The Real Ghostbusters, Episode 18: ‘Sea Fright’ (1987)

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I have particularly vivid memories of the very start of this episode – I wasn’t the biggest fan of school, being a deluded misfit and all, so looking forward to the end of the day and getting home to watch some escapist TV was a big deal for me. I have big memories of getting to watch ‘Sea Fright’ on a Monday afternoon, and I remember really looking forward to this one because it had what I thought was the funniest moment in any Ghostbusters episode ever. I had already seen it on the VHS version that was available at my local video rental shop, and there was this one moment that had me literally on the floor laughing, tears in my eyes, stomach seizing up, the whole thing. It’s this bit about two thirds in the episode, where the episode’s antagonists (a spectral ship’s worth of ghost pirates) are well into their invasion of the city, plundering shops, scaring people silly and causing all kinds of anarchy. Well one New York resident notices the absolutely enormous ship floating along the streets and he jumps up in a right old state of panic before clumsily fleeing the scene. Yep, that’s it. Even when I re-watched the scene on that Monday afternoon I wondered what the hell I was on when I watched it that first time. It’s quite an amusing moment. Yet I was under the impression that this was absolute comedy gold. What a come down. Oh well.

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‘Sea Fright’ is a not-to-be-taken-remotely-seriously-at-all episode, despite a reasonably atmospheric opening where we journey beneath the waves, past some fishies and then to a treasure chest. One of the fishies floats and stares at the chest, like it knows that there’s something not quite right about it. The fish is right. However, us stupid humans don’t have that sixth sense thing going for us, so we – or more specifically, a hapless diver – swim in and grab the treasure chest and take it up to the surface but not before some weird green mist sneaks out… Keeping with the nautical theme, we cut to Ghostbusters HQ where the guys are working on Ecto-1 pretending to be pirates and singing sea shanties – appallingly and with no sense of harmony -in the process. That’s the great thing about sea shanties and their overall gruff boisterousness, they work for any voice, even one as bad as a Ghostbuster’s, or for instance, my own. The aquatic mood is rampant because there’s an upcoming exhibition at the local museum where explorer Max Palopolis is showcasing the six-hundred gold doubloons that he’s recently plundered. What are the odds that it’s the same treasure with all the spooky stuff around it that we just saw? Well, in case there was any doubt we cut to a hapless ship with hapless crew attacked by an absolutely ENORMOUS pirate ship!

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The guys are on the case, which is really mysterious apparently, and this is where Ray admits how much he loves a mystery. A few episodes down the line we’ll discover it’s really Winston who really loves a good mystery. They arrive at the knackered-out shell of the hapless ship, with Peter relegated to below deck duties, which involves him discovering the real reason why the ‘mess’ is called so. He also falls over twice, discovers the crew bound and gagged and is almost devoured by a demon bird. Not as scary as the demon bird Precious in ‘Mrs. Rogers’ Neighborhood’, but a formidable airborne pest nonetheless. Egon’s worried about the needle on the PKE meter practically burying itself under the weight of the all the nearby supernatural activity, and this is when we cut to Peter being viewed from the eye of a telescope, which is being held by this week’s chief antagonist, the pirate captain! Prepare yourselves… oh wait, what’s that music? It’s cute music! Fun music! It’s an instrumental version of the sea shanty that the guys were singing earlier, and no, it’s not remotely threatening. Sigh. Yes, ‘Sea Fright’ is an overtly comedic episode, one where even the villains are kind of goofy. Which is a shame, as Captain Jack Higgins himself has the potential to be quite frightening, what with his massive skull-head, but is lumbered with Stereotypical Pirate Captain Voice Syndrome and is one step away from being the Old Sea Captain from The Simpsons. Arrrr, me maties! As for the captain’s first mate, well he looks a little sad even. There’s melancholy in his sunken eyes, and he looks a little like one of the Gorgonites from Small Soldiers. As for the demon bird, it turns out the captain hates him to the point of wishing he could kill it ‘if it weren’t already dead’. Next up, some idiot sea patrol guys in their boat call out on their loudspeaker that the enormous pirate ship is illegally trespassing on these here waters, seemingly completely unaware that it’s an absolutely ENORMOUS PIRATE SHIP. I mean, these guys are just begging to be made an example of.

