It's Halloween, kids! And people dressed as kids! And kids dressed not as people! And everybody! While you wait for the trick-or-treaters to come or while you arrange your candy by size later tonight, why not take in these spooky-comic, Internet-available delights — as sweet as candy and better for you too. The first two are personal favorites from a couple years back that I am happy to find an occasion to share and promote. And the third is a nearly 50-year-old, L.A.-based afternoon series, nominally for children, from the twilight of local television. (If you can’t fit them in tonight, they’re good anytime.)
Created by stars Amanda Lund and Maria Blasucci and director Jeremy Konner (“Drunk History”), with Jack Black as an executive producer, "Ghost Ghirls" began as a Syfy project before finding shape late in 2014 as a Yahoo Screen Web series consisting of a dozen 10-minute episodes. (Its general premise — a comedy about addled humans helping restless spirits move on into the light — was, not long after, the coincidental basis for the Tyler Labine-starring Hulu comedy "Deadbeat.") One of the first online series — maybe the first — that convinced me that a comedy less than half the length of a traditional sitcom could feel just as substantial, it's smart and inventive and, given its compactness, surprisingly rich in plot. As self-involved, childish, competitive ghost hunters/whisperers/busters -- best friends since childhood, when they shared a "lemonade and talk to your dead relatives" stand, Lund and Blasucci fill the interstices of the action with productive asides; they're always building character.
Even before Yahoo Screen had its plug pulled, "Ghost Ghirls" had become hard to find; but it isn't now, and it's worth the clicks and more than worth the relatively small investment of time. You can binge the whole series in the time it takes to watch a couple episodes of "Game of Thrones." And yet it does not lack for variety or an air of abundance, its haunted places including a baseball diamond, a tax office, a middle school, a brothel and a woodland spa. The guest-star power is considerable: Jason Ritter and Jake Johnson in the pilot episode, along with Natasha Leggero, Kumail Nanjiani, Colin Hanks, Larisa Oleynik, Paul F. Tompkins, Jason Schwartzman, Brett Gelman, Eric Edelstein, Kate Micucci and Molly Shannon. In the two-part finale, Black, Val Kilmer and Dave Grohl play a dead '70s Southern-rock band, haunting a recording studio, fighting too much to finish their final song. (Vimeo)
“Gary Saves the Graveyard”
Upright Citizens Brigade creative director (and maker of beautiful small documentaries) Todd G. Bieber created and directed this five-part Web series about a life-bedraggled underachiever (Jim Santangeli). Gary’s left in charge of a cemetery whose deceased inhabitants roam the grounds nightly, playing cards or ping-pong and generally killing time until the portal that can send them off to the afterlife is repaired. (He was inattentive at his interview.) Among the residents are Abraham (Nate Dern), a Civil War soldier (Union) with a strong sense of duty, who becomes his right hand; and his puckish best friend, Andy (Tallie Medel), still an actual teenager, while Gary is merely having trouble growing up. ("Back in high school, you died," he tells her when they meet. "Back in high school, you were skinny," she answers.) She persuades him to let her out for a night on the town, against the rules of heaven and earth; he leaves the gate open and trouble ensues. A deadline creates urgency, but not so much to swamp the intimacy.
The setting (and some initial mayhem), notwithstanding, the comedy is gentle – it's a piece about friendship and fulfillment and the grind of life and not-life, and it's all lovely and almost sentimental in a way more associated with the holidays that end the year than the one we celebrate tonight. Santangeli, Dern and Medel are each excellent, locating the human in the uncanny, steering clear of caricature – I would make them stars if I could. (YouTube)
L.A. locals of a certain age may remember this after-school series, broadcast on Channel 9, then called KHJ, now KCAL, featuring a pint-sized Frankenstein puppet (voice of Jim Thurman) and his mad-scientist maker, Dr. Von Schtick (Gene Moss), a kind of Borscht Belt Transylvanian Soupy Sales. Though there are still a few kids shows whose adult makers are mostly entertaining themselves, this particular kind of loose-limbed, no-budget, hipster-ish, play-to-the-crew type of show doesn't really exist anymore, a victim of media conglomeration, corporate homogenization and video on demand, by tape, then disc, then download. (It survived as a memory in "Pee-wee's Playhouse," in "The Simpson's" Krusty the Klown.)
Broadcast from 1966 (or 1967, depending on the source) to 1968, more or less coeval with "The Monkees" and "Get Smart!," it captures the spirit of its transitional times, with one foot in Mad Magazine and the other in the Free Press; counter-culturally, in language and rhythm and attitude it is more pop-beatnik than proto-hippie, with its mix of elaborately formal language and beard-and-beret slang. But it’s definitely the kind of outside entertainment that can make a young mind impertinent, skeptical of authority, disinclined to join the rat race. Note references to the Marvel Comics-based cartoons the series broadcast, way before anyone imagined that stuff would rule Hollywood. But Hollywood could use a lot more of "Shrimpenstein," for my money, and my Halloween. You can read more about the series here. (YouTube).