Folks, I tried. I tried to dive in to the latest intense British crime drama, full of murder and dark secrets, with a dour color palette that ran the spectrum from blue-gray to gray-blue.
But I just wasn’t feeling it, dear reader. Maybe it has something to do with the one-year anniversary of the pandemic shutdown. Maybe I just needed something warm and huggable right now.
Enter “City of Ghosts,” now streaming on Netflix.
“City of Ghosts,” ironically, is a terrific name for a British murder series. But the kids’ show, created by Elizabeth Ito (“Adventure Time”), isn’t at all scary, but a fun and engaging animated show. It’s also, somewhat sneakily, the most perceptive look at cities and the communities living within them that I’ve seen in a TV show in quite a while, aimed at any age.
The show follows the Ghost Club, four Los Angeles kids who travel the city’s neighborhoods hunting down unexplained phenomena. Someone is adding items to a mysterious shrine made out of junk in a Venice Beach alleyway. The owner of a vegan café in Leimert Park is plagued by strange drumming sounds at night.
Armed with a tape recorder, the young members of the Ghost Club interview witnesses and gather clues. (On finding an old VHS tape, one kid exclaims: “It’s a videotape. It’s full of YouTube.”) When they find the ghosts, they’re friendly little blobby things that make Casper the Friendly Ghost look like a Wes Craven monster.
And these ghosts are not of dead people, but of former residents who used to live in the changing neighborhoods that the Ghost Club are exploring. That drumming ghost in the vegan café is a ‘90s hip-hop producer who recalls Leimert Park’s pre-gentrified past, while the shrine ghost is an old Venice skate punk. In one episode, the Ghost Club even meets one of the indigenous Tongva people who lived on the land before Los Angeles was founded.
Many of the “ghosts” and other characters that the Ghost Clubbers meet are real Los Angelenos, interviewed documentary-style and then animated. The result is a rich portrait of a changing city with its many enclaves and subcultures, and a reminder that every city has layers of history that shouldn’t be forgotten.
While the word “gentrification” is never uttered in “City of Ghosts,” it never seems far from the show’s mind in its approach to celebrating the past. “You have to understand that it’s older than you, and it’s bigger than you,” the vegan café owner says of her neighborhood. “It’s a community consciousness that needs to be taught. That goes for any space.”
Also on streaming: That “murder show,” by the way, is Acorn’s new four-episode series “Bloodlands.” James Nesbitt, one of my favorite Irish actors, plays a detective in Northern Ireland looking into the disappearance of a former Irish Republican Army soldier. The case digs up some dark secrets (see, I told you) involving a mysterious assassin nicknamed Goliath who was never caught after killing several people 20 years earlier, including the detective’s wife.
The show is written by Chris Brandon and produced by Jed Mercurio, who also wrote Netflix’s “Bodyguard” and Acorn’s “Line of Duty” and has a penchant for game-changing plot twists. “Bloodlands,” which was picked up for a second season, looks to be no exception.
Zach Snyder’s four-hour cut of “Justice League” arrives on HBO MAX Thursday. Snyder, who also made “Man of Steel” and "Batman vs. Superman,” had to leave “Justice League” midway through production due to a family tragedy. He was reportedly unhappy with how director Joss Whedon finished the film, and got Warner Brothers to pony up a rumored $80 million for this new “definitive” edition.