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Cue the crew jumping overboard and raiding this teensy-tiny boat, terrifying the driver so much that he jumps through the glass window and into the drink. One of the crew takes over controls of the boat, and before you get a chance to go ‘wait a minute, how does a centuries old pirate know how to operate the controls of a present-day boat?’, he reassuringly make a total pig’s ear of his plan to sail to God-knows-where, flies out of control and right into another boat floating calmly by the pier, causing it to explode. The guys become all-too aware of the impending chaos, leading Winston to worry about ‘who’s coming to dinner’ for the second time in a row. See my review of ‘Play Them Ragtime Boos’ for more detail as to the meaning behind this choice of line. Now this is where it’s made obvious that the ship itself is ghostly, made of ‘ectoplasmic lumber’ as Ray puts it. Nice! Ray recognises the ship and its crew and is all too aware of Higgins’ reputation as a mean mother of a pirate. Higgins declares war on the city – if they can’t find their own treasure, then they’ll just take whatever’s there. Looters! The guys try to nail the ghost with their proton packs all they do is create a zany light show, with the pirates coming back full throttle with a single cannonball which barely scrapes the guys and almost kills some poor lorry driver enjoying a sandwich on his break. Well, I say he’s on his break. He might have been on the clock. I don’t know. Anyway, his lorry is destroyed, and the guys’ Plan B is utterly rubbish, something about two of them hitting the ship high and the other two hitting it low. Hmm. The same thing happens as a result – nothing. Well, some of the crew look a little put out, but no real damage is sustained. The crew then decide to take the battle to the guys, leaping overboard and swimming underwater, sneaking up on the guys and emerging up and through the pier to catch them unaware. Peter gets a great terrified reaction shot as he sees a pirate –dagger in mouth- emerge from the wood right next to him. Egon tries something novel – he actually attempts to beat the pirate with the end of the proton pack but it kind of goes right through his head and hits, well something – there is a sound- but essentially nothing.

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The pirates essentially have the guys completely surrounded, but don’t kill them for no other logical reason than that they are the title characters. Ray is held up by a big mother and his pleas of ‘put me down’ are predictably answered with him being hurled into the sea. Like The Joker in The Dark Knight said, ‘very, very poor choice of words’. The other three are also thrown into the drink, so I guess murder isn’t on the pirates minds today. Well, I’m not sure come to think of it. That earlier cannonball would have surely killed the guys had they not ducked out of the way, so I guess this is another instance of the writers leading themselves into a corner and then realising they can’t murder their lead characters. The crew return to the ship – which is now airborne – and in a strikingly odd visual, the vessel now resembles a sepia-toned illustration which heads off towards the city and then disappears into thin air. That would have been a great moment to end the first act on, but instead we cut to the guys, having already got out of the water, take off in Ecto-1 to pursue the bad guys. Fade to black.

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Act 2 begins with the city in panic – keeping in the spirit of all things maritime, one shot even appears to have been drawn in ‘aqua-vision’ with the picture wobbling like the view through a glass of water. Weird. Essentially, the pirate ship has arrived and is floating through the city. One bloke exclaims ‘oh no…’, but in a way that suggests he wearily knew this was going to happen. There’s no real shock in his voice. Then again, I suppose if you lived I the New York of The Real Ghostbusters, nothing would be that shocking. The crew are loving the fact that the city folk are fleeing for their lives, and the prospect of old and new treasure nearby only gets them more optimistic. The guys meanwhile are in pursuit, and this is when Ray susses out that the pirates are after the very same treasure from the first scene. Duh! This is serious, they have to get to the ship as soon as possible! Only one thing – the car’s not going very fast. How can this be, since Ray only just tuned up the engine? Of course! It’s New York’s punchline to a joke nobody wanted to hear! Slimer! Little brat. Even Ray seems wound up here, and he’s usually the one who jumps to defend Slimer’s tendencies. I guess Ray loves Ecto-1 even more. Peter says that up until now it’s always been him alone who has wanted Slimer destroyed and now could be the time for any other Ghostbusters to revise their opinion. Winston informs Peter that he’ll get back to him on that one. Given his and Ray’s reactions, not to mention Peter’s long-standing hatred of the spud, this could have been the decisive moment when Slimer was to be permanently erased from existence, but given that Egon’s seen smirking at all of this, the hope of a landslide ‘NO on Proposition 24’ result was an impossibility.

