Monday, 22 October 2018
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Ghosted dies as it lived: A confused, fitfully funny waste of a fantastic cast

Ghosted dies as it lived: A confused, fitfully funny waste of a fantastic cast
24 Jul
9:44

And so we come to it at last: The final episode of Ghosted. (Except for all those other episodes of Ghosted.) The grand resolution to the Agent Checker saga. (Hey, remember him?) And the second series finale this show has somehow managed to air in as many weeks—and the less satisfying of the two by far. Which is all to say that “Hello Boys” would be a lumpy, unsatisfying finish even if it was airing under ideal circumstances; as is, we’re going to have to do a bit of contextualizing before we can even dig into the heart of why it doesn’t work.

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Because in case it wasn’t immediately obvious from a whole plethora of factors—the opening credits, LaFrey’s abrupt return to the captain’s office, the absence of Merv, Bird, and the rest of the office drones—tonight’s episode of Ghosted isn’t really a part of the TV show we’ve been talking about here over the last six weeks. Instead, this is the series finale for a six-months-dead comedy I’ve come to think of as Ghosted 1.0, shot back before Fox softly rebooted the series under a new creative team, in what now feels like a blatantly mediocre-faith effort to keep Adam Scott and Craig Robinson fans from screaming down their doors. As such, the episode acts in blatant contradiction, plot-wise, to pretty much everything from the Ghosted 2.0 era, meaning we’re just going to have to ignore a bunch of weird plot shit if we want to get anywhere tonight. Stuff like: Max and Leroy no longer being fired. No mention of triangles or time travel. The sudden reemergence of blatantly supernatural phenomena. And, of course, a renewed fascination with headless alien abductions and missing, super-ominous wives.

All of that, I can roll with. (At least the Dreaded Max-Annie Flirtation stays well and truly dead.) After all, it’s not hard to imagine these episodes airing in a different order on some lucky streaming service a few months from now, with “Snatcher” leading directly into “Hello Boys,” before “The Wire” marks a gentler tone shift into the Paul Lieberstein era. (It would be weird, given all the big plot reveals from tonight’s episode, but it could just barely work.) The more damning whiplash, though, comes from the way this latest juxtaposition highlights the old show’s weaknesses (and a handful of its strengths), as it desperately tries to build some sense of stakes for the fate of a world that isn’t just ending; it’s already dead.

It’s all on the table from the “Previously on”’s, which helpfully remind us that Max and Leroy (still Scott and Robinson, still the one thing this show has always had going for it, in any and every form) only got their jobs as paranormal investigators because the mysterious, missing Agent Checker recommended they be recruited. And despite their sub-kangaroo performance on a variety of fitness tests, it turns out that Checker was dead-on, because our two heroes really are the certified, signed and sealed Chosen Ones for this particular supernatural threat. Or possibly the Chosen Infinites; as Checker’s decapitated head—recovered after Max has a textbook TV epiphany about where he might have been hiding all this time—reveals, a whole multiverse of Earths is under attack from an invading alien horde right now, and Max Jennifer and Leroy Wright are the ones who always come closest to stopping it. (Not close enough to actually save anybody, but still: Close.)

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As with so much of Ghosted, there’s the core of a really good idea here, one that’s then left to just sort of vaguely flop around, useless, on the screen. Outside of one fantastic joke—the reveal that the Max and Leroy of at least one universe were a team of very happy-looking professional dog groomers—the alternate Earths are represented in the most generic fashions possible, just some screen filler that plays while Checker talks. As a sucker for a good alternate universe sory—and now I’m hungry for a Fringe re-watch all of a sudden—it’s frustrating to see the concept used merely as window dressing, especially for a scene that doesn’t even have any real comedy to make up for the gap.

But, then, that was always the problem with Old Ghosted; it was never about anything, except watching people just sort of ramble and riff as zombies or demons ran around in the background, doing shit. True, it was frequently funny rambling and riffing—and I’ll admit to feeling some nostalgia while watching Scott and Robinson idly bounce off each other in a car for the first time in forever—but it always carried with it an assumption that a loosely edited silence was just as funny or gripping as an actual dramatic moment or a well-crafted joke. The show’s Office period might have been just as pointless, in the end, but at least that deliberate nothingness felt like a stylistic choice. Here, it just feels like a very familiar flavor of sloppy. And attempting to play all of these big moments serious, just because it’s the last episode, does tonight’s finale no favors—something that goes double for LaFrey, whose return to being a humorless scold was extra galling now that we’ve seen what Ally Walker can mine out of this character when she’s allowed to get all bitter and pleasantly weird.

