new sci-fi comedy premieres with a scattered episode that nonetheless demonstrates great potential thanks to its two stars.
As FOX has already demonstrated this fall TV season, blending comedy and sci-fi can be tricky, especially when the sci-fi is an overtly earnest homage to Star Trek: The Next Generation and the comedy has yet to produce a significant laugh. But the appeal of genre storytelling on network television is as strong as it ever was, which is why it’s no surprise that FOX would green light Ghosted, a new comedy starring two proven funnymen, Adam Scott and Craig Robinson. The series also pays homage to a long-running and influential genre series, making it appealing to fans of – let’s just say it – The X-Files, but doesn’t let that get in the way of what it is. That is to say, Ghosted is a comedy first and foremost and, despite not being entirely successful on its first outing, feels poised to capitalize on the strengths of its two lead actors.
Ghosted also goes all-in with its genre components, presenting them in a surprisingly straightforward manner. The series, created by Tom Gormican and Workaholics writer Kevin Etten doesn’t seek to mock or spoof stories and characters that make use of these particular tropes; instead it simply offers them up with a wry smile. Most of the humor actually stems from the Mulder-and-Scully-like dynamic between Robinson and Scott, as a skeptic and true believer in the paranormal. The difference being that Ghosted presents its science fiction and supernatural elements through the lens of a half-hour comedy; a format that showcases the show’s strengths but doesn’t overstay its welcome.
For the most part, the premiere suffers from a case of pilot-itis, but makes up for it with a lot of enthusiasm and a relentless pace that keeps you from thinking too hard about how hard the show is working to deliver what amounts to a ton of exposition without looking like it’s breaking a sweat. Naturally, much of the work falls on Robinson and Scott, and they’re both up to the task. Robison plays Leroy Wright a wrongfully dismissed LAPD Detective working as a mall security guard, while Scott plays the improbably named Max Jennifer, a theoretical physicist who specializes in parallel universe theory, and whose wife – according to him, anyway – was abducted by aliens. Discredited and publically humiliated, Jennifer now works at a bookstore, handing out recommendations for books on the paranormal and sharing his experiences without a hint of self-awareness.
It’s a solid premise, which we all know because Chris Carter and FOX already had such great success with it. The difference here is that Leroy and Max aren’t FBI agents who want (or don’t) to believe; they’re more or less two examples of the everyman tossed into a fantastical situation by Ally Walker’s Ava Lafrey, a special agent who runs a secret government agency designed to investigate such unnatural matters. The result is a bit like The X-Files being crossed with Men in Black, but during the pilot Ghosted shows glimpses of its own weird brand of humor that the similarities aren’t overly concerning for right now, but could be if the show doesn’t find a way to grow beyond them.
The pilot is so focused on setting up the show and the motivations of Leroy and Max, lest everyone wonder why they would ever agree to work together chasing down (or being chased by) strange beings of presumably alien origin, not to mention introducing Ava and Adeel Akhtar’s wonderfully weird Barry Shaw, you get the feeling that we haven’t seen what Ghosted really is yet. And that’s fine. Comedies – especially high concept ones – can take some time to really gel and figure out how they want to be what it is they are. The important thing is that the show knows what it is, which will hopefully manifest in a better sort of Ghosted in the weeks to come. The pilot spends so much time zipping through the necessary stages of its concept and character introductions that you get the feeling the show is as eager to get the ball rolling as its viewers are. And why wouldn’t it? The series has what it takes to work as an episodic, case-of-the-week show with an overarching narrative, and Robinson and Scott have the requisite buddy-cop chemistry something like Ghosted needs in order to keep people watching.
The pilot reads more like an inventory of all the show’s working parts. While that doesn’t amount to an auspicious debut, the good news is: they all the parts are present and accounted for, and (theoretically) seem to be in fine working order. The real trick will be putting them to work in the weeks to come so that Ghosted can define itself more for its unique approach to familiar material as opposed to the obvious familiarity of the material in question. It’s a promising new comedy that will hopefully find a way to let its two stars shine.
Ghosted continues next Sunday with ‘Jermaine the Zombie’ @8:30pm on FOX.
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