The Real Ghostbusters Episode 16: Play Them Ragtime Boos (1987)

ImageHa-ha. See what they did with the title there? Later on we’ll get Boo-Dunit, Ragnarok and Roll, Moaning Stones, Ain’t NASA-sarily So… all of them pun-tastically dreadful. Actually, scratch that – I really like Ragnarok and Roll, that’s a good one. And these are just the ones from the good era of the show – I quickly glanced at some of the episode titles from the crap era, and I won’t even give them the dignity of naming names here. Besides, Play Them Ragtime Boos is another delightful early episode, the one with the jazz ghosts. We start off with the most innocuous start to any episode ever, just a musician on a shack in the bayou, playing away, not bothering anyone, just doing his thing….and then he disappears. He leaves the instrument behind, so I take it that’s not haunted. Hardly the most intense opening, but I like it – these ghosts are not overtly malevolent or evil (though their actions do bring about catastrophic potential), they’re just cool cats lost in music, that’s all.

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The guys are on their way to New Orleans for a convention but all Peter’s interested in is Mardi Gras. Ray tries to cheer him up by promising him a great stay at the hotel they’ve booked – from the brochure it looks terrific, except we soon find out that it was written in 1932 and the actual Hotel Bordeaux is a complete dump. It is almost at one with the swamp. Oh well, at least the owner is a beauty named Marie, so Peter forgets about comfort and instead tries to get laid. Well, this is a children’s cartoon, so ‘getting laid’ is not really appropriate, but us grown-ups know what he’s after.

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Night falls and the guys have got off to sleep relatively easily (can’t be that uncomfortable then) but something’s in the air – all the townsfolk are outside sleepwalking in their jim-jams and Ray (only Ray) wakes up from his slumber in a state of possession (or ‘preternaturally induced hypnogogic ataraxia’ according to Egon) and joins the crowd. Egon notices this and knows something is wrong. Peter half-notices this and blearily asks for a sandwich. That’s quite a heavy snack for someone who’s only just woken up – I can’t handle more than a bit of toast and coffee in the morning myself. Turns out that the local jazz band is playing ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ and nobody can resist it. Well, I suppose it’s a fine standard and difficult to ignore, but by the end of this episode you might have gone the way of the crazy after hearing it too much. Anyway, this supernatural jazz is making the clocks go backwards, and not just for show either. Time itself is running backwards, with all the happy townsfolk blissfully unaware that they themselves are morphing back into 1930’s attire, while the town itself is going seriously old-school, changing from knackered old resort to hip ‘n’ happening halcyon spot. Peter’s well impressed and joins the dance, but Egon (clearly immune to the powers of trad-jazz) sees past the glitz and knows that none of this is good. Before things can go any further, Marie turns up and sprinkles some glitter over the band (but they don’t turn into The Glitter Band) and they disappear. In one odd shot, their instruments fall to the floor of what should be a gazebo, but appears to be some kind of out-of-this-world outer-space zone. All the streets become shabby again and the townsfolk return to their present-day state, one of whom really, really looks like a more rotund Ray.

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Marie, a fully-fledged mambo (a voudou/voodoo priestess and not a ‘mama’, as Egon goes on to correct Peter) helpfully explains just what’s going on – the leader of the band, Malachi, was a killer jazz player back in the day but died in the forties. He’s come back as a ghost to bring back the glory days (completely unaware of the subsequent rise of rock ‘n’ roll, reggae, disco, the whole indie scene, grunge, drum ‘n’ bass and dubstep among other things – actually this was made in 1987, so scrap the last three) by playing the same tune over and over again, and the more people he possesses, the more powerful he becomes. Now, as malevolent spirits go, Malachi’s plan to turn a worn-down old town back into a swinging party scene is one of the most seemingly harmless and actually most damn enjoyable schemes ever. Why can’t we just let him get on with it? Ah, but there’s a side-effect, as we’ll discover later.