I’m convinced that, one of these days, there’s going to be some sort of public post-mortem on Ghosted, and it’s going to be an absolutely fascinating document of all the things you can do to a TV show if you don’t particularly care what happens to it first. It seems to have been created, way back when, as a vehicle for Scott and Robinson to improv together, and in that respect, it could be considered a mixed success at best. (Like, couldn’t we have had something just as funny, but with fewer chupacabra jokes and exploding heads eating up screen time and money?) As a sci-fi show, it was far too interested in comedy and anticlimax to ever pay more than lip service to a handful of cool ideas. As a straight X-Files parody, it was too loose to give enough attention to the all-important element of specificity. As a place for Adeel Akhtar to make a million strange, beautiful jokes—because if there’s one best thing I loved about tonight’s throwback, it was watching Barry thrive as the office’s sole weirdo—it probably can’t be beat. As a TV show, it’s unlikely to be missed.

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I’ll leave off on a final excerpt from my notes, focused on the very last scene of the series. Max and Leroy, buoyed by their new-found destinies (and ignorant of the vagaries of TV production that are about to bring them down) cheerfully argue about what to call the alien threat: Energons, or Zappers? (Leroy rightly argues that “Zappers” sounds like an enemy that can be beat, which might be good for morale.) It’s a warm, goofy conversation, a peak example of the things this show did at its best over the course of its initial run. But then, the camera pulls back, and we see Max’s ominous wife, watching them ominously from a car. Britt Lower waxes (ominous!) for a moment, asking (ominously), “Oh Max, what’s going to become of us?” And although she was only talking to herself, my fingers couldn’t help themselves as I immediately typed out, unbidden from my actual brain, a response: “WHO GIVES A SHIT?”

It turns out you really can only get so far on charm alone.

Stray observations

  • It’s very funny to me that the Lieberstein team didn’t bother to even kind of set up continuity between their last episode and this one. (To be fair, they probably didn’t know Fox would decide to air them like this.)
  • The demon skateboarder sequence is a pretty good example of the old fieldwork formula. Max fucks up the spell casting, while Leroy tries to bind their opponent with a sacred circle cut with sugar. (“Who has that much salt at home?”)
  • “My man Skeeter here makes Tony Hawk look like freaking Tony Stark.”
  • I’d forgotten how many of this show’s problems used to be fixed by having Annie or Barry say some crap and science-magic them away.
  • LaFrey acts like Max and Leroy never investigated Checker, but Leroy totally started going to his dentist. That’s dilligence.
  • Things Leroy’s into in his post-BU life: Money, bingo, making money at bingo. “I’m dope at bingo.”
  • Really, Robinson has a hundred tiny, amazing little lines here, as usual; letting him run is the best argument in favor of a looser version of the show. “I kind of dig it, actually.” “Hey, that’s my banana!” “I think I messed up the suspension!” R.I.P. Leroy Wright. You deserved a better show.
  • Ditto Dr. Max Jennifer; the physical bits where he panics over how to get the handcuffs on PossessedChecker was some peak awkward, goofy Adam Scott. I laughed out loud when he briefly put the binoculars back on.
  • And while we’re at it, here’s the Barry Good Line Omnibus: “Cryptids—Is it alright to make love to them?” “I am extremely loyal…I almost went to prison for my cousin.” “I’m so excited I could dance, I could dance so hard.” “Good night, sweet prince.”
  • You’ll note that I don’t have one of those for Annie; you know we’re really back in Ghosted 1.0 territory because Amber Stevens West doesn’t have anything to do for 99 percent of the episode.
  • Commercial Complaints—I might never get another chance to say this, so here goes: I don’t think it’s that weird that Lil Rel’s wife left him for his barber. Barbers are people, too!
  • I’m relatively grade agnostic (and these definitely won’t work as averages), but for those who care:
    Ghosted 1.0: C-
    Ghosted 2.0: C+
    Ghosted, total: A solid C.
  • Checker wanted to call his alien foes The Illuminescence, but the guys rightly shut it down for sounding “like the opening band at a prog rock festival.”
  • And that’s a wrap on the Badass Brothers, and Ghosted as a whole. It’s been…instructive? But at least there were some laughs along the way.

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Source: https://tv.avclub.com/ghosted-dies-as-it-lived-a-confused-fitfully-funny-wa-1827794675

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