Who killed Maddie? Paramount+‘s School Spirits, which drops its first three episodes Thursday, revolves around Maddie (Peyton List), a teen stuck in the afterlife investigating her own mysterious disappearance. Maddie goes on a crime-solving journey as she adjusts to high school purgatory, but the closer she gets to discovering the truth, the more secrets and lies she uncovers.
ET’s Will Marfuggi sat down with List; Milo Manheim, who plays Wally; and Nick Pugliese, who plays Charley; for a preview of their new YA series, which has been compared to CBS’ popular comedy, Ghosts, partially because of its paranormal nature. But the trio maintains that School Spirits, which leans more heavily into the murder-mystery aspect than quirky comedy, is a lot more than just a teen version of the show — though the similarities are there.
“We never saw it that way. At least for me, I can’t speak for everybody else, but the fact that we’re ghosts is sort of the last thing I was thinking about,” Manheim told ET in January at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. “It’s about the relationships between people, it’s about finding things within yourself and I think that Ghosts is an extra layer to the show. It makes it a little cooler.”
“Yeah, I feel like I don’t even want to lead with that to people that it’s a ghost show,” List agreed. “It’s a coming-of-age story, it’s about drama and it’s about finding yourself and learning how to come with all of the stuff that you have to handle during those years, I think, [while you’re alive] and while you’re dead.” The actress shared that her character is so motivated to solve her own murder, which ruffles a few feathers as she tries to integrate herself into the ghost group while investigating what happened. “I feel like Maddie comes in the group with a vengeance trying to figure out how she died,” List previewed, “and they’re like, ‘Honey, calm down.'”
Like Ghosts, the crew that Maddie joins is an eclectic mix of undead personalities who have died at various points in time. Manheim’s Wally, for instance, perished in the ’80s, while Pugliese’s Charley died in the ’90s.
“Luckily [the] ’90s is very in so everything that we tried on, it was like, ‘Yeah, I would wear this,'” Pugliese said of his character’s wardrobe, “so I felt very comfortable in my costume, which is good because it’s my only concept [of who he is].”
“I was very comfortable in my costume because I’m wearing joggers the whole show. I was in booty shorts basically but it was cool to explore the physicality of it all,” Manheim added. “As an actor, I feel like that’s super interesting to explore — how my character walks, how he talks, how he responds to different things and I also created a playlist of ’80s music to listen to just to get myself in the headspace. I lucked out with my decade that they assigned Wally to because I love the ’80s. I feel like we all had a personal connection to our decades.”
Being attracted to supernatural projects may run in the family for Manheim, whose actress mother, Camryn Manheim, starred on Ghost Whisperer from 2006 to 2010. “That’s true. Oh my god, I can’t believe I actually never made that connection,” he exclaimed when asked about the familial connection between the CBS drama and School Spirits.
“Ghost shows run in the family. I also had a zombie [show] before this; I’m always just dead,” Manheim quipped, referring to being a co-lead in Disney Channel’s Zombies musicalmovie franchise. If School Spirits ends up getting picked up for a second season, he hopes his mom will have a cameo. “I love that idea,” Manheim said. “I’m totally going to pitch it.”
The trio also had different perspectives when it comes to believing in the paranormal, but they all admit it became a popular topic amongst the cast on set. “This was something that we got pretty early on I feel like,” Pugliese said, “where some people are adamantly opposed and some aren’t.” Manheim shared that filming the show didn’t change his mind about ghosts necessarily but prompted him to start “thinking about energies and what happens to your soul, your body when it dies.”
List recalled living in a house where a woman had died right before she moved in and after she moved out, the new resident called her asking if someone died there. “She was like, ‘I don’t know if she likes me because she keeps unlocking the doors and leaving them open!'” she recounted. “So many weird things would happen to me during the show and I don’t know if I believe in spirits, but I just thought it was weird!”
With season 1 firmly tied to Maddie’s murder and the mystery of who is responsible, the cast promised there will be answers by the end of the season. But they acknowledge there may not be expectations for the show to last beyond two seasons due to the nature of the story.
“A lot of mystery is solved, but there’s a lot more mystery to be solved,” Manheim teased. “And you’re going to be satisfied, but also, really want that second season.”
“What I loved about the show and the reason I signed on is they told me that it would go a maximum of two seasons,” List said. “I loved that because knowing that a show is going to end and especially a mystery, I don’t want to hang on a mystery for too long. I love that people are starting to know when something should end and that just makes it so much meatier of a show. So much happens in every single [episode], so I appreciated that. That’s the reason I really wanted to do it.”
Watch the School Spirits trailer below.
School Spirits premieres Thursday, March 9 on Paramount+.