We all have our nostalgic throwbacks, those guilty pleasures that we dig up, blow the dust off of and revisit from time to time. When I’m doing the ironing, I don’t want something on the telly that I’ve never seen before, demanding my attention and making me burn my hand as a result. No, I want something there in the background that’s like an old friend, and though there are many TV shows or films that would more than qualify as ironing fodder, for some reason The Real Ghostbusters has proved to be the definitive go-to choice these past few years.
Without much hyperbole, I can safely say that I was absolutely mad for The Real Ghostbusters when I was a boy. It was my all-time favourite show, and the drudgery of school was made bearable on Mondays because I knew that it would be on around 4.30 on ITV. I’d tape it, re-watch it, re-watch it again and drive my family crazy with it. Earlier than that, when all we had was a Betamax that never worked when you tried to record ITV, I had to make do with watching the episode knowing that it was lost to time immediately afterwards. You know, like how people used to watch TV before videotapes were invented. I never knew how they did that. I wanted to keep the shows and films I loved, and if the tape didn’t work, I got very upset. Yes, I’ll admit, I didn’t have my priorities properly adjusted as a little ‘un.
When I stayed round my aunt and uncle’s on a Saturday night, I was very excited because they had a VHS player, and as such I could rent a film from my local video shop and take it round to enjoy. There were ten official Real Ghostbusters video tapes to buy or rent in the late eighties and early nineties, each with two episodes on them. These made up the first twenty adventures from the series’ syndicated season. Now this is where I have to explain the whole ‘syndicated’ thing, as I’m from the UK and I didn’t know what it meant either, as we don’t do that sort of thing here. Actually, sod that, I’ll just link you to Wikipedia:
Ghostbusters was of course a phenomenally successful film back in 1984, one we all know and love and so on, and unsurprisingly, it spawned a spin-off. Or two. Now this is where I explain the ‘Real’ part of The Real Ghostbusters. You see, there was another cartoon around the same time called Ghostbusters, which was a reworking of an unrelated 1970’s cartoon series. I guess you could say that this alternate cartoon was only brought back to life because of the success of the film, but it had nothing to do with the antics of Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, Egon Spengler and Winston Zeddemore, so the official film spin-off had to assert its credibility by chucking the ‘Real’ in the title. Get it? Got it? Good.
The film and the cartoon were essentially cut from the same cloth, but the animated version definitely forged its own character. First of all, the decidedly more adult-leaning humour of the film was substantially toned down. No naughty (if mild) swearing, no rude jokes and no alcohol consumption anymore. For those who giggled over ghost blow-job gags or loved to quote the immortal ‘this man has no dick’ insult, the cartoon would prove to be a far more family-friendly affair. One thing the film had which was surprising for a PG was the terror factor – Ghostbusters is still one of the most frightening family films ever, and even though the film’s been re-rated a ‘12’ here in the UK since, that’s for its sex references rather than the scary stuff. The show isn’t as intensely scary as the film’s more horrifying moments, but pleasingly, the show did not hold back on the ghoulishness either. The Real Ghostbusters is easily the spookiest, most eerie and unsettling cartoon of its time. Many of its fans have their moment in the show that petrified them – I have more than one myself. This is what gave the show its distinct edge – the supernatural theme made it a darker proposition than any of its contemporaries, and at times it really did push the limits as to what was acceptable in a children’s cartoon. Of course, above all else, it was huge, huge fun, and the spookiness was naturally tempered by the quintessentially eighties upbeat tone.