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Next up is the worst sequence of the episode, and of the series to date, where the pirates’ idea of terrorising the city is to dress up as rhinestone cowboys and dance badly, accompanied by one of the more sugary musical themes of the series. Then they put the moves on some female mannequins and only after getting up close and personal with them (but not that personal – this is a kids show) do they discover that they’re made of wood. Idiots. After this is the bit I used to cry with laughter at when I was younger. Yes, the panicked bloke does a funny jump mid-run before he flees round the corner, but in all honesty, what did I find so hilarious about this bit? There are some shots of pirates eating bananas and a bit where the rhinestone pirates offer Higgins a comedy hat as their gift to him. Let’s move on. The guys move on to the museum, hoping that Max Palopolis will let them take the treasure to give back to the pirates but the bloke turns out to be a textbook tool, harping on about permission slips needing to be filled out and all other red tape. Peter quite understandably considers going home and letting Cap’n Jack take back his treasure himself, and to be fair, apart from stealing some cowboy boots and eating bananas without paying for them, the pirates haven’t actually done that much that was bad. Okay, they’ve almost killed a few people, but I must stress the almost. All they want is what was stolen from them. Ray’s pretty disillusioned about his hero shutting the door in his face, but you should never meet your heroes. Never mind, Egon has another plan. This involves setting up base in the huge ship exhibit outside the museum, and Egon hiding in a barrel with a hole on the top so that his eyeball can see outside. Slimer is starting to get in the way so Ray tells him to hide somewhere. The idiot actually takes refuge in the damn cannon of the ship, the very same cannon where the guys are planning to shoot a ball out from and destroy the pirates. Would this plan actually work? Not sure, but it sure is fun to see Slimer shot out of a cannon, looking terrified as he hurtles through the air. Heh heh. Amazingly, the cannonball does tear into the ship, which I wouldn’t have thought could be affected since it’s a ghost vessel and all that. The pirates get blasted at, which didn’t work the last two times but three times the charm, eh? This is where we get a hilariously wrong shot of Peter working his magic in a way that, well… well, he looks like he’s masturbating. Simple as. And given the length of his outstretched arm, it’s safe to assume Peter has good reason to be so confident around the ladies. I wish I could have ignored this bit – this is a kid’s show – but this shot is impossible to dismiss.

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Winston gets the tone back on track by swinging from a rope (but yelling like Tarzan, which sounds weird in a non-jungle setting) and committing acts of blastage, only to slam into the wall of the ship in the process. Meanwhile, Slimer and the demon bird are having a scrap – the last time the spud took on an evil bird he kicked the thing square in the nuts. This fight is a lot scrappier – they even smash through the window of the museum and beat the living ectoplasm out of each other in, around and through all the exhibits, which stresses out Max no end. Speaking of Max, he swears blind that no one will take his newly acquired treasure but as soon as the pirates appear he runs for it. What a joke. Just as Higgins is loving the fact that he’s been re-acquainted with all his gold, the guys manage to trap the empty ghost ship, which upsets the pirates so much they blindly venture outside the museum and get trapped too. Wow, that was easy. Even the demon bird gets trapped, much to Higgins’ annoyance. Note that the cowboy hat doesn’t get trapped. It should have, it’s horrible. Max then returns to the scene, demanding justice be handed out to Slimer, who helped wreck the museum. Oh don’t worry, assures Ray, he’ll be punished. Cut to the guys singing their sea shanty badly one more, treating the spud to ice cream. Note that Slimer is now wearing the horrible cowboy hat.

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This is definitely the weakest episode of the series to date – it has its amusements, but the second act errs to close to banality with all those unfunny scenes of pirate invasion. Overall, the episode is okay. It’ll do. Fair enough. Whatever. Nevermind.

EDIT: I originally reviewed this as ‘Episode 17’, totally forgetting about ‘The Spirit of Aunt Lois’. Whoops. This review has now been correctly re-titled to match its eighteenth episode status. A proper seventeenth episode review will land on this blog very, very soon.

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