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Okay, so Malachi’s a ghost, so let’s bust him, right? Wrong. The guys are on vacation, which means all their gear’s back at home. No worries, Janine can send it over to them, although when Egon rings her the next morning, their phone call distracts the poor girl enough so that Slimer can pinch her chocolate doughnut. By the way, Janine’s clearly in on Peter’s scheme to somehow get to Mardi Gras, almost landing him right in it over the phone. So let’s focus on what exactly is wrong with Malachi’s otherwise pretty cool plan:

Winston: So this time warp stuff could be a problem, huh?

Egon: Yes, it could even lead to chrono-synclastic infundibulum.

Peter: Let me guess, that’s bad right?

Egon: Imagine a world totally without progression – from past to present to future.

Ray: It would be an inverse, chaotic, ever-present now. Remember, time is what keeps everything from happening all at once.

Now that is spectacular stuff. Great, great writing. All of a sudden, Malachi is here to make sure everything goes his way, by turning up with his band, playing his signature tune to such a strength that the guys and Marie end up going way back to the American Civil War, dressed up in all the appropriate attire and everything. The flow of time is breaking down, and to make things worse, they’re literally in the middle of the war, with the South rampaging towards them from one side and the North from the other. Now this would be the most inescapable, portentous, doomed act break cliffhanger ever were it not for one thing. As soon as we enter Act 2, the guys are immediately hurled further back in time for no other reason than the writers realised they couldn’t kill off their title characters. This isn’t like Game of Thrones where anyone’s fair game – simply put, you cannot kill all of The Real Ghostbusters halfway during your fifteenth episode with more than a hundred episodes left to go.

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Luckily the funniest gag in the episode saves the day as the guys find themselves sent back so far in the past that Louisana hasn’t even shown up yet on the map – they’re neck-deep in water, their hair is all shaggy, they’re wearing ‘fur bathing suits’ and there’s a ravenous sea monster about to eat them all. Cue this delightful exchange:

Egon: Hmm. It appears to be a megaladon. That would narrow down the era somewhat.

Winston: NEVER MIND THE ERA! WHAT DOES IT EAT?

Egon: Er, anything smaller than itself, I believe.

Now Egon is on top form for so many reasons during this scene, the most obvious being the way he delivers that last line so straight-faced as everyone goes absolutely crazy and desperately tries to swim away. Also, before any of that, Winston says ‘guess who’s coming to dinner?’ Having a black character quote the title of one of the 20th century’s most famous films about racial tension couldn’t have been an accident, could it? Is the megaladon racist? Or is it just a funny line? I don’t know, but I can’t think about megaladons without thinking of the bad-movie classic that is Shark Attack 3: Megaladon, which starred entertainer, singer and Captain Jack himself John Barrowman and boasted one of the most jaw-dropping ad-libs in B-movie history.

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Anyway, the writers once-again realise they can’t have their cast eaten by a prehistoric shark, so they send the guys and Marie back to the present, where they continue to swim on dry land until they realise just how stupid that is. Peter is the last to suss out that they’re actually safe and everyone stares at him looking stupid until he quite matter-of-factly gets up, dusts himself down and frankly admits he’d rather not be here. Now the guys or Marie didn’t do anything to get themselves out of their two near-death experiences, so I guess it must have been Malachi, or the general craziness of the time collapse. We never do find out.

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Ray and Winston decide to head off to New Orleans to pick up their gear, and Peter goes crazy, as it means that they have the opportunity to go to Mardi Gras, but at least Marie’s still around for him to harass, except she’s not interested. Oh well, Egon brought a spare PKE meter to work out how to deal with Malachi – they can match his music with some music of their own, but as Peter says, who cares? Once they have their proton packs, they can just trap Malachi, job done, sorted. Oh, wait – the proton packs have been shipped to Hawaii by accident. Gutted. Oh well, maybe they can create a proton pack with any spare parts from the conference they were originally meant to be attending before all this Malachi business put a spanner in the works? This means driving right past Mardi Gras in a classic example of ‘so near, yet so far’ agony for poor Peter. By the way, one of the Mardi Gras floats looks pretty scary. They find the parts they’re looking for and get started on their new proton pack – well Ray does, as Winston and Peter seem to be merely relaxing in their chairs watching him work.

