How CBS's 'Ghosts' Gave Life to One of TV's More Controversial Themes

On Thursday night, CBS's hit freshman sitcom Ghosts will air its first season finale and having already watched it to the maximum amount allowed before binging the series all over again on Paramount+, it's exciting to say the single-camera sitcom delivered an immaculate first year. Having earned a 95% percent freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes too, the CBS ensemble series from creators Joe Port and Joe Wiseman is also one of the absolute best network television has had in years — and that's saying a lot considering the past buzz around multi-camera favorites like The Big Bang Theory or How I Met Your Mother.

Headlined by Rose McIver and Utkarsh Ambudkar, Ghosts opens the door to some very meaningful conversations as it follows a struggling young couple — Sam and Jay — whose dreams finally come to fruition once they inherit a beautiful country home. However, as luck would have it, the house is also haunted and inhabited by many of the estate's deceased residents spanning multiple generations — some even before the U.S. was a country. With 18 episodes that have superseded its BBC inspiration of the same name across its three seasons, CBS's Ghosts is undoubtedly one of the best comedies of the 21st century sitting strongly among the likes of Scrubs, 30 Rock, Community and The Office. While comedy has proven to be somewhat elastic and ever-evolving in the past 20 years, Ghosts has been one of the more profoundly witty TV comedies to brilliantly encapsulate a spirited heart, breathing life into one of the more unspoken themes we are constantly affected by: Death. 

TV shows about death are never easy to digest because death itself is uncomfortable and the circumstances characters often find themselves in force us to accept the reality of imminent situations, ultimately confronting our own fears or worse — our regrets. In so many ways, the combination of comedy and death on primetime TV is almost an oxymoron. The landscape in recent years has relied on similar formulas stemming from The Office with documentary-style comedies or multi-cams filled with laughter cues for us to know when the joke hits. Never have we seen something since the ill-fated Pushing Daisies that so whimsically involved the conversation of death really charm the pants off us — with complete and utter respect to '90s Wall Street bro, Trevor (Asher Grodman). But how can we laugh about something so dark? Death is one of the more taboo topics of our lifetime. While we will learn all about the miracle of life and birth, the foundations of education through primary institutions like family and school never involved death and yet, it is something we will all heartbreakingly experience multiple times. 

Subjectively so, Port and Wiseman have skillfully shifted that paradigm for a more inclusive dynamic with a deft balance of relatability, heart and values. In this way, their show focuses more on creating a family born from circumstances while overcoming fears rather than succumbing to the inevitable end of life. With all its remarkable charm and humor, Ghosts shows us how through its distinctively diverse and witty writing blended with an effervescent cast of vivacious talent that has come to define the show, death as a jumping-off point to explore life and our relationships is one of the more deeply authentic offerings network television has seen in years. 

Though it might be too soon to say Ghosts has changed the television landscape, it has most sharply set a bar for TV comedies to think outside the box and a lot of that has to do with the show's writing. A gift in and of itself, the writing on Ghosts is virtuoso level and includes some of the most refreshingly fetching, laugh-out-loud dialogue on primetime TV today. Complete with sprinkles of heart and sweetness that are never overly sentimental either, the Ghosts writers — including Port, Wiseman, Josh Malmuth, John Blickstead, Trey Kollmer, Talia Bernstein, Kira Kalush, Emily Schmidt, Lauren Bridges, Rishi Chitkara, John Timothy, Julia Harter and Ian Murphy — have created a welcoming universe of strikingly intelligent writing while also being modest about it. The writer's room, in so many ways, has also been able to address topics that are pertinent while injecting a cheeky dose of humor to create conversations about women's rights, emotional and mental trauma, toxic bro culture, sexual orientation and, most importantly, coming to terms with matters they no longer have control over.     

Most enchantingly, that propensity for contemporary storytelling includes strong additions through diversity for more complete storytelling with the aid of consultants like Joe Baker, a Lenape consultant, and John Timothy, a Muscogee (Creek) to help construct an entire culture for house ghost Sasappis (Román Zaragoza) complete with history, viewpoints and mythologies. It's this kind of deep dig into diversity and representation that adds depth and realism to the story, for a product that is fully rounded and fleshed out.

