Photo: Jesse Giddings (Fox)

Well, I have “KEN MARINO” written down in my notes three times tonight, all in caps just like that, so we should probably start there. Tonight’s Ghosted played host to an always-welcome (if unofficial) Party Down reunion, as Adam Scott’s Max briefly reconnected with his polyamorous, energy drink peddling brother, Daniel, as portrayed by a rowing machine-obsessed Marino. The pair’s one scene together was short (and conducted solely over the phone), but still easily an episode highlight, as the two argued about which of them may or may not have a stick up their respective “tush”-es.

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Ghosted’s been playing lately with the idea of putting Scott more firmly in the role of the straight man—surrounding him with an entire office full of weirdos with interests far stranger than Max Jennifer’s relatively mild UFO obsession—and it’s a spot he’s always excelled in, at least partially because he has a gift for letting other people’s madness pull him along. It’s a game he and Marino have been playing together for years, and they fall right back into a familiar dynamic tonight, with Daniel’s oblivious cheerfulness playing off well against Max’s wounded dignity.

Said confidence-related injuries come courtesy of a visit from the Jennifer parents, alerted to Max’s new gig after The New York Times runs a leak-filled story casting a light on the Bureau Underground and its (currently non-) activities. As it turns out, Max’s mom and dad were perfectly happy when they thought he was working for a wire hanger company—who knows, he might even make manager one day!—but are a lot more distressed at the idea that he’s spending his life chasing around ghosts and robots. (Or not, as Max defensively grumbles.)

Photo: Jesse Giddings (Fox)

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There’s a weird undercurrent of meta here—and in Merv’s frequently stated disdain for the BU’s “work”—that’s hard not to read as a comment on the show’s recently shifted priorities. Once upon a time, Max and Leroy (unhappily tasked with investigating the leak) really did hunt down aliens, ghosts, and crazy immortals with life-extending machines. Now they live in a different reality, one where the cases have dried up, and everybody just sits around the office all the time, chatting with weird co-workers and fitfully hunting down the identity of the people who bugged their desks. By constantly having unsympathetic characters deride the BU’s jobs, are the show’s new writers poking fun at what came before, trying to acclimate us to a new world in which the supernatural really is little more than a governmental joke, “secret like crapping your pants on the bus”? Or are they setting us all up for some kind of delayed pay-off, when it turns out Max and his true believer ilk were right all along? Tonight’s ending suggests the latter, at least, as the growing crowd of protesters outside the Mid-Valley Wire Hanger Company turn out to actually be fans, thanking the team for their work.

Meanwhile, the show’s retool continues to pay off its hugest dividends in the unleashing of Ally Walker, who’s suddenly transformed from a distant, constrained caricature into one of the show’s most potent comic weapons. Her wild-eyed deadpan when Max identifies the food conglomerate CEO bugging the BU’s offices (The Nanny’s Charles Shaughnessy) is a moment of quiet beauty, but she gets to fully let loose in the episode’s stinger, where a bizarre courtship ritual evolves into a sudden chloroform-off that Lafrey just barely wins. (By the way, is it me, or did she say “You’ve just been Dufesne’d” after Shaughnessy went down? Weird.) Annie might be bitter about Lafrey’s demotion, but it’s transformed Walker into a singular presence of unhinged comedy, one that this show’s formerly shallow bench desperately needed.

Speaking of: Leroy and Annie’s face-off about the leak investigation is pretty slight, but it has some good emotional build-up, and a great punchline when Merv reveals that the Bureau was never actually classified in the first place; it’s just that the government doesn’t like talking about it, because it’s kind of embarrassing. That might feel like another dig at the show’s past, to a time when the BU was portrayed as a legitimately impressive clandestine organization. But if jabs like that are the price we have to pay for something as consistent—and consistently funny—as Ghosted has been over the last few weeks, it’s one I’m pretty happy to pay.

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Photo: Jesse Giddings (Fox)

Stray observations

  • Shaugnessy really only gets one line before Lafrey takes him down, but “Build a car big enough that my horse could sit with me in the front seat” is a pretty good answer to “What would you do if you could do anything?”
  • As Max gets more normal, Leroy gets enjoyably more weird. Craig Robinson got so many wonderfully awkward line readings as Narc Leroy that it’s hard to pick just one.
  • Okay, okay: “How do you think the leeeeeak got out?”
  • Annie’s description of Lafrey’s house post-divorce was a great moment for Amber Stevens West. “She had spraypainted stuff on the walls.”
  • Max’s gig as Peru in Model UN wasn’t easy. They were facing a lot of serious economic problems.
  • Co-worker report: Andy Blitz is 4 for 4 with his brief doses of Bird, gleefully confessing “the worst thing he’s ever done” to Leroy. (Luckily, we’re spared.) Sasha’s grasp on World War II leaves something to be desired. And Daddy Badmood (whose real name I swear I’ll learn eventually) had one of the lines of the night, looking out at the growing crowd of protesters/fans and noting “They’ve got enough people to turn over a car now.”
  • Robert Pine and Mindy Sterling (who I totally failed to recognize from the Austin Powers movies) were both suitably obnoxious as Max’s parents. My favorite moment: Max notices his mom has laminated his brother’s business card, and Sterling gives an off-hand but perfectly motherly “Things spill!”
  • And when Max protests that, despite their concerns about what he’ll do for a career when he’s 40, he’s already 42. “Well?”
  • I keep feeling Barry-deprived, but his invitation to Max’s mom to “Come in for a cuddle” was very on-point, as was his desire for some delicious Scottish take-out.
  • And while I’m still getting used to a version of Ghosted that separates Max and Leroy as often as not, I appreciated the scene of the two of them briefly checking in with each other. That picture of Leroy dressed up like an alien for Halloween already has 214 likes!

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