The Unfortunate Case of ‘Ghosted’
Ghosted is one of the more disappointing TV cancellations due mostly to the fact that there is no fan-energy trying to fight for it.
Ghosted was a sitcom greenlit by Fox for September 2017 Sunday night lineup. It was a sitcom version of The X-Files, following the misadventures of the Bureau Underground, a top secret branch of the FBI that investigates the paranormal and the supernatural. In classic fare, a super agent is in imminent danger but not so imminent that he couldn’t Snapchat one last message. He inexplicably (in a good way, its part of the mystery) names the two people he considers important to finding him: Dr. Max Jennifer and Leroy Wright, played by sitcom alums Adam Scott and Craig Robinson, respectively.
Jennifer is a former Stanford professor who wrote about the multiverse and was fired from his university job for believing his wife was abducted by aliens. Wright was a former LAPD police officer who left the job in disgrace when his partner was killed on a call and is now a security guard. In theory, a lot of this should work. Scott and Robinson are essentially the audience surrogates who get brought into this world. The comedy is split between the oil and water chemistry of the leads as they learn to be friends and the inherent sarcasm and deadpan bleakness that happens when you are faced with danger you can’t believe is happening to you. Except it is pretty sloppy.
The writing was not strong, but you could tell Scott and Robinson were doing so much heavy lifting. Most of the missions they go on as field agents feel like after-thoughts. They seem hurried through just so we can get back to Scott and Robinson in a casual setting. The writers were more interested in two guys carpooling to a monster hunt, than the actual monster hunt, which is sort of the opposite of how these types of shows usually work. Supernatural is a pretty funny show, but the humor comes from chemistry and sarcastic shock born out of an investment in creating a mythology. With Ghosted, they clearly had a mystery they wanted to unfold, but they spent so much time revving up to it that nothing of substance was actually delivered.
After 10 episodes were produced (and 9 shown with the tenth held until the very end), Fox made a big change. They brought in Paul Lieberstein, a writer and producer on US The Office, who you probably remember better as Toby from HR. He transformed Ghosted into a more cut and dry workplace comedy. More actors were brought in to fill out the staff of the Bureau Underground and a new mythology was being constructed: The Bureau Underground is a joke. It was never top secret, it was just an embarrassment. And, now, the world knows about them because they were outed by journalists. It is a sharp left turn that basically takes the missions completely out of the equation and allows more organic opportunities for the comedy to take hold. The paranormal elements take on the same importance as selling paper on The Office, thus, selling us on a much better show. A much more interesting show, one that was ready to fold missions back in but less secretive.
The final episode of the 6 episode retool involved the Bureau Underground team going to an airfield along with the legit FBI and the FAA to investigate a plane that went missing and then reappeared. It forces them into a bumbling underdog role where they get to both act the fool and have a point that gives us as an audience the ability to laugh at them and with them in that special way that all the enduring sitcoms tend to work.
But it’s too late. And no one cares. And that kind of sucks.