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STUDIO: Shout! Factory
RUNNING TIME: 870 minutes
· Ghostwriter Casebook
· Ghostwriter Trivia
There’s this ghost…and he, like, writes to you?
Sheldon Turnipseed, Blaze Berdahl, David Lopez, Mayteana Morales, Tram-Anh Tran, and Todd Alexander
A group of Brooklyn preteens is united by the sudden appearance a ghost who can only communicate through the written word, and a series of mysteries in their home turf.
So, pretend you’re a parent. You don’t want to keep your kids on a short leash, but you’re still dad or mom, you still have some pull, and come on, they’re 13, you can take ‘em, right? One day, they come up to you, excited as hell, and tell you that they have a new friend who only talks to them on the computer, and the only people who talk to him are some other middle school kids from the neighborhood.
If this whole scenario sends every cell in your brain screaming about Megan’s Law violations, good job, have a cookie. If it didn’t, chances are, you grew up in the 90s, and watched way too much of this show. Also, you’re a neglectful monster.
As far as dated kids shows from a bygone era go, Ghostwriter is actually one of the better ones, besides ever reliable Sesame Street, and the ancient artifacts of forgotten awesome that were Square One TV and Encyclopedia*. The biggest flaw is that the acting ranges from Grade School Performance Of Streetcar to We Snatched This Kid From Famous Rays And Paid Him In Cannoli. None of the kids from this show went on to, well, much of anything really. Blaze Berdahl does voiceovers for TV, and that’s kinda it. and there’s a reason for that. However, this is, as everything on PBS, TV with a purpose. The main premise already stealth attacks kids with the right knowledge. Forcing them to think about how they use their words in everyday situations and thinking up innovate ways to communicate is wonderful in and of itself, even if the show itself sticks with a few tried and true ways to talk to the poorly animated ghost with the least. But the show’s strength is in the stories.
Nobody could accuse the show’s mysteries of being ingenious, but many of the mysteries at least play along the border of clever, and with a few exceptions (a case involving a world famous actor causing the main twitch of disbelief), there’s a healthy injection of true logic and realism involved. These kids don’t live in the same realm as Scooby Doo. They’re dealing with real world problems, albeit in 12 year old terms.
To wit, what really strikes me about the show in my old age, though, is how it portrays New York. It’s a relatively safer New York, of course–the kids don’t pass any sex shops, get face-sliced by Bloods on the subway, or accosted for being Muslim or anything–but the city isn’t an idealized version of itself. It was filmed in Brooklyn, and all the ghetto-bohemian charm that’s come to bite that place in its ass in recent years–thanks hipsters–is on display on a constant basis, as well as its shadier side. A case involving a homeless Vietnam vet-turned-street-poet gone missing (played by David Patrick Kelly, one of several “They got HIM on this show?!” special guests this show ends up with) actually turns down a tragic, heartbreaking road as it goes on, and the show doesn’t flinch from that. It’s kind of a beautiful thing to see a kids show be urban without being a caricature and the backdrop gives the show a charm and edge that the showrunners wisely never shift to the wayside.
The $10 million question, of course, is would a kid in 2010 still dig on this the way a lot of kids did back in the early 90s? Difficult to say. Never minding the 90s aesthetic–Jamal wears some outfits here that still keep Kid N’ Play up at night with screaming terror–just the way the gang uses computers is hilariously dated, and there are some eyerolling moments where the show tries too hard to be inspirational and uplifting to kids and instead comes off no better than those “Everything is HAPPY!” school assemblies with the disturbingly upbeat teenagers who say no to drugs and always recycle Gen Xers got way too familiar with in the 80s and 90s. But the show still makes more of an effort to speak to kids on a more down to Earth, universal level than anything else I can really think of with an educational ethos in mind, and that has to count for something. I’d say, it’s worth a shot.
Not like a kid will care, really, but the series was definitely ported over from VHS, and it’s almost like the people behind it went out of their way to let you know it. There’s seriously a moment in the first episode where a stripe of magnetic distortion runs across the screen. Wow.
Sparse as it may have been, it’s hard to deny Lucas’ first draft of the Phantom Menace script was at least a more coherent, focused product than the finished film.
I only mention that because there’s nothing else to mention really. The cover says they include a Casebook, but it’s really more of a pamphlet with a few lines of blank space for each case. Meanwhile, you can buy the same kind of notebook the DVD case is designed to look like for 49 cents at a corner store. There’s also a Ghostwriter trivia game at the end. Guarantee you, if you actually sit them down to watch this, your kids will not appreciate there being a quiz at the end of the rainbow. Lackluster, but, really, be lucky somebody remembered this show and got it released at all.
*–seriously, if you remember those two, you’re my hero. You just vindicated my entire childhood.