Recent TV horror-comedies like Netflix Santa Clarita Diet, FX’s What We Do In The Shadows, HBO’s Los Espookys, and CBS’ new sitcom Ghosts present an exciting amalgamation of two already massive genres in their own distinctive ways.
“This deadly combination has had wide appeal, pulling in audiences who might not usually be able to stomach gore, and inviting fright fans to enjoy heartwarming and slapstick content,” says Saloni Gajjar writing at pop culture site AV Club.
This genre fusion isn’t new, as Gajjar points out. Shows like The Munsters and The Addams Family brought the approach to the small screen in the 1960s. Netflix’s upcoming coming-of-age Wednesday, about Wednesday Addams, and Rob Zombie’s The Munsters reboot for Peacock will keep the respective IPs going strong. An animated series based on Tim Burton’s feature hit Beetlejuice ran on ABC and Fox 1989-1991.
Dark dramas of the ‘90s like Twin Peaks and Buffy The Vampire Slayer added gallows humor to offset the horror. More recent shows like Fox’s slasher parody Scream Queens and Starz’s Ash Vs. Evil Dead take a stab at expanding the style on TV. Starz also has Courteney Cox-led Shining Vale in the pipe for 2022, in which her character gets possessed by the ghosts in her new house.
You could arguably throw in the socio-political satire of The Squid Game into the mix. So what seems to have reanimated horror comedies on TV?
Santa Clarita Diet creator and showrunner Victor Fresco tells AV Club that comedy blends best with horror because “jokes and mysteries are similar in how they thrive on tension and ever-increasing stakes…. The more you can keep the suspense percolating for either of them, the tenser and better the result will be.”
Los Espookys co-creator Ana Fabrega saysthat comedies like What We Do In The Shadows or Santa Clarita Diet are rooted in subverting tropes of one specific mythology. Los Espookys though is inspired more by Ghostbusters or Scooby Doo‘s Mystery Inc.
“We purposely keep it abstract to open up what a horror-comedy is and can be. [Co-creator and co-star] Julio Torres and I wanted to keep it open-ended to play around in all aspects of what’s considered as magical realism,” Fabrega says. “We want to give a nod to a range of subjects, from Scooby Doo to Latin telenovelas, before putting our own weird spin. It resonates because it’s not cartoonish, but it’s also not seriously scary.”
CBS’s take on British series Ghosts uses supernatural elements to drive a feel-good network comedy as one half of a married couple starts to communicate with ghosts after a near-death incident.
“We want to be character-driven in an inspirational way,” showrunner Joe Wiseman says. “The ghosts add an unusual flavor, but become a launching point to tell relatable stories.”
The Ghosts showrunners hope that their show resonates with fans of What We Do In The Shadows as well as NBC’s The Good Place, which also tapped into larger commentary about life after death.
Co-showrunner Joe Port adds, “We’re trying to carve out a specific comedy for those who enjoy ghost stories. It’s similar to watching something like hangout comedies where a disparate group of people are forced to hang out, but with occult and other additional special effects.”