There’s a good show somewhere deep inside of Ghosted just waiting to reach the surface. The obstacle in its way: Ghosted‘s runtime. The problem with the show lies in the fact that it doesn’t have enough time to properly explore its case of the week plots and its character development. Tonight’s episode, “Sam“, perfectly demonstrated this. The episode was a perfect example of everything good and everything bad about Ghosted. Written by Ryan Ridley and directed by Jamie Babbit, “Sam” is the sixth episode of the new FOX comedy Ghosted. While Captain Lafrey (Ally Walker) is out, Annie (Amber Stevens West) installs a smooth-talking Artificial Intelligence, “Sam,” (Dax Shepard) to manage the office, but Max (Adam Scott) and Leroy (Craig Robinson) are put to the test when “Sam” turns out to be an evil and powerful force trying to take down the Bureau Underground. All the while, Max is jealous when Leroy makes a new friend. (Mild spoilers follow)
So, “Sam” follows the gang as they deal with a new AI, named Sam, that’s installed in the Bureau. Predictably, Sam goes rogue and tries to take over everything in a misguided bid to take over the world. It’s a plot we’ve all seen before and it’s the most obvious choice the writers could’ve gone with in an episode like this. The thing is, it could have worked. All the show needed was the time to make Sam the AI seem truly benevolent and kind and properly integrate him in the lives of everyone in the Bureau (minus Max, as we’ll discuss in a bit). If they’d done that, it would’ve truly felt like a betrayal when Sam was revealed to be evil all along. As it was written and executed, Sam was introduced and then revealed to be evil within the span of about five minutes (the first few minutes of the episode, as always, was a cold open that dealt with Max and Leroy finishing a case that happened mostly offscreen). With so little time to firmly show the audience how good Sam was, the reveal of its evilness falls flat. It feels like every other story about a rogue AI that’s ever been told. And it’s a shame because Dax Shepard was truly wonderful as Sam.
The other element of tonight’s episode was Leroy doubting Max, something that seems to happen week after week (more on that complaint in a moment). Sam sets up Max to look like a psychotic traitor to the Bureau Underground, and, again, this isn’t a bad idea in concept. The problem is the execution. It all happens so quickly that the audience can’t sympathize with the story. The way you’d want to execute a plot like this would be to build up how great Sam is while slowly making Max look crazier and crazier for doubting Sam’s awesomeness. Instead, all of this happens in the span of like seven minutes, so the audience isn’t able to get into it. Max’s doubt comes so hard and so fast that it seems ridiculous that his coworkers who have known him far longer than they’ve known Sam won’t even entertain his concerns since Sam hasn’t been established to the audience as truly awesome in the eyes of the rest of the Bureau.
“Sam” is just a microscopic look at the state of Ghosted as a whole. The show has a lot of elements going for it: the characters are awesome if poorly developed. The plots are fun, even if there’s not enough time to properly execute them. The comedy is delightful, evil though there’s not quite enough time to allow the jokes to land and breathe. As you can probably tell, Ghosted‘s main problem is that it doesn’t have enough time to properly execute everything it wants to execute. The biggest victim of this shortage of time is the character development. Every week, there is some kind of emotional problem that Max and Leroy have to overcome. That’s fine; it’s a chief element of every good buddy-comedy. The problem is that the development the two of them make as both individuals and as to halves of a friendship doesn’t seem to make the journey from episode to episode. Some of that seems to be because it appears that episodes are airing out of order, but the bigger problem is that there’s not enough time in an episode to solidify the development the characters have gone through.
Every episode begins as though the previous didn’t happen when it comes to Max and Leroy’s relationship. If they’re to be the heart of the show, they have to have consistent character development. Every episode can’t revert to Leroy thinking Max is crazy or too needy or too nerdy or whatever. Episodes end with Leroy and Max seeing the best in each other, but then the next episode drops all momentum that the previous episode had built up in the examination of their characters and their friendship. It’s a necessary evil given that the show wants to be both character-driven and feature a case-of-the-week. All good shows that maintain a balance of solid character development and well-written cases of the week (The X-Files, Supernatural, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hannibal, etc.) have all been hour-long shows (mostly because they’ve been dramas – the genre of TV that is most often allowed to run for an hour). Networks seem to be scared of allowing an hour-long comedy to exist. It’s as though comedies are forever relegated to the old sitcom style lengths. It’s a shame because so many comedies are trying to be so much more than their sitcom ancestors were.
There are comedies that are able to expand the possibilities of what a comedy can be in terms of ongoing character development and serialized plots while still succumbing to the traditional time-limit for episodes of a comedy (The Good Place and People of Earth being great examples). But it’s unfair to all comedies to expect them all to be able to fit nicely into that old-fashioned mold. Ghosted wants to be a comedic version of The X-Files basically. It wants to be a character-driven show that thrives on telling a new mystery every episode while also maintaining a coherent series mythology and strong character development. It can’t be that while being forced to adhere to the restraints of outdated expectations for comedies on network TV.
There’s a good show inside of Ghosted that’s just waiting to burst to the surface but it will never be able to unless FOX takes a risk and allows Ghosted to be an hour-long comedy. They’ve already done this with The Orville, and that turned out to be an amazing success. It’s time for FOX to continue leading the trend in interesting network TV by allowing Ghosted to be its next hour-long comedic series. If FOX bites the bullet and does that, it will see just how good a show Ghosted can be. All the elements are there, it just needs the time to properly execute them. It has the talent, both in front of and behind the camera, now it just needs the network to allow it the screen time to show us all what it can do. Please, FOX, give Ghosted the materials it needs to succeed. Give it a longer runtime and watch it become a true hit for you.
(“Sam” gets 3/5 wands for a solid premise with a rough execution.)