‘School Spirits’ Is a Charming Teenage Ghost Story: TV Review
As is well known by anyone who’s ever had the common nightmare of a last-minute test for which one hasn’t studied, being stuck in high school forever would be horrible.
But that’s exactly what seems to be happening to Maddie Nears (Peyton List), who, after having been killed on the grounds of her school, joins a group of ghosts who haunt the premises. Coming from different eras, the spirits whose number Maddie joins share little, except for a jaded sense of resignation to their fate; they coach Maddie through the early days of her afterlife, in which she can see what unfolds around her but, at least at first, cannot make herself known to the friends she left behind on Earth.
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Comparisons announce themselves easily: CBS’ “Ghosts,” for instance, or Alice Sebold’s novel “The Lovely Bones,” adapted into a film by Peter Jackson, which also told the story of a high school girl watching life move on after her murder. But “School Spirits” is more high-stepping and lively than the latter, less morose. What’s happened to Maddie is obviously as sad as it gets, but her story is told with a wryness and charm that should attract teen fans. In sequences in which Maddie is learning the ground rules of ghostliness (she cannot leave the school building, for instance), I was reminded of the jaunty and sharply observed early sequences of the great movie crowd-pleaser “Ghost,” before “Unchained Melody” starts playing and tears begin to flow.
Created by sibling duo Nate Trinrud and Megan Trinrud, “School Spirits” has at the core of its story an engaging enough mystery — who killed Maddie? But its heart seems to be in the reality its early episodes create: There’s frankly vastly more interest in seeing the customs and mores of teen ghosts from different decades vibing together than there is in cracking the mystery. For Maddie, death has taken away a great deal, but it has also presented the chance to break into a new social circle, and List rises to the challenge of showing us Maddie’s mordant wit and her ability to find the joke under grave circumstances. Without losing sight of the sorrow of Maddie’s story, “School Spirits” manages to be surprisingly sparky and fun — proof positive that there are new stories to tell about the institution no one would ever want to be stuck in for their entire afterlife.
“School Spirits” premieres its first three episodes on Thursday, March 9, on Paramount+.
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