Through the first five episodes of Ghosted, the series has struggled to mesh all of its best elements into a cohesive whole. It’s been easy to see the great comedy that could be made out of all these pieces – Adam Scott and Craig Robinson’s fantastic chemistry, its oddball humor, an occasionally strong guest star turn – but the show itself has yet to really fire on all cylinders at the same time.
Until now. “Sam” is Ghosted’s best episode to date, and it’s not close. This installment not only makes great use of everything that the show does well, it finally manages to put almost all of those things into a single episode. It’s funny from start to finish, while still maintaining the appealing weirdness that’s become the show’s calling card.
The episode’s first sequence perfectly encapsulates Ghosted at its best, a cold open that sees Max and Leroy chasing a monster/suspect/something or other through a parking lot. Only that monster is a nun who can jump fences, Max is dressed in a full- on bishop’s regalia and Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker” is playing in the background. It’s completely ridiculous and offers us no explanation for where our heroes have been or what they’re chasing, but it is nevertheless fantastic. There aren’t many other shows willing to hang a joke on a crosier that I can think of. In fact, I would 100% watch the episode about that story, right now – and not just because it leads to that amazing Leroy anecdote about a meth head who loves Royal Pains.
Ghosted’s main plot this week is equally bizarre, as the Bureau Underground installs an office-wide A.I. assistant while Captain LaFrey is out of town. Annie, who is in charge in her absence, is desperate to prove herself as a capable leader and subsequently leans a little too hard on “Sam”, the all-knowing computer who, of course, turns out to be evil.
The plot of “Sam” is deeply ridiculous, but it’s so much fun. Dax Shepard plays the nefarious A.I with an entertaining mix of flattery and menace, and Ghosted gets a kit of mileage out of playing with “evil computer” tropes before finally settling on the idea that Sam really just wants to use Max to take over the world. (The part where the episode hints Sam could be poisoning everyone with his “too beautiful to drink” cappuccinos is particularly good.)
As a result, Max ends up the target of Sam’s inter-office character assassination campaign, which sets him at odds with his coworkers in increasingly uncomfortable ways. Should we be angry at Leroy and Annie for so quickly believing that Max is not just weird, but actually dangerous? Maybe. But Adam Scott makes a point to play Max in a way that reminds us that in addition to being a good guy, he can often come off as more than a little bit crazy. (His sudden and irrational jealousy of Leroy’s new office friend Tyler, for example.) So perhaps it’s not as weird as it sounds, even if it’s a little hard to believe that Leroy regularly forgets his partner’s last name.
Leroy’s realization that Sam is framing Max leads to the episode’s best sequence, in which the two must sort of fake a fistfight through a conversation that confirms the same. It’s hard to tell whether the best part the duo’s inability to come up with normal insults on the fly (“Scoundrel!”) or the revelation that Max puts mayo on his fries because “it’s the superior condiment”. Either way, it’s a moment that probably only this show could pull off, and it’s a nice nod to the growing legitimate friendship between the two.
Elsewhere, we finally get a storyline featuring Annie that has nothing to do with her will they/won’t they thing with Max. Her desperation to prove herself as future captain material leads her to believe the evil A.I. more than she should, but here it’s played as a completely understandable character flaw. Combine this with last week’s episode where we got a glimpse into her backstory, and it seems as though Annie is – finally – on her way to becoming an actual, three-dimensional character. Even Barry gets a great moment this week. (His insistence that all his technophobia stems from that time he watched The Matrix Reloaded is genuinely hilarious, and maybe the first time this character has actually ever been funny on purpose.)
Sure, there are still some problems. Again, the story’s climax makes almost zero sense. Sam’s ultimate defeat seems to involve little more than Leroy shooting down a drone and Max purposelessly banging on a keyboard. Bureau chief Ava appears for what is maybe two minutes of screentime, even if her sudden return to help save the day at the end is a cool image. Ghosted’s sudden decision to start using its original premise of skeptical lawman versus deranged true believer feels a bit out of place now, after everything Leroy and Max have seen together.
It’s no secret that Ghosted’s first few episodes have had some growing pains. But, if nothing else, “Sam” indicates that the show is capable of integrating the best of its disparate parts into a cohesive whole. The question of whether it will be able to do that consistently remains up in the air, but I have to admit, I’m feeling a lot more hopeful about it than I have at any other point this season.
Season 1, Episode 6 (S01E06)
Ghosted airs Sundays at 830PM on Fox.
Lacy is a digital strategist by day and a writer because it seemed like a good start to her supervillain origin story. Favorite things include: Sansa Stark, British period dramas, and that leather duster that Aeryn Sun wears in Farscape.
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Lacy Baugher | Contributor