In the UK: Wednesdays, 10pm, GOLD. Starts 30th September
The funniest thing about Marley’s Ghosts is the title. Cos it’s Dickens, innit, except Marley was the ghost in A Christmas Carol. Here, though, only Sarah Alexander is alive and everyone else she cares about is a ghost. Ain’t that funny?
GOLD’s latest sitcom – I say that like they’ve had more than a couple – is a rather brief affair at three episodes, made even briefer by the fact that most of this entire first episode is about as funny as the death of your beloved wife, whom you were so happy with for so many years until she passed away quietly in your arms, a tear rolling softly down her cheek.
That doesn’t give much room for the funny.
Written by actor Daniel Peacock (The Comic Strips Presents, Doctor Who’s Nord, Vandal of the Roads) and inspired by childhood viewings of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Marley’s Ghosts sees Coupling/Smack The Pony’s Sarah Alexander as the improbably first-named Marley, a magistrate not-so-happily married to former retail giant but now unemployed John Hannah (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Spartacus). She wishes Hannah wasn’t drunk all the time so is having a half-hearted affair with fellow magistrate Nicholas Burns (Nathan Barley, No Heroics) while she waits for Hannah to shape up.
Except then Hannah dies trying to save Alexander’s life. And while at the funeral conducted by inept vicaress Jo Joyner (No Angels, EastEnders), who can’t remember whether her parables are from The Gospel According to Luke or a Joan Collins novel (or should that be Jackie?), she suddenly is able to see Adam.
Wouldn’t you know it, he’s a ghost? And since the name of the show is Marley’s Ghosts in the plural and as the title sequence, the promo picture above and the trailer below give the entire game away, you won’t be surprised that one or more of the other characters is dead by the end of the episode, too, and they’re all living together.
Ironically, the show only really comes alive once Hannah and Burns are both sober and dead together (oops, tiny spoiler there) and able to rib each other and Alexander, while the rest of the world quietly assumes Alexander is bonkers. But even then, it’s all very weak stuff and in all probability, you’ll have switched off before the first green buds of vaguely titter-worthy material start to sprout.
Alexander’s fine and even gets to exercise her dramatic talents for all of 30 seconds at the funeral, which is handy because for the rest of the time, she’s playing every other Sarah Alexander character you’ve ever seen… again. Hannah does sitcom drunk for the first 15 minutes but is then actually pretty good and endearing for the rest of it.
But Burns has even less subtlety than when he was complimenting things on being ‘well weapon’ back in the day, while Joyner is like a bad combination of Dawn French’s job and Emma Chambers’ brains from The Vicar of Dibley.
Pilot out the way and set-up established, there is the outside possibility that the other two episodes are more like those vaguely funny few minutes towards the end, with Alexander bothered to distraction by her new house guests whom no one else can see. Certainly, with this short a runtime, you’d be hard pressed to argue that it’s a waste of your time to find out.
But it’s not hopeful and frankly, despite Peacock’s protestations that ‘it has always been on my mind to write something like Marley’s Ghosts’ since he was a kid, this feels like something that needed a lot more work or a quick burial – one of the two.