Somehow this decade-old Australian show percolated to the top of my Amazon Prime awareness — discovery usually being one of Amazon’s greatest weaknesses — and I watched it over a couple of weeks.
The premise in uncannily similar to the BBC’s more recent Ghosts: woman moves into a new building with her family only to discover it is haunted. In the (shorter) season 1, there is just one ghost, but he is joined at the end of that season (and throughout season 2) by a whole host of contrasting personalities.
Like Ghosts, Spirited combines light comedy with moments of emotional heft. Its lengthier episodes allow for some decent character development, and the intriguing premise never really runs out of steam.
Claudia Canvan plays dentist Suzy Darling, who (in the first episode) walks out on her self-obsessed, oblivious husband, having bought herself a new apartment in a building (The Elysian) that used to be a hotel.
Almost immediately, she encounters the resident ghost: dead 80s rock star Henry Mallet (Matt King), who disappeared a couple of decades before but whose body was never discovered. Suzy, who suffers a bump to the head in the first episode, is the only one who can see Mallett, who is pitched as a kind of cross between a prickly Mark E Smith type and, I dunno, Adam Ant?
Suzy of course begins immediately to exhibit very odd behaviour in front of clients and family, as she converses with Henry Mallett, who himself has no memory of how he died. One of the things I liked about the programme was the set of rules put in place for the ghost. He can’t leave the building, for example: all he sees outside is thick fog. Others who die get to leave in a taxi that arrives. The mystery is why no taxi ever arrived for Henry. Another mystery is how Suzy continues to make a living, as she becomes an absolutely shit dentist.
Also odd is Suzy’s sister who harbours feelings for Suzy’s ex-; and an old couple, caretakers, who have been living in the building since it was a hotel. Do they know something about how Henry died? And why was his body never found?
Later on, Suzy encounters a journalist who is obsessed with Mallett, and wants to write his biography, and is intrigued that Suzy, who is the wrong age, seems to know so much about him.
Season 2 introduces a whole cast of new ghosts, and also a more menacing undercurrent in the conflicts that ensue. There are long-lost relatives, a kind of exorcist, and some familiar faces, such as Sarah Snook from Succession.
I was surprised at how good this was: some deeply upsetting Australian fashions aside, this held my interest all the way to the end, and Matt King’s Henry Mallett is a nuanced, convincing creation. This doesn’t have the carefree silliness of Ghosts, but is a proper hidden gem for its wealth of creative ideas. The ending is fair enough, I think. No season three ever appeared, and it clearly could have continued, but there’s no real sense of loose threads or being left hanging.