Ghosts Christmas Special review: one of the warmest shows on TV waves goodbye

A fittingly slight send-off for a gently, witty comedy that has always been unshowy

Nick Hilton
Monday 25 December 2023 20:16 GMT
Ghosts Christmas Special trailer

Ghosts and Christmas go together like tiny sausages and a nice bacon sleeve. Whether they represent Christmases Present, Past or Future, spirits have a close affinity to the festive season. It’s fitting, then, that BBC One’s much-loved sitcom, Ghosts, has chosen a Yuletide setting to finally say goodbye to its spectral ensemble.

When we last saw Alison (Charlotte Ritchie) and Mike (Kiell Smith-Bynoe) Cooper at the end of Ghosts’ fifth season, they’d made the decision to remain at Button House and raise their unborn child on the spooky premises. Now they’re back, with little baby Mia (“This is where we live,” Alison tells her daughter, the word “we” doing some serious heavy lifting) and Mike’s mother Betty (Lorna Gayle). “It’s a creaky old house,” Alison tells her mother-in-law, “and if you’re not used to it, it can feel a little creepy.” New life brings unexpected twists to the Coopers’ undead community, including an exorcism and a late volte-face on the future of the manor.

Far from being a chilling experience, Ghosts has long been one of the warmest shows on TV. That has always been its greatest strength: a gentle, witty tone that belies its supernatural premise. It is often described as a “comfort watch”, something that nourishes rather than stimulates. The success of the show has been merging the likeable straight-man duo of Alison and Mike with a pantheon of eccentric but loveable spooks: needy Georgian socialite Kitty (Lolly Adefope), lovesick Romantic poet Thorne (Mathew Baynton), horny trouserless Julian (Simon Farnaby) and upbeat scoutmaster Pat (Jim Howick), to name but a few of the ghostly troupe. All have a distinctive identity, and play different roles in the show’s orchestra – but when they’re playing in tandem, there are few sweeter symphonies on TV.

At the end of its 33-episode run, Ghosts needed a conclusion. Unlike its phantom company, the show’s writers have no desire to outstay their welcome. This final episode is much less a standalone special, and more the completion of the previously unfinished run. “The most Christmassy feeling in the world,” grunts caveman Robin, “is when you give somebody a gift you know they will always remember.” For fans of Ghosts, this is an opportunity for closure. The future of Button House and its inhabitants is resolved, the next chapter of life for Alison and Mike arrives. While there may have been a temptation to break format and run the episode long, the show’s writers (who constitute much of its cast) instead retain the half-hour length and the standard structure, complete with a jolly B-plot about Christmas decorations. For a show that has always been unshowy, it is a fittingly slight send-off.

All the same, a primetime slot on BBC One on Christmas Day is a big ask for a show that has always felt like more of a cult hit than a showstopper. The very best Christmas specials manage the alchemy of retaining the spirit of the show while bringing in new audiences. Think of Geraldine’s tour of Dibley’s Christmas lunches, or The Office’s legendary party, the climax of the show’s exquisitely slow-burning romance. The best thing about the Ghosts Christmas special is that it feels like a real episode of Ghosts; the worst thing about the Ghosts Christmas special is that it feels like just another episode of Ghosts.

For viewers new to the Ghosts phenomenon (and with an equally successful American version that has run for 40 episodes, it is truly a global one), this Christmas special is probably too much of an epilogue, too predicated on its previous storylines. In the battle for channel space on Christmas Day, it is a shame that a more accessible point of entry could not be found. But as the ungodly residents of Button House know only too well, the end is only the beginning.

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