The second series of this comedy sitcom by the Horrible Histories alumni has definitely found its feet with spectral jokes abound.
Earlier this year I wrote a Hidden Gem article on the BBC miniseries Ghosts, which is the latest project from the Horrible Histories crew. I was captivated. I so wished they would create a second series – and my wish was granted! September 2020 saw the second series of the show released (weekly on BBC One, or the entire series at once on BBC iPlayer) and in typical British brevity, the season has a run time of 3 hours. A perfect binge-watch!
Tom Kingsley returns to direct the second series of this delightful short series, which is once again filled with comedy and clever writing for double entendres and jokes that wouldn’t be caught in a children’s historical show. The cast and crew have definitely found their feet this time around, with everything feeling far more secure and natural. They’re not afraid to branch out a little, or expand the lore, and have episodes just slightly different in either setting or style. Even racing to finish the final shots due to the incoming pandemic doesn’t take away from the talent nor the quality.
For Alison, the owner of Button House who can remarkably see the ghosts haunting the location, life with the ghostly chorus has come to a mutual understanding. The first main scene shows her walking through the house, turning pages on the books they are reading, showing them documentaries and generally helping them get to grips with the modern world. And Mike (who can’t see the ghosts) is just trying his best, along for the ride. He even has a little “ghost chart” hanging in the kitchen so he knows who is who.
Everything about the ghosts themselves this time around is upgraded; while most of series 1 was spent trying to find an impasse between the dead and the living, series 2 covers more about the nuances of each, rounding out their characterisations, and giving some more to do in either the main or subplots. The headless Tudor Humphrey is also brought into the spotlight more, at one point being used as a volleyball in a match between Thomas and Julian (Simon Farnaby) as they decide who picks the film for Film Club that evening. He even (tries to) alerts the burglars in ‘Bump in the Night’.
Once again the show is full of the unique skills of each ghost coming to shine, whether it’s Julian being able to interact with objects, waking Mike during a burglary, or caveman Robin’s howling coming in handy for alerting the neighbour’s dogs and getting back up during the same event.
As well as this, several episodes revolve around the deaths of the dead. Series 1 showed us how scoutmaster Pat was caught by a stray arrow, but episode 4 ‘The Thomas Thorne Affair’ has its primary plot around how Thomas met his end during a duel in the early 1800s, and some of the Captain’s background in World War 2. And remember the plague pit in the basement from last time? They finally get their moment in the spotlight this series, with a full sub-plot in ‘About Last Night’ about the revelation of how they died thanks to the archaeological excavation in the basement.
A major positive of Ghosts is that everything seems natural even with the supernatural elements. With so many beings from across history acting as ghosts, you are bound to have some moments of cultures clashing, such as Lady Fanny Button and the parties within the house in the second episode. And traumatic deaths, like being burned at the stake during a witch trial are going to be difficult to talk about. Even a more macabre moment in a later episode when Alison meets a ghost of a hitchhiker in town who was murdered and is only on screen for less than a minute is given the weight it deserves.
It makes everything about the show feel so well-founded, that you could conceivably have ghosts in the real world to explain such bizarre situations. While the show itself is classed as a comedy, they know when the laughs must stop. During the more emotional or bittersweet moments, the subject matter is taken perfectly seriously. The truth about Thomas’ death and the circumstances that led to it are more sober than the joking earlier in the episode, and when Mary approaches the subject of talking about her witch trial, all make sure that it is what she wants to do.
But for 6 episodes lasting a half-hour each, Ghosts does a lot to resolve all of its plots while also keeping elements open for further exploration later on. Audiences still haven’t been shown the lives of several of the ghosts, but everything we have seen is explored with rich detail.
Do Will Alison and Mike (Charlotte Ritchie and Kiell Smith-Bynoe) succeed in their attempts to renovate Button House? This series shows significant progress, culminating in a stunning winter wedding hosted there in the finale ‘Perfect Day’ — of course full of its own mishaps because nothing is ever simple in a sitcom!
A third series of the show has already been confirmed and a Christmas episode is likewise on the cards, and with a range of angles that the show could take for its next instalment, I cannot wait to revisit Button House for the third time to see the shenanigans once more.
The second series of Ghosts is available to stream now on BBC iPlayer. Watch the series trailer below.