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Did You Already Know About This?: 1997’s Awesomely Dark Animated Series Extreme Ghostbusters

Sometimes I come across an old movie or TV show which leads me to ashamedly wonder, “How did I not already know about this?” Last time this happened, it was Lee Majors’ TV show The Fall Guy. This time, it applies to a syndicated animated series which aired for one season in 1997:

Title: Extreme Ghostbusters

Premise: Ghosts. They get busted. Duh.

Except this time Messrs. Venkman, Stantz and Zeddemore aren’t around to kick ghost ass, having retired from the life after work dried up what with there being no more ghosts left to bust (they were too good at their jobs!). Dr. Egon Spengler stayed behind to live in the firehouse, monitor the containment unit, keep an eye on Slimer and teach sparsely-attended classes on the paranormal at a local college. When supernatural threats return to New York City, Spengler deputizes his four students to become the new Ghostbusters.

That means Extreme Ghostbusters, a sequel series to The Real Ghostbusters, is really “Ghostbusters: The Next Generation.” Spengler, Slimer and Janine Melnitz (as the secretary) are the only returning cast members, easing the transition to the new crew: a goth girl with a passion for the paranormal, a white jock who just happens to be in a wheelchair, a sarcastic Latino who has a thing for the goth girl and a black nerd who becomes the team’s mechanics expert.

The adventures they have together are in keeping with the comedic spirit of the movies and The Real Ghostbusters, but with a grittier edge. For example, the Ray Parker, Jr. theme song is given a rock/punk update, the animation is darker and the storylines a bit more mature.

My Reaction: This series comes to me courtesy of Hulu’s home page, which just happened to prominently display Extreme Ghostbusters the same day the first trailer for the new Ghostbusters movie dropped online. I’m on to you, Hulu, you savvy bastards.

As I followed the links to learn more about this so-called Extreme Ghostbusters, I reflected on what this show could possibly be. I already knew about Filmation’s un-related 1986 animated series The Ghost Busters. I grew up on The Real Ghostbusters, which ran from 1986-1991. I had Real Ghostbusters toys and everything. But Extreme Ghostbusters? Wha’choo talkin’ ’bout, internet?

I rolled my eyes at the use of the word “extreme” in the title. Oh, how very 90s of them. This must have been born out of the same kind of clueless network executive meeting which led to Poochy being added to Itchy & Scratchy on The Simpsons:

371003371220371837Aww crap. Did Slimer get a Poochy makeover? Did they give that adorably ugly little spud a backwards baseball cap, cut-off jean shorts and sneakers? Did he start shouting “to the extreme!” into the camera even though he’d never been able to really talk before?

819751In short, how hard was this going to suck? Just how “extreme” did they really go with this?

Well, watch the opening credits and behold the new version of theme song, which takes the memorable melody Ray Parker, Jr. stole from Huey Lewis and filters it through dredging metal guitar and distortion:

Ugh. Just ugh. It’s not that I necessarily dislike this version of that song, but when you combine it with those visuals it screams, “We at the network want something with attitude. Something edgy. Something to tell those slightly older kids that this is the show for them.”

However, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. A network note like that led to Batman Beyond and its Rob Zombie-esque opening credits sequence in 1999, and though the WB TV show is long gone Batman Beyond lives on to this day in the comics. Similarly, as I’ve now discovered there are many Ghostbusters fans who hold Extreme Ghostbusters in the highest regard.

In late 2014, moviepilot’s David Corinne Barnett argued Sony would have been better off pursuing a film adaptation of Extreme instead of Paul Feig’s entirely new version with Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. His reasoning was fivefold: 1) Extreme had a surprisingly diverse cast covering multiple ethnicities; 2) They fought ghosts, sure, but plenty of other supernatural and paranormal creatures; 3) Slimer was used not just as the group pet but also as a helpful ghost detector; 4) The original Ghostbusters were acknowledged and factored into the universe, but gracefully passed the baton; 5) The series remained true to the spirit of the movies while also expanding what was possible in the Ghostbusters universe.

Frankly, I just wasn’t seeing any of that as I watched the two-part pilot. I couldn’t move past my own cynicism. Plus, as it has been years since I watched The Real Ghostbusters I had to re-adjust to that style of animation, even though Extreme‘s version of it is darker and more angular.

indexheaderAs the pilot played out, I somewhat absentmindedly scrolled through the descriptions of the later episodes, looking for perhaps an obvious “If you don’t like this one, you simply won’t like this show” candidate. Instead, I was struck by the inventiveness, maturity (by children’s cartoon standards) and general “WTF?” nature of many of the storylines. For example:

  • Episode 3. A rabbi’s son creates a golem to ward off vandals who have been spray painting anti-Semitic symbols and destroying the temple late at night.
  • Episode 4. The XGBs investigate strange occurrences in a recently renovated hotel and face a creature that brings to life any intruder’s innermost fears.
  • Episode 5. The XGBs encounter spirits who enter the mortal realm through writing. They have now taken the form of villains from the stories of famous horror novelist J. N. Kline.
  • Episode 6. A petty thief steals a pouch of runes from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and it soon becomes clear that anyone who touches one of the cursed stones will become a slave to a self-proclaimed god.
  • Episode 9. The XGBs go after vampiric clowns that devour victims that laugh in their presence
  • Episode 15. The XGBs must protect a town from the Jersey Devil, despite not having any of their equipment.
  • Episode 25. Morpheus, the dream ghost, uses an obnoxious talk-radio DJ to turn people’s dreams into living nightmares.

With my interest piqued and my cynicism debunked, I finally warmed to the new characters.

Garrett, Kylie, Eduardo, Roland + Slimer

Garrett Miller is an adrenaline junkie with many jock-guy attributes, but he also happens to be in a wheelchair. Making him a paraplegic is just enough of a twist on what would otherwise be a rather familiar character type. It turns him into more of an aspirational figure. Kylie Griffin is the moody, but thoroughly competent one whose interest in the paranormal turns out to be related to a deeply felt loss in her family. Her gender isn’t of a particular significance to the team except for how it relates to Eduardo Riviera, the slacker who doesn’t know how to deal with his feelings for her. Roland Jackson is the “square” of the group, a nerdy car enthusiast who just happens to be black and voiced by Carlton from Fresh Prince of Bel Air (Alfonso Ribeiro).

They’re not carbon copies of the original Ghostbusters, and their inevitable bickering never grates. Or at least it hasn’t so far. I’m only 10 episodes in at this point (there are 40 total episodes). My favorite of the bunch is “Deadliners,” which is like the Goosebumps movie meets Hellraiser. I never thought I’d see Ghostbusters fight glorified versions of the cenobites, but here we are. And that wasn’t the only time I was surprised by how far they managed to stretched the Ghostbusters universe without breaking it. For example, the third episode is all about bigotry and hate crimes, and another episode deals with how much Kylie misses her dead grandmother. Contrary to my fears, it never stoops to undercutting such mature storylines by having anyone yell “to the extreme!” into the camera.

By this point, I’ve been so won over by this show that I actually kind of like the theme song now.

I’m sorry Extreme Ghostbusters. I was wrong to ever doubt you.

What about you? Have you seen Extreme Ghostbusters? If so, do you have a favorite episode? Or are you, like me, just finding out about all of this for the first time?

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