In 1987 the new cartoon The Real Ghostbusters was an instant hit, with an instantly thick number of episodes (78 before Season 2 even began). ABC, for once, had the hottest show on Saturday Morning. What else could they do but tamper with it?
1987-88 was the infamous season where an outside group of consultants calling themselves “Q5” were hired to inspect, sanitize, focus-test and thoroughly scrub the children’s lineup with steel wool. Their partnership with the Alphabet Network only lasted for one year, because the new soft shows cratered in the ratings war — no matter how sincere they were about protecting children, only one thing really counts in the end. By 1989 things were back to normal with the debut of the Q5-unapproved “Beetlejuice.” But most of the changes they made to Real Ghostbusters stuck for the rest of the series.
Most fans agree the only seasons really worth caring about are Season 1 and the syndicated season; roughly the first half of the episode count. But let me say I don’t think everything past the Q-bomb was complete garbage. The 1989 Halloween special was great fun, and I loved the episode where they not only pointed out Janine’s changing model but worked it into continuity (stuff like this happened all the time on kids’ TV, and they thought we were too dumb to notice, but we always did). Also, seasons two and three have the best animation in the series. That has to count for something.
Some truly embarrassing things, however, happened thanks to Q5 and Venkman, Stantz, Spengler and Zeddmore will never live them down…
One night in New York, a lunar eclipse creates a tear in space-time and a ghost from another dimension slithers out of the continuum-crack. One can only imagine what unknown terrors exist in this dimension! Hurry, Ghostbusters, and save us from this–
Uh. Never mind.
Q5 didn’t waste any time. This is the first episode of the second ABC season and already, they’re battling babies instead of fanged horrors. It’s Egon who names her Spookums, because “my mother used to call me Spookums.” …Why was that, exactly?
Meanwhile, two angry large ghosts are causing trouble in Manhattan, and they seem to be looking for something. It takes the Ghostbusters an extremely long time to figure out what should be obvious, but eventually, they reunite Spookums with her parents and get them back home just before the eclipse ends and the dimensional crack closes.
Writer Len Janson said that an idea like this one would have been rejected during syndication, as its appeal didn’t translate beyond 9-year-olds. “Baby Spookums” isn’t completely unwatchable, but it’s a bad harbinger of events to come.
THE JUNIOR GHOSTBUSTERS
Another one of Q5’s demands was that there should be bite-sized versions of the Ghostbusters on the show, because as it currently was, there was no character children could specifically identify with.
I can kind of understand their thinking here. When I was a kid, I was much more interested in human TV characters my age. Every time I watched a sitcom where the kids in the family were just background noise, I got frustrated because I would rather be following the kids. However…..this wasn’t the case for EVERY show, and the audience response already proved it wasn’t the case for Real Ghostbusters.
The Ghostbusters were cool. Their proton packs were cool, their witty remarks were cool, and so were the monsters they faced. When you put kids in there with shoddy cardboard replicas of ghost-busting tools, it just isn’t as rad. We tuned in to watch Ghostbusters, not The Little Rascals.
There was more reluctance in the writers’ room to use the Junior Ghostbusters than any other network mandate. They only showed up for the bare minimum of appearances, and once Q5’s influence was gone, the Juniors were never seen again.
But not before leaving us with this series-breaking moment: in “Halloween 2 1/2” the kids and Slimer are trapped in a building. They don’t know how to escape, but Slimer has an idea: he covers them all with slime. “I get it!” says the lone female dripping with glop. “When we’re covered in ectoplasm, we’ll be able to walk through the wall like ghosts!” Indeed, it works….and it’s never brought up again. There are so many situations the Ghostbusters could have easily escaped if they had known about this, but for some reason, Slimer only told the Juniors.
The synopsis for this one reads as follows: The Ghostbusters are each separately invited to an event they’d be interested in, unaware that it’s a trap. They’re captured, sent to the Ghostworld and put on trial for crimes against spiritkind. Their only hope is Janine and Louis Tully, who have to put on ghostbusting gear and brave the Ghostworld to save them before they are sentenced.
That sounds awesome, doesn’t it? It’s not. Every last bit of promise in this premise was completely botched. The ghosts who kidnap and sentence them are portrayed as stupid bumblers, complete with extremely terrible jokes (“I now pronounce you man and wife! I mean, I now declare this bridge officially open! Er, I mean, I now declare you GUILTY!”) Egon asks what kind of court this is, to which an athletic ghost dribbling his own head replies, “A basketball court, get it?” Eventually the Busters are sentenced to “the Armpit,” which is a pit with a bunch of hairy arms waving around in it. If a bad Ghostbusters episode has a lame plot, it at least has an excuse for being bad. But when this happens….
And while I’m looking at a Louis episode, let me say this about him: why did he not have any of the traits he had in the movie? Louis Tully is supposed to be an incredibly awkward, weak-voiced, clumsy nerd. In the cartoon, Louis is just a man who does the Ghostbusters’ taxes. A tackily-clothed man, but an ordinary man nonetheless. It’s not as funny. He has no reason to be there.
SLIMER AND EGON TAKE A SHOWER TOGETHER
This is actually a thing that happened. (See “Big Trouble With Little Slimer” from Season 2.) The scene doesn’t last very long, but…you never forget it. I think this had to be the breaking point that made J. Michael Straczynski quit.
“First of all, we think Slimer should have 75% of the show.”
“Also, this cartoon is filled with grotesque images of genuinely frightening monsters. Do you think…you could eliminate Janine’s scary horn-rimmed glasses?”
“And since Winston is black, we think he should be the driver.”
“And finally, the animosity between Slimer and the gang should be toned down. Do you think Slimer and Egon could take a shower together?”
“I’M OUTTA HERE.”
In Season Five, several episodes were based around cultural trends of the time period. They had to battle Ninja Turtle-like ghosts at one point, and at another point their headquarters was taken over by a family of spooks that looked like the Simpsons and acted like the Bundys (I gotta love that, I’m sorry). Roger Rabbit had also just come out, and the RGB response was this awkward episode.
The real cartoon actually looked like this.
Ray is watching his favorite cartoon, Sammy K. Ferret, when some kind of spectral lightning strikes the TV and brings Sammy into reality. Sammy starts transmogrifying the entire city into one big cartoon as the Ghostbusters chase him for the rest of the episode. The biggest problem isn’t the stupid plot. It’s that Season 5 has the worst outsourced animation I’ve ever seen and that an episode requiring wacky Tex Avery gags was the worst thing they could attempt with it.
This is the framerate. No exaggeration.
That kind of humor relies heavily on timing, and this is less animation and more of a slideshow where everything is swimming through thick soup, struggling to move. To make matters worse, nobody seemed to have any experience designing deformed cartoon characters and the designs looked like they were drawn by a 9-year-old’s foot. I thought of making a video, but the anim-gif above is a fairly accurate representation of the quality. “Stay Tooned” isn’t just a bad RGB episode, it physically hurts to look at it.
Never mind that they already made an episode back in syndication about an animator and his creations which fit the show’s world much better. Never mind that an entire spinoff series existed that was built around oldschool cartoon humor, with much more fluid animation to pull it off. They already proved they could do it and they just plain failed this time. “Stay Tooned” was one of the last RGB episodes made and you can see why.
Speaking of “Slimer!”…..it’s not on the list because I enjoyed the weird thing. Sue me.