Marley’s Ghosts S01 (2015)

Marley (Sarah Alexander) sees dead people, and it’s driving her nuts. It might not be so bad if they were ghosts of strangers, but no, these are the spirits of her husband, lover, and vicar, all of whom are spending their immediate afterlife lounging around her living room. Perhaps she could tolerate it if she wasn’t also mediating between the men in her life and trying to shut down an attempted ghost-human affair, but the deaths only complicate matters.

Out of everyone, Marley is the one who has things most in order. She’s a magistrate with a firm grasp on where she’s headed even if her personal life is a little sticky. Her affair with needy colleague Michael (Nicholas Burns) throws her good judgment somewhat into question, but one can sympathize when Adam (John Hannah), her unemployed, alcoholic husband, is constantly barging into her workplace. Meanwhile, their loopy vicar, um…Vicar (Jo Joyner), offers no counsel and also appears to have slept through divinity school.

So it’s not surprising that this cast of characters combine for some comic misadventures. What this three-part series doesn’t do, however, is elevate its humor into something beyond trite ghost jokes and one note gags about shady mediums. There’s only so many times Marley can argue with spirits in public before someone rings a doctor about a lady yelling at bushes.

It’s easy to imagine a better story about the newly widowed Marley trying to come to terms with what’s happened, especially since she’s kind of responsible for Adam’s demise. Of all the ways to go, giving mouth-to-mouth to your choking wife and then sucking the chicken bone out of her throat and into your own is one of the more pathetic. But the story is not really interested in Marley navigating her grief or relief, or both. It’s far more trivial, a grating comedy of errors featuring three selfish spirits who just want to make their landlady mad.

Michael and the vicar in particular add a lot of noise, too much for my taste. They’re lucky they’re even staying at Marley’s, a privilege they appear to have won by dying outside her property. The vicar, it seems, can neither preach nor drive. Ever the optimist, however, she’s not going to let that lack of skills and a human body stop her from forming a physical attachment with the neighbor’s grown son (Harman Singh), a move that gets Marley into trouble with his mom. Michael is likewise oblivious to his lover’s frustrations and his own changed circumstances, all but insisting on continuing their affair as if nothing’s happened.

The show only finds its soul in the third and last episode when the now sober Adam comes face to face with his past. He meets a stranger who fills him both with hope and regret, and I wonder if this is emotional and narrative punch the writers were aiming for all along. I was genuinely touched by these few scenes and by Hannah in particular. He conjures up all this emotional heft out of nowhere and delivers a performance that is moving and funny without being sentimental or contrived.

This late inning save is not enough to change my opinion about the series, but it makes me think that perhaps a longer order of four or five episodes would have improved things. Certainly a cleaner script would have done so. Alexander is the most underserved, and it shouldn’t be the case that her best scenes come when she’s supporting Adam’s storyline in the finale. I’m also convinced that Burns and Joyner have more to offer than their one dimensional characters allow. I see that a longer six-episode second series is so there’s hope yet for Marley and her ghosts.

Released: 2015
Prod: John Stanley Productions
Dir: Ben Gosling Fuller
Writer: Daniel Peacock
Cast: Sarah Alexander, John Hannah, Jo Joyner, Nicholas Burns, Mina Anwar, Harman Singh, Beattie Edmondson
Time: 30 min x 3
Lang: English
Country: United Kingdom
Network: Gold
Reviewed: 2019