'Ghosted' stars Craig Robinson and Adam Scott on summoning an '80s action-comedy spirit

Given Adam Scott and Craig Robinson’s collective comedy credentials — “Party Down,” “Parks & Recreation,” “The Office,” “Knocked Up,” “Pineapple Express” and, of course, “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” — seeing their names atop the new Fox series “Ghosted” sets up some expectations for the series premiere on Sunday.

While it capitalizes on their comedy backgrounds, “Ghosted” draws as much from the sci-fi, horror and action genres with its wormholes, secret government bureaus and the occasional headless bad guy. Scott plays a disgraced research scientist who teams with Robinson, a former LAPD detective, to battle unexpected adversaries on a show that looks to ‘80s action-comedies for inspiration, a detail underlined by a synth-heavy score.

Below, the two comic actors chat about the genre-straddling nature of “Ghosted,” which Robinson tidily summarizes as “Be afraid. Be kind of afraid.”

How did you come to this show?

Robinson: Tom Gormican (“That Awkward Moment”) wrote this 12-page script – it’s far removed from what it is today, but it was the basic idea. There was a character in there that’s a badass black dude, badass afro, badass car. And I was like, “I’m listening.”

Scott: Another thing that caught my attention was the idea of this being a buddy action-comedy in the vein of “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Midnight Run,” “Lethal Weapon” — movies that we all grew up with in the ’80s. That’s sort of the tone we’re going for. “Ghostbusters” of course, tone-wise, is something we aspire to.

It’s something I grew up wanting to do. On the drive home from “48 Hrs.” or ‘Beverly Hills Cop,” with my mom or my dad I would fantasize about being in a car with my partner and saying hilarious stuff and chasing bad guys. So there’s a certain amount of wish-fulfillment as well.

Were you fans of these kinds of sci-fi shows?

Robinson: I hesitate to say I’m a super-fan. I can’t name what episode of “Star Trek” is this, that or the other, but I’ve always been fascinated and definitely enjoy it.

Scott: Yeah — the last big sci-fi show I was a big fan of was “Battlestar Galactica,” the last iteration, which I thought was brilliant. I’ve actually watched it all the way through two and a half times. I’m still working on the third time. Sci-fi with the big ideas is what I’ve always liked. “Star Trek” went there as well.

The action aspect of the show is played pretty straight — do you get a lot of freedom to riff back and forth in your dialogue for the comedy?

Scott: Yeah, we improvise a lot on the show. And that’s part of the fun. Craig’s such a great partner for improvising, he’s ready for anything.

Robinson: [To Adam] Ultimate improvisation guy. Always ready, always playful. So it is a charm of coming to work, knowing that you’re going to do something that’s not on the script and surprise each other and one-up each other.

Scott: I think it’s something that I certainly learned on the Judd [Apatow] movies . . . where just anything goes, throw it all against the wall, then once you’re in the editing room you find the bits that are awesome.

I feel like there was a lot left on the cutting room floor when you guys were posing as copy repairmen in the pilot and Adam’s character says he took an improv class.

Scott: There was a 10-minute version of that scene at one point.

Robinson: [laughs]

Is the show structured as episodic, or is there one long mystery?

Robinson: There’s a mythology, but definitely case-by-case, monster of the week.

Scott: It is very much an episodic structure but there is this overall thing every few episodes. There will be a dedicated [mythology] episode coming up and then hopefully all leading to something big and cool at the end of the season.

The show is called “Ghosted” — does it cover the paranormal or is it more of an alien, sci-fi thing?

Adam: It’s pretty much everything.

Robinson: It could be called “Vampired.”

Scott: “Werewolfed.”

Robinson: We’re going to cover things outside the scientific realm, the paranormal.

Scott: There is an episode where it’s a ghost we end up having to, uh, trade wits with. And then there’s a monster that gets loose in the office, an ancient sea creature we thought was dead but ends up being activated and comes alive . . . It’s sort of a nod to James Cameron, big-machinery-trapped-in-a-small-space movies of the ‘80s.

With that kind of scope, is it hard to make time to do comedy as well?

Robinson: Absolutely, it’s like shooting a mini action movie every week.

Scott: We have five days, the same amount of time that Craig had on “The Office” and I had on “Parks and Rec,” which was a lot of work but ...

Robinson: … it was mostly talking.

Scott: But here we have special effects, we have monsters, explosions, chase scenes. We’re still figuring out how to squeeze it all in.

Do you guys naturally gravitate toward ghost stories and mysteries, like the show is drawing from?

Robinson: Yep, sure.

Scott: [Pauses.] Craig is cagey on this subject; I feel like he’s had an experience of some sort, but it’s really hard getting it out of him.

Robinson: I believe in the paranormal and that there’s other things out there. I just don’t talk about it.

Do you, Adam?

Scott: I do not believe in anything [laughs]. I do love those stories. Stephen King, it feels like he’s bubbling up in culture again. I just started listening to “The Mist” because Will Patton does the audio book, which is incredible. I think “Stranger Things” has really helped push Stephen King out there, which is great — those books, man, there’s no beating them.

chris.barton@latimes.com

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