Farewell to one of most precious British series of the last decade

Clarisse Loughrey’s Show of the Week column, published every Friday, recommends a new series to watch. This week: it’s the Beeb’s fifth season of Ghosts and its Christmas episode finale.

Good sitcoms know when they’ve outstayed their welcome. And BBC’s Ghosts – one of the sweetest, most precious British series of the last decade – has not only abided by that rule but made it the very heart of its Yuletide farewell.

In the current television landscape, where cancellations swing down like an executioner’s axe, ruthlessly and rarely with pretext, there’s a sense that the end is now a concrete sign of failure. But, with Ghosts, its team of creators (including Mathew Baynton, Simon Farnaby, and Martha Howe-Douglas) have asked us not only to consider that it’s healthy good shows don’t last forever, but that it’s healthy good friendships don’t always either.

It’s a finale that’s really a celebration of transience. When a cherished person is allowed to move on and forward with grace, it’s possible to miss them without needing to mourn them as a loss. Their value is judged not by the time spent with them, but by the joy they brought to our lives. And, in a funny way, it’s possible to feel the same about a good piece of television.

Ghosts, appropriately, has ended its run with a Christmas special, embedded in the season’s sincerity and self-reflection. Button House’s happy haunts – chiefly, Georgian socialite Kitty Higham (Lolly Adefope), Romantic poet Thomas Thorn (Mathew Baynton), sleazy politician Julian Fawcett (Simon Farnaby), Edwardian lady Fanny Button (Martha Howe-Douglas), scout leader Pat Butcher (Jim Howick), caveman Robin (Laurence Rickard), and WWI officer The Captain (Ben Willbond) – are all suddenly and rudely upstaged.

A new baby, Mia, has arrived, the first child of the home’s living residents, Alison (Charlotte Ritchie), who can see ghosts, and Mike (Kiell Smith-Bynoe), who cannot. Mike’s mother, Betty (Sutara Gayle), has followed behind, a whirlwind of fuss.

The winsome chaos of regions beyond inevitably starts to lose its charms for the pair of sleep-deprived, hopelessly overburdened new parents. Robin complains that he’s not feeling very festive, with no clue as to why Mike may have bigger priorities than putting up decorations. Thomas’s lovelorn exclamations (“We must contain ourselves!” he tells Alice – still, forever, the object of his desires) are more draining than ever. Julian, Pat, and The Captain’s attempts to bond with Mia (“they stop seeing us once they can talk”) become a pure inconvenience.

And while the end of season five saw Alice and Mike commit to a future among the undead, the finale’s abrupt shift into a new dynamic between the residents of Button House seems a nice way to soothe the guilt of anyone who may be feeling the pressure of too much family over the holiday season. Ghosts ends on realist, but empathetic terms, in a way that understands that people’s circumstances change but their love for each other does not.

It’s a fitting place, too, to leave a series that used its unearthly premise to explore the most earthly of concerns. Ghosts was really no different from the best of the workplace comedies, in how it acknowledges the odd, but enriching relationships that can grow when you don’t get to choose the people you live alongside almost every day. Yet, it explored those ideas in its own way. The series was a natural progression for Them There, the creative collective who also brought Horrible Histories to the small screen – light and silly for the most part, but meaningful where it counts, in ways its broad-brush US adaptation has failed to capture.

Ghosts, I’m sure, will continue to haunt the sitcom landscape long after its demise. But in the nicest way possible.