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Meanwhile Malachi is playing ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ AGAIN, so hopefully this anti-social nuisance can finally be disposed with. Egon is nearly fried when he touches the proton accelerator – seriously, it practically electrocutes him! Peter jokes about finding a bomb shelter but all the townsfolk start to turn old-school, so there’s no time for humour. Ray blasts the band and they disappear, but a major cost – the proton pack has gone into overdrive. In the show’s most laidback approach ever to an impending disaster, Egon casually informs Ray that he might want to remove the proton pack and walk away from it. They’re both remarkably cool given the pack is emitting the most urgently terrifying alarm noise ever. The pack explodes spectacularly and leaves a crater in the ground. Peter remarks ‘so much for plan A, time for plan B’. Oh, I thought the original proton packs were plan A, then this failed makeshift one was plan B and now it was time for plan C. Either way, this latest plan is a peach, and the reason why fans like this episode a lot. This is where the guys become rock stars! Remember Egon’s earlier suggestion that their own music could counter-oscillate Malachi’s own? Well, despite the fact that Winston can’t even play the kazoo, the whole thing should be easy as all the notes have been set out for them – all they have to do is supply air, something that Peter has plenty of, as Marie swiftly remarks. Nice one. Peter leaps at the chance t play guitar – that was inevitable, I suppose. Snappily, his guitar shapeshifts into different models right there in his hands, but Malachi’s playing that damned tune AGAIN, so there’s no time to waste. But how can the guys match this guy? Well, what’s more primal than jazz? ROCK ‘N’ ROLL!

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With Ray on drums, Winston on saxophone, Egon on bass and Peter on guitar (complete with new clothes), the Ghostbusters band start to play – however, their idea of rock ‘n’ roll is not Little Richard, Elvis or early Beatles – no, it’s more the slow and smoochy last dance stuff, a bit Enchantment Under the Sea from Back to the Future, you know? Malachi is visibly frustrated, so his band continue to play their song, seemingly with more oomph from the look of their playing, although this doesn’t affect the sound of the tune one bit. The guys then shapeshift into a new combo and jump from the 1950’s to the 1980’s, knocking out a bit of tried-and-tested Tahiti (the instrumental bits of ‘Party on His Mind’, which was playing during the Mardi Gras sequence earlier) and at one point changing their attire so that they resemble Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The killer move is saved for last, as they turn into a soft-metal outfit with outrageous hair – Egon’s admittedly already remarkable hair is given extra purple and blue, not to mention a spiky mullet effect, Winston’s hair turns green, Peter’s hair now resembles a more feral version of Egon’s regular do and Ray sports a Mohawk! Classic!

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This is way, way too much for Malachi’s band, who are sent back to oblivion. And you know why they failed? Stagnation. The Ghostbusters band displayed more growth and progression in their single minute of music than Malachi’s did for the whole episode. The growth rate of Malachi’s band can’t even be charted. They were treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality and bad poetry. Okay, that last bit was from a review about Spinal Tap, but the same theory applies. Music is like a shark. You stop moving, you die. Unless you’re AC/DC or Status Quo, where you can keep knocking out the same thing and still sell records. Anyway, Malachi’s band leave their instruments behind, just like the guy did at the start of the episode, so I guess the instruments really weren’t haunted.

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So everything’s okay – all that’s left is an awkwardly timed post-script where Peter’s off to Mardi Gras, despite the protestations of everybody else. They try to get a word in, but Peter’s not hearing it. The thing is, the others really don’t seem to be trying very hard to interrupt Peter – if they really wanted to get across what they were trying to say, they would have tried a lot harder than this. Turns out Mardi Gras is over, and the post office are sending the others on an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii to make up for the earlier delivery mishap. Peter’s already off though, so I’m thinking that the others’ utterly half-hearted attempts to reason with him were totally false and that they really, really didn’t want him to come to Hawaii. Either that or the direction was just a little off during this epilogue. Oh well, aloha.

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