Adapting 'Ghosts': The Characters of the U.K. Series and Their U.S. Counterparts (2023)

The concept of U.K. to U.S. television adapting isn’t anything new to the genre, from their popularity in the 1970s with Three’s Company (U.K.’s Man About the House) and Norman Lear’s All In The Family (U.K.’s Till Death Us Do Part) to the 21st century with The Office, House Of Cards and Shameless, just to name a few. Not that there haven't been a few duds along the way (see 2003’s U.S. version of Coupling). Still today, Trans-Atlantic conversion seems to be at its height for two countries that Oscar Wilde once famously wrote “have everything in common (with).... except, of course, language."

Since the popularity of The Office in 2005, literal adaptations and adherence to the source material, plot lines, characters, and themes have become the norm where previous reboots had mainly used the source material as a jumping-off point — often making the recent era of reboots feels like cookie-cutter imitations, depending on which series you watched first. This makes the recent CBS adaptation of the U.K. series Ghosts a refreshing change of pace.

Ghosts is a series about... well, a group of ghosts, spanning generations haunting one house after dying on the property. Their life, or afterlife, is forever changed when a married couple inherits the house with plans to turn it into a Bed and Breakfast. Chaos ensues when Allison (Charlotte Ritchie in the U.K. version) and/or Samantha (Rose McIver in the U.S. version), after hitting their heads, develop the ability to hear and see the ghosts, much to the chagrin of their husbands. (U.K.’s Kiell Smith-Bynoe and U.S.’s Utkarsh Ambudkar)

Baked into the original U.K. series is the history of the country in which it takes place. The ghosts in the house range from a World War II Captain to a headless Elizabethan to a Regency Jane Austen-style poet. The exciting aspect of the U.S. Ghosts is that while adapting many storylines from the original, the series has the leeway to be creative with characters due to differences between the two countries' land histories. Thoroughly American changes include a Viking, a Revolutionary officer, a 1960s hippy, a Native American, and a 1920s Jazz Singer. Both versions of Ghosts also stand out in the television landscape through their use of LBGTQ+ themes, characters, and experiences through time. Here are just a few of the characters from the U.S. series that come directly from the head of their U.K. counterparts.

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Lady Stephanie “Fanny” Button (U.K.) / Hetty Woodstone (U.S.)

Adapting 'Ghosts': The Characters of the U.K. Series and Their U.S. Counterparts (1)

Played by series writer/co-creator Martha Howe-Douglas, the great Lady Button, much like her U.S. Victorian counterpart Hetty Woodstone (the superb Rebecca Wisocky), is set in her ways based on the patriarchal indoctrination of her time, ideas such as that bike riding sexually arouse women (U.S.) or how overthinking is bad for a women's health and safety (U.K.). While both women had husbands who cheated on them, the biggest change is that Lady Fanny’s husband killed her (causing her to reenact her death every night by screaming and flinging herself out of her bedroom window). In contrast, Hetty’s husband (Veep’s Matt Walsh), in comparison (a robber baron, i.e., see The Gilded Age), is not canonically LBGTQ+ as Fanny’s husband is, which we find out when Fanny divulges that after finding her husband having sex with the male staff, he killed her. We later discover that Fanny and her husband, Lord George Button, were forced into marriage based on the societal pressures of the 1900s. (Fanny due to family money issues and being unable to enter business; George due to the archaic mores of the time.) An overall theme in the series that Fanny expresses the best:

“After all, if George had been free to love as he chose... well, I wouldn't have been murdered, and I could have had a husband instead who wanted to know me."

While it is best that the American version stayed clear of this storyline, with its history of tragic queer characters, thematically missing from the U.S. Ghosts (within more than one character), is that the group is better off when everyone can be their true selves. However, the U.S. version has explored a similar storyline in a deeper way than the U.K. version has yet to achieve. (More on that later.) Both Hetty and Fanny explore how to break from their literal corsets in different ways, and based on the trajectory of the U.S. version Hetty will be catching up to Fanny very soon.

The Captain (U.K.) / Captain Isaac Higgintoot (U.S.)

Adapting 'Ghosts': The Characters of the U.K. Series and Their U.S. Counterparts (2)
(Video) M R James - Ghost Writer (BBC)

The Captain (played by writer/co-creator Ben Willbond) in the U.K. version hails from World War II, representing Britain's Churchill years, an archetypally English symbol. Therefore, it makes sense that his American counterpart reboot, Captain Isaac Higgintoot (Brandon Scott Jones), would be a Revolutionary War veteran. The Captain is a charming, sweet man with the famous Brit “stiff upper lip.” Early on in the series, it is obvious that the Captain died in the 1940s, unable to express that he was queer and in love with a fellow soldier. Completely chaste, the Captain's longings are implied in scenes, never acted on or spoken.