So what had changed? Well, personality wise, the new Ghostbusters did share the essential characteristics of their filmic counterparts – sleazy, wisecracking Peter, enthusiastic and child-like Ray, genius and sober Egon, down-to-earth and friendly Winston – but looks wise they were quite different. There were no resemblances to Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis or Ernie Hudson here. The most immediately notable difference was Egon, who changed from the straight-laced if slightly eccentric doctorly type to a wildly bequiffed nerd-hunk. As for the voices– Peter was now voiced by Lorenzo Music, who performed the voice of fat, lazy ginger feline Garfield. Ray was voiced by Frank Welker, who among voicing many other characters, aliens and animals in his career, was instantly recognisable as Freddy from Scooby Doo. Egon was performed by Maurice LaMarche, who has voiced a kabillion characters throughout the history of animation. Bizarrely, Ernie Hudson auditioned for his own character but lost out to comedian Arsenio Hall. Ouch. All four actors suited these characters like a glove. Then there was Janine, the sassy secretary who may have had the same take-no crap attitude as Annie Potts did in the film, but looks wise had been changed into what Potts herself might have selected for one of her many wardrobe changes in Pretty in Pink. A shock of red hair and multi-coloured attire, not to mention those angular spectacles made Janine one of the most of-its-time elements of the show. She was splendidly voiced by Laura Summer, and when she and Music departed the show, RGB suffered a fatal double-smackdown.
Oh, and of course there was Slimer. You know, the green ghost who ate everything and anything. He appeared in the film as a mischievous but relatively friendly spook (friendly compared to say, Gozer), but remained anonymous until the cartoon blessed him with a proper name. You find out exactly how he came to live with the Ghostbusters in fan favourite episode ‘Citizen Ghost’, so I’ll spare that little story ‘til I deal with that episode proper. If the Ghostbusters antics sealed the deal for older kids, then it was the adorable/irritating Slimer that was guaranteed to win over the infants. Slimer’s schtick was that he would slime Peter’s clothes or steal Peter’s foot-long sandwich almost every week, which usually led to Peter wanting to zap him into oblivion. The rest of the gang’s tolerance towards Slimer was extraordinarily far-reaching – I have to say, I sided with Peter almost every time, but Slimer would usually prove his worth and resourcefulness in saving the day, even if half the time he was the one who accidentally caused the problem in the first place.
Then there were the ghosts. Demons, vampires, poltergeists, trolls, boogiemen, Valkyries, dragons, goblins….even the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse make an appearance in one excellent episode. Some were funny, some were a nuisance, some were small, some were huge. Some were spooky, some were terrifying. All proved to be a formidable challenge for our ghostbusting quartet every week, but as this show didn’t stick to a long-running storyline and that each episode was self-contained, everything would always be back to normal by the twenty-two minute mark, even if some of the problems contained involved nothing less than THE APOCALYPSE!!!! This usually meant a feeling of déjà vu every week, but when you’re a ten year old, you fail to notice the repetition.
The whole of the glory days were supervised by story editor Michael J. Straczynski, who would go on to commandeer Babylon 5 and become a well-known comic book writer, and much respect should go to this man for the overall identity and impact of the show. Then there was also the music, which was partly composed by the ubiquitous Shuki Levy, whose themes and hooks for this show range from pleasingly dated to downright fantastic. Of course, being made in the 1980’s, we do get the occasional appearance from a none-more-of-its time pop group called Tahiti who do their best to spoil the atmosphere with their tailored brand of lite-pop rock, but ultimately add to the show’s timely charm.
I will be revisiting each and every episode of The Real Ghostbusters’ glory days; that is, the first season that was 13 episodes long and screened on the ABC network, and the ‘syndicated’ season that was made up of 64 episodes. When I was younger, I thought that it was the syndicated episodes that came first and the ABC episodes afterwards. This would back-u p the general consensus that ‘Knock, Knock’ was the first ever episode, though if the ABC episodes really did come first, then that would make ‘Ghosts R Us’ the first episode and ‘Knock, Knock’ the fourteenth. Ah, confusion. I’ll be sticking with the running order showcased on the Time Life DVDs that came out a few years ago, which places the ABC episodes first. Still with me?
Anyway, after 79 episodes, the show went belly-up, the producers made lots of horrible changes, made the show softer, goofier and embarrassing to behold. I might review a couple of those episodes for comparison’s sake, but I’ll try not to. I’m just going to concentrate on the show I loved and not the monstrosity that followed.