As television embraces diversity across its programming, the characters we come to love become more like us, and ultimately, the show gets better. That has been the exact case for Ghosts, lifting off the ground at high speed with one of the most diverse casts on TV, which includes faces and characters of South Asian, Native American, African-American and Jewish heritage. While networks have prioritized assembling shows to look more like the audience watching them in recent years, CBS's Ghosts has most superbly followed suit with its diverse cast of stars, proving representation matters not just through writing, but casting too. A great ensemble builds an enigmatic bond between the show and its viewers, leading with unmatched chemistry that brings with it a certain level of comfort. 

The ensemble comedy, which will no doubt earn multiple nominations and awards for its performances by all 10 exceptional actors, is led fearlessly by McIver and Ambudkar. The pair are not only an adorable on-screen couple with perfect comedic timing but their chemistry and ability to play off each other is truly delightful. In addition to their undeniable charm that bookends the show, the house ghosts — played by Grodman, Zaragoza, Richie Moriarty, Sheila Carrasco, Danielle Pinnock, Brandon Scott Jones, Rebecca Wisocky and Devan Chandler Long — truly levitate the series to another level. These eight, beautifully gifted and wildly sincere talents play their characters down to a tee with each and every episode proving their love for not just their ghostly personas, but the vessel of storytelling that stems from a genuine hunger for smart material reflective of their own hearts. While each has stolen the show with their individual episodes peppered with clever dialogue and moments that fans cannot get enough of, their spirit for the roles has truly shown how a story like the one depicted in Ghosts portrays real life.

But as Ghosts delicately uses death to bring to life characters destined to live out eternity together, this miracle show's most sincere takeaway is in how love doesn't die with death. As beloved playwright and novelist, Thornton Wilder so grandly puts it, "all those impulses of love return to the love that made them." Love in this sense is eternal, but also the core of our lives. While love takes us deeper into ourselves for a more complete canvas of our life's purpose, it is also the one component that fills our life with meaning. Through the eyes of our favorite characters, we learn that while there is a genuine love for each other in the Woodstone Mansion, the love they seek internally is only discovered through their respective losses. Take for example Thor's heartbreak over Oskar, Sass's yearning to be a storyteller or Isaac's unsaid feelings for Nigel. Even Trevor, in all his false bravado, wants a love "L'chaim," while Hetty whose husband Elias cheated on her multiple times, seeks some kind of matriarchal love with Sam.

As the writers have shown through these nuanced characters, love stems from the appreciation of our flaws and fragilities, and that means really appreciating them — and in rare cases, being willing to listen to Pete's knot tutorial for another lifetime or Alberta's love affairs with gangsters. While anyone can say they love someone and care about them — like Trevor's Wall Street bros who left him for dead or Hetty's philandering husband, only a few can mean it. Subsequently, fewer can go beyond it to where love is truly born, like Thor willing to wait for Flower until she gets over her relationship anxiety or Pete finally forgiving his wife and spending another day with his family. Death might paint a different shade to living, but life through the eyes of Ghosts is all about relationships and love is the point of it all. 

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It is the one true element that binds our souls to one another and an energy existing past death to live on in the vast cosmic arena of our lives. It might change form and shape as we come to terms with such a physical finality, but love gets into everything as Ghosts so immaculately demonstrates. Love, in all its sincere value, seeps into our lives almost karmically as seen with Jay's undeniable love for Sam amid her new gift or her positively assertive, unconditional outlook that helps peel back layers of every spirit. But love is itself an act of seeing people as incomplete as this debut season has proven, with each character still trying to be the best they can be as they march into Season 2 this fall.

Ghosts airs its Season 1 finale Thursday, April 21 at 9 p.m. ET on CBS and will be available to stream live and on-demand on Paramount+. Those interested in seeing all Paramount+ has to offer can click here for a free streaming offer