The latest in Fox's clutch of genre-based situation comedies – see also the space-com "The Orville" and post-apocalyptic "Last Man on Earth" – the highly pleasurable "Ghosted" does nothing new. But what it does it does well.
Premiering Sunday, the series is a buddy-cop paranormal action comedy that profitably teams Adam Scott (“Parks and Recreation,” “Big Little Lies”) and Craig Robinson (“The Office,” “Hot Tub Time Machine”) and comes with a pilot directed by Jonathan Krisel ("Portlandia" and "Baskets"). It’s more old-fashioned than their usual projects.
Scott plays Dr. Max Jennifer, a former Stanford professor of astrophysics now working as a chain bookstore clerk; Robinson is Leroy Wright, a former LAPD missing persons detective working security in a shopping mall. When we meet them, they are not yet acquainted.
The show moves swiftly, without seeming hurried. Even before both leads are individually kidnapped a mere two minutes into the pilot episode, the basics of their characters and back stories have been established. It's a textbook example of hiding exposition in plain sight. A minute later, we know where they're going and, soon after that, why.
"I'm Barry, I'm your kidnapper," says Barry (Adeel Akhtar), peeping into the back of the van in which Max and Leroy sit handcuffed, "And I work for a top-secret government agency, and unfortunately that's all I can say about that. That's not very fair is it? I work for the Bureau Underground — we investigate the paranormal and anything outside the scientific realm."
The Bureau Underground has been around since the Truman administration, or put another way, since Abbott and Costello met Frankenstein. Capt. Ava Lafrey (Ally Walker) is in charge; Annie (Amber Stevens West) is the resident “Q,” supplying weapons and tech support; Barry, besides the aforementioned kidnapping, analyzes puzzling evidence. A missing agent's last message called on the bureau to call on Max and Leroy for help, nobody knows why.
And here they are, uncomfortably paired, Leroy’s dark deadpan contrasting Max’s desperate optimism, Robinson’s bearish bulk setting off Scott’s vulpine delicacy. It’s a classic arrangement.
The plot of the only episode available for review has all the depth and complexity of the 1966 "Batman” series, by which I intend no criticism. Science is whatever the story needs it to be; clues are always near at hand. There is running and screaming and a scene where, to get inside a nuclear power plant, the two pose as copier repairmen.
Leroy, to Max, as they arrive: "Just be quiet and follow my lead.
Max: "I did a little improv in college, I think I'm good."
There are easy comparisons to "The X-Files" – Max wants to believe (and believes his wife was abducted by aliens); Leroy is naturally skeptical. Indications are that the series will mix long-arc mythology with monsters of the week. Upcoming episodes bear titles including "Succubus" and "Jermaine the Zombie."
But "Ghosted" belongs to a long line of paranormal comedies, from Bob Hope's "The Ghost Breakers" to two flavors of "Ghostbusters," from Martin and Lewis in "Scared Stiff" to Smith and Jones in "Men in Black." Comedy and spooky action go well together; the flavors are mutually enhancing. Bumbling and capability go hand in shaky hand. The comedy does not injure the adventure.
When: 8:30 p.m. Sunday
Rating: TV-PG-LV (may be unsuitable for young children, with advisories for coarse language and violence)
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd