It sounds like the premise for a horror movie: A young professional couple from New York City inherit a rundown mansion, and despite financial strain, decide to convert it into a bed-and-breakfast only to learn the house is haunted top-to-bottom by a lot of ghosts whom only the wife can see.
But CBS’s Ghosts — which airs Thursdays at 9 p.m./8 p.m. central, and streams on Paramount+ —isn’t horror, nor a supernatural sitcom, but more a “weird roommate comedy with a rom-com at the center,” according to executive producer Joe Port. And it might also be part-workplace comedy once the BnB opens. All the while, it is also a story about a weird family that comes together and must figure out how to live with one another, even if some of them are dead.
“In a show about accommodation, about a BnB, it’s about accommodating each other,” said Rose McIver (iZombie) in a recent Talking Strange video interview — embedded below — with co-star Utkarsh Ambudkar (Free Guy), and showrunners Port and Joe Wiseman. In Ghosts, McIver plays freelance journalist and newbie ghost whisperer, Samantha Arondekar, while Ambudkar plays her nerdy chef husband Jay.
If it sounds like a full house of genre elements, it’s clearly working because the series leads as most-watched first-year comedies on broadcast TV for the 2021-2022 season, averaging 8.2 million total viewers, according to Variety. But it’s not just the creative formula that’s a full house; it’s the fictional estate.
Adapted by Port and Wiseman from the British show of the same name, Ghosts begins when Sam’s distant relative shuffles off her mortal coil, the city folk inherit Woodstone Manor, and all the ghosts within. Following an injury, Sam can now communicate with the specters, including the apparitional eight who died at the site: a Viking, Lenape Indigenous American, Revolutionary War captain, Victorian lady of the manor, 1920s jazz singer, free love hippie, 1980s Scout leader, and Wall Street trader. Beyond the core haunts, there are ghosts of cholera patients in the basement, British soldiers in the shed, a robber baron in the vault, and a decapitated greaser from the 1950s who just roams around. And there are more ghosts on the way (keep an eye out for our Ghosts upcoming teasers video).
Together, “the livings” and the dead help each other. The ghosts offer their perspective after seeing it all throughout the ages, says Wiseman, while “Sam and Jay can help them with intractable roommate issues that have come up over the centuries.” The livings can also assist in using the internet to track down relatives of the dead, while the formerly alive can join in for a game of Dungeons & Dragons.
“[Sam’s] constantly trying to be the mother to all of these ghosts, and take care of everyone’s needs,” says Ambudkar about McIver’s character, who suddenly finds herself with mediumship abilities. “It’s a great dynamic to see her be so strong, forceful, and overwhelmed, but deeply want to be loved at the same time.”
“That’s what makes her accessible,” agrees McIver, who calls the role a “field day” as an actor. “She is this person who is overbearing and overwhelming, but she’s doing it with a desperate need to be approved of.”
Meanwhile, despite not being able to see the ghosts, Ambudkar’s Jay believes what Sam tells him about the hauntings. Plus, the character has a deep wealth of pop-culture awareness and can warn against Sam interfering with the former lives of the spirits. The quick acceptance by Jay is a surprise when other genre fare may instead leave the hubby character thinking his wife is hallucinating.
“We thought it’d be more fun if [Jay] was excited for this, and almost kind of jealous even,” says Wiseman, as opposed to the character being a non-believing cynic.
“It’s a love story, and if Jay doesn’t believe Sam, then we don’t have a show,” says Ambudkar. “Also, he has a vast knowledge of everything involved here … he is your window, as an audience, into what the hell is going on, and all of the questions you have as an audience, he has, and he’s excited by it.”
“And some people are like that,” adds McIver. “Devan Long, who plays [the Viking Thorfinn] if his wife told him she saw ghosts, he’d be like, ‘Great, tell me more, I want to know everything.’”
Ambudkar jokes, “Devan would be like, ‘Are they hungry? Do they need something to eat?’”
In the world of Ghosts, the dead can’t eat, but they can smell. They can move through most things, and each individual specter has its own special ability. But they must follow certain rules, such as not leaving the location where they died.
They are also stuck wearing the clothes they died in, which presents challenges for the dead, and the actors playing them.
McIver and Ambudkar both agree Alberta (Danielle Pinnock) has the best afterlife outfit because it’s covered in velvet, so she looks chic and is cozy. But not every ghost has it so good, such as Brandon Scott Jones, who plays American Revolutionary soldier Captain Isaac Higgintoot.
“If Brandon — who is in full woolen garb from head-to-toe — has taught us anything, it’s definitely go out wearing some sort of elastic waistband, and some loose-fitting top,” says Ambudkar.
McIver laughs that she’d be good to go as a comfy ghost because she’s not an overdressed person.
“I’d be in sweats with my hair straight back” in the afterlife.
Wiseman adds the wardrobe choices the ghosts are blessed/cursed with for at least another season also means that, while it’s hot for Jones to work indoors during the summer, all that wool is good for winter shoots — but not so for the trouser-less ghost Trevor (Asher Grodman), who can’t be outdoors in that condition during the Montreal winters where the show films.
And speaking of Trevor, the mystery about his pants is the main thing he’s asked about by fans, says Port. The question will be answered in an upcoming episode that Wiseman says is fun, but also provides “surprising” insight about the ghost of the Wall Street Trader.
Although the actors playing the living have more variety with their wardrobe, such as with Jay’s myriad of pop-culture tees, they must likewise follow rules while filming the show. They cannot physically interact with the ghosts, despite being in a room crowded with them.
For Ambudkar, he must perform as if he cannot see some of his fellow actors, while McIver has to act opposite all of them. It’s a similar but unique challenge for both. Yet they each think the other has the more difficult job.
Ambudkar says it’s McIver: “Rose is our engine, and keeps everything going, and is spinning so many plates at the same time.”
“I’m very lucky I have the entire cast to play with,” disagrees McIver. “I have eight scene partners as well as my living scene partner, so I feel really spoiled … It sucks for Utkarsh.”Whoever is right, there are still many more plates yet to spin for the rest of Ghosts’ first season. The show is in repeats until Feb. 24, but viewers can catch up on the Paramount+ platform. And when it does return, there is a haunted house full of surprises on the way.