There’s a blunt charm to the exposition dump throughout “Ghosted’s” 22-minute pilot that probably shouldn’t come across. Characters relentlessly badger each other for information. Introductions are made without set-up, and the inexplicable is explained in just a few words. So much emotional backstory is spat out so quickly that it’s hard to see the first episode as anything more than set up. But hey, it’s still fun. Why? For the reasons you already know — all two of them.
Tom Gormican’s (“That Awkward Moment”) new series about an ex-cop and a former professor brought together to investigate paranormal activity lets its main draws shine through in the first episode, as Adam Scott and Craig Robinson prove to be just the pair of gumshoes needed to save the show from itself. Even with welcome comparisons to a comedic “X-Files,” the “Ghosted” pilot relies completely on the strenghts of its stars (including supporting cast members like Amber Stevens West and Adeel Akhtar). That works in the short term, but whether these two U.F.O. chasers will be matched by the potential in their premise is T.B.D.
Starting with the mysterious abduction of an unknown special agent, “Ghosted” quickly introduces its two stars — and future agents of The Bureau Underground. The first and most reasonable recruit is Max Jennifer (Scott), a former Stanford University professor whose work exploring multiverse theories got him kicked out of academia altogether. Now, he’s working at a bookstore and hoping to reunite with his wife, who Max believes was abducted by aliens.
Then there’s Leroy Wright (Robinson), who’s working security at the mall after losing his job at the LAPD. While still an officer of the law, Leroy was a particularly good missing persons detective, which is the best reason The Bureau Underground can find for drugging him, abducting him, and asking him to help find their missing agent, Mike Checker (Linc Hand). Checker listed both Max and Leroy by name in his last transmission, and now they have 48 hours to find him if they want the Bureau to get them their old jobs back.
To be clear, the Bureau is not the Federal Bureau of Investigation. A brief explanation is given to its background, which is that it doesn’t have one; not one that Max and Leroy can know about, anyway. The Bureau’s purpose is simply to investigate “unexplained” activity in the Los Angeles area and seek the truth in every case.
One could say “the truth is out there,” but “Ghosted” doesn’t seem ready to make such meta forays with its comedy just yet. Despite strong thematic and formal ties to “The X-Files” (the original music and credits’ font both mimic the iconic Fox drama), the comedic take on paranormal investigation forges its own identity in the first episode.
That’s not to say there aren’t connections. Max is the Mulder of the duo, a believer with personal motivation driving his investigations and the wild hair of David Duchovny a la “Californication” Season 7. He’s a romantic with the touch of naïveté needed to believe in bigger ideas than science can prove. Sure, he falls back on empirical evidence, but he’s no skeptic. That’s Leroy, who just wants to do the work and be done with it. He’s got real-world problems to deal with, so it’s no wonder he’s the practical one whose head is firmly out of the clouds.
But just about all we get out of the pilot are these general comparisons and cliches. “Ghosted” could be a very basic case-of-the-week comedy with a few casual laughs, or it could streamline itself into a wild, conspiratorial buddy cop laugh riot. Its stars could certainly sustain either, but only one option would truly be worth recommending.
The zanier “Ghosted” gets, the better. Or, to put it in more specific terms, the more times Adam Scott is spooked into hysterical fits, the better; the more times he puts on his glasses and acts like a nerdy Indiana Jones, the better (yes, I know Indiana Jones wore glasses, too, but he never looked nerdy); the more times Craig Robinson shout-screams soul songs, the better; the more times he makes his anxious partner uncomfortable via risqué jokes, the better.
All of these moments are pulled directly from the pilot, so it’s clear “Ghosted” can improve in future episodes, especially if it ups the quantity. And there’s ample room for more charm, more jokes, and more glasses now that the bulk of the exposition is out of the way. There’s nothing wrong with relying on these two talents, it’s just that they deserve better. “Ghosted” can give it to them, or it could disappear, leaving this power couple on their own.
“Ghosted” premieres Sunday, October 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Fox.