In contrast, in the U.S. version, even though making Hetty’s husband straight and changing the same-sex wedding in the house to a heterosexual one, Captain Higgintoot gets a love interest and a coming-out story. Isaac reunites with the ghost of a British officer throughout the first season, with whom he had a crush-worthy mutual flirtation in life. In a lovely touching scene (in the U.S.’s most recent episode), Isaac confesses to Hetty something he is excited but nervous to say out loud — that he is in love with British Officer Nigel Chessum, something he could never have imagined saying in his own time. Another addition to the U.S. version is that Captain Isaac, unlike the U.K.’s Captain, is played by an out actor. Jones toldOut Magazine on playing the role and relating to his own time of feeling closeted in his past:

“The thing that has interested me from the get-go is, I remember that feeling. I remember that time in my life when I was somebody that just kind of wished I was somebody else or was struggling with my own identity… Then to sort of play this character who has held onto that moment for much longer than any human could ever hold onto it for almost two and a half centuries, was so kind of sad, but also really, really exciting to me to play as an actor... Then to sort of play this character who has held onto that moment for much longer than any human could ever hold onto it for almost two and a half centuries, was so kind of sad, but also really, really exciting to me to play as an actor."

As the U.K. series has just finished filming their fourth season, one can only hope The Captain has a coming-out moment in this future when he’s ready.

Pat Butcher (U.K.) / Pete Martino (U.S.)

Adapting 'Ghosts': The Characters of the U.K. Series and Their U.S. Counterparts (3)

Pat (U.K.) and Pete (U.S.), played by U.K. series writer/co-creator Jim Howick (Sex Education) and Richie Moriarty (The Tick), are the only characters with no noticeable gaps between their respective versions. Pat/Pate, dressed literally as a Boy Scout (killed with an arrow through his neck) is the sweet, cheerful goody-two-shoes from the 80s who loves Newhart, sports (well, maybe not archery anymore!), and his wife. They both have similar backstories, but it is the actors that bring their substance and likability to the role as the resident optimistic among the dead. From Horwick’s excitement and giant smile to Moriarty's bright naive spirit, they each bring their individual take to a memorable character.

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Julian Fawcett MP (U.K.) / Trevor Lefkowitz (U.S.)

Adapting 'Ghosts': The Characters of the U.K. Series and Their U.S. Counterparts (4)

Both series depict the 1990s as a time of excess and greed, so what's more perfect than a character who died with their pants down to actually turn out to be a politician and/or a stock market bro? Although it feels deeply American to age down a character in a Brit-to-American transfer, the young Wall Street pre-9/11 type fits into the U.S. ensemble perfectly. The U.K.’s Jillian Fawcett MP (writer/creator Simon Farnaby), a career Member of Parliament, is the perfect satire of the end of Thatcherism, a hilarious buffoon who delivers some of the best lines (and improvs — watch the outtakes). However, the U.S.’s Trevor Lefkowitz (Asher Grodman) fits the same mold but with moments of vulnerability, letting other characters on the show have the larger comic moments otherwise reserved for his predecessor. Still, at the surface, Julian and Trevor are both pompous sex maniacs who have never seen a modern H.R. department, but they also are doing what the series does best — shining a light on how far we’ve come and turning that into laughs.

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Robin the Caveman (U.K.) / Thorfinn (U.S.)

Adapting 'Ghosts': The Characters of the U.K. Series and Their U.S. Counterparts (5)

Robin and Thorfinn are both the oldest characters in their respective series: a caveman and a Viking who have moments of brutalism and genius, alongside vulnerability. The concept behind Robin in the original series was that the oldest ghost was the smartest, having seen it all — only it is their way of speaking and presenting themselves that makes everyone assume otherwise. Often Robin is the one with the words of reason and a big heart. Thorfinn’s juxtaposition from his appearance and his literal armor is also his soft heart from his past, singing baby Hetty to sleep, to his feelings of torture about killing his best friend: a squirrel. While Robin has all the answers, Thorfinn looks for them in therapy, making them both treasured characters.

Thomas Thorne (U.K.) / Sasappis (U.S.)

Adapting 'Ghosts': The Characters of the U.K. Series and Their U.S. Counterparts (6)
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Of all the characters on the series, the U.K.’s Regency poet Thomas Thorne (writer/co-creator Mathew Baynton) and the U.S.’s Lenape Native American Sasappis (Román Zaragoza) couldn’t feel more rooted in the history of the land where they died. And while Sasappis does share DNA, so to speak, with Robin in the realm of the “oldest characters being the wisest” mantra, his genuine connection appears to be with Thomas Thorne, as they are each the storytellers of their group. While Thomas is a writer who could never tell his stories in his lifetime or get the girl (dead or alive), and he is neither as brave as Sasappis nor as wise — yet you can’t help but fall in love with both of them. While Thomas Throne, much like The Captain, is a symbol of a romantic version of the British Isles, Sasappis represents North America's true origins. And similar to Thomas, he was unable to fulfill his storytelling dreams while he lived. Speaking in a modern vernacular, Sasappis is quick and funny; he makes jokes about the living characters' experiences and prejudges and has moments of true honesty, making him the American reboot's stand-out character. One could say he is the truest character adaptation from British-to-American in the entire U.S. show.


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