You may have seen promotional spots for the new CBS comedy Ghosts, or perhaps even watched the show, and wondered, “Where in the world did this come from?” Well, the simple answer is: the United Kingdom. The show is a remake of a popular BBC comedy with the same title that premiered in 2019 and just completed its third season, with more episodes on the way (a new Christmas special is due this December). The success of the original seems to have translated over to the American version too, which premiered on Oct. 7 and has been positively received by critics and viewers alike. So much so that the network has already picked it up for a full season.
The show’s appeal on this side of the Atlantic may have to do with the fact that there’s nothing like it on network TV right now. Certainly not on CBS. This cozy, single-camera comedy stars Rose McIver, who was consistently great on iZombie, and Utkarsh Ambudkar, a talented singer and rapper who made his Broadway debut in Freestyle Love Supreme but might be best known to TV audiences for his roles in The Mindy Project and Never Have I Ever. They play a married couple who unexpectedly inherit an old mansion estate, and the ghosts who come with it. After a near death experience, McIver’s character Samantha gains the ability to see and hear the motley crew of departed souls, to their delight and her constant annoyance.
The setup is exactly the same as the original, though the names and the lineup of the ghosts have been changed and regionalized. Instead of a caveman there’s a Viking, instead of a WWII soldier there’s a Revolutionary War soldier. Not all of the ghosts have British counterparts—and one character, a scout leader with the arrow that killed him still piercing his throat, hasn’t been changed at all—but the idea that these wildly different people from different eras in history are now stuck together for eternity and have essentially formed an unlikely family is the underlying thread in both shows.
Frankly, it’s baffling that in the year 2021—when the most popular streaming show was a quirky Korean-language social commentary disguised as a violent, candy-colored thriller—a broadcast TV network still sees a need to remake a terrific, charming British series for an American audience. Sure, Squid Game‘s pop-culture dominance came too late to influence the decision to remake Ghosts, but the national shift in tastes towards more international fare has been evident for years now (hello BTS ARMY). American viewers are more receptive to culture from outside the U.S. than they’ve ever been. So why fix something that isn’t broken in the first place in an effort to appeal to an audience that isn’t even asking for it?
But the point here is not to try and get inside the head of network executives, or tear apart the remake, or even to compare and contrast the two shows. It’s simply to raise awareness that there was an original show and to encourage anyone who might be intrigued to check it out. Because it’s absolutely delightful. The good news is that all of three seasons of the BBC’s Ghosts are currently available for American viewers to discover on HBO Max. With just 19 episodes in total to date, that’s still fewer than a single season of traditional American television (although abbreviated seasons are becoming more and more common in the world of streaming, another thing we copied from the British). The episodes run about a half hour each, and are generally standalone, often focusing on the rich backstory of one ghost at a time. To binge or not to binge? That’s up to the viewer. Either way, it’s an enjoyable watch that will make you laugh, think, cheer, cringe, and genuinely feel for the characters.
I had already watched the original Ghosts before the CBS show premiered, and I admit was skeptical about the changes. But it’s grown on me more with each episode (the likable cast has been a big factor in that). Those who watched the stateside version first may feel the same way about the BBC one. But rest assured, the original also boasts a strong ensemble, some of which might even be familiar to American audiences, including Lolly Adefope from Shrill and Jim Howick from Sex Education. Many of the cast members also appeared together previously in the musical-educational sketch series Horrible Histories.
Each iteration of Ghosts has its own particular charms. As the American remake of The Office—probably the most popular British adaptation ever—demonstrated, the key to a successful transition across the pond is to find your own way and not rely too heavily on the source material. The new Ghosts seems to have taken that lesson to heart. In spite of some head-scratching initial choices, the show has a solid foundation. It’s becoming clear that the formula and basic idea behind the show is strong enough to translate into any accent. A found-family story is a found-family story, no matter where it comes from.