Throwback Thursday: Ghostwriter
Discovering the AV Club in college made me realize just how strong my relationship with TV was. We moved to NJ when I was 12 and reruns were the best immersion into American pop culture. I was the PERFECT candidate for after school specials. I distinctly remember rushing through my homework before 4 PM so I could get to Hey Arnold, followed by an hour of the Simpsons. A break for fresh air (my mother's way of ensuring I didn't become a couch potato- too late) and it was Seinfeld (how was I allowed to watch that?!) and Friends.
ANYWAY. TV is my best friend, but you knew that. But it also distinctly shaped my adolescence. One of my first crushes was Tom from Daria (explains a lot). Another was Alex Fernandez from the PBS show Ghostwriter. Featuring the most diverse cast I had seen and set in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, the show was about a group of kids who solve mysteries with the help of a ghost. According to producers, the goal of the show was to "get children excited about reading, writing and solving mysteries". BONUS: It also got me excited about ghosts and boys from Brooklyn.
Cast: Jamal is the first to "see" Ghostwriter. He dreams to one day be "a scientist that performs experiments in outer space." Alex and his sister Gaby live behind the bodega their parents owned. Lenni is an aspiring rapper, Tina wants to be a newscaster, and Rob is the token white guy. They all have an awesome pen necklace (which I still covet) and communicate with a mysterious ghost-figure who helps them thwart crimes.
Initial Impressions: Other than my massive crush on Alex, I remember how jarring yet reassuring it was to see other first generation immigrants depicted on TV. Even though I lived in a pretty diverse town, most of my neighbors were also from South-East Asia, so it was eye-opening to see characters of Central & South American heritage. It was also empowering realizing people of my own age can have agency and be incredibly brave. Also, I am STILL terrified by Gooey Gus. Don't know how that was appropriate for a kids' show.
Oh my god, this first aired 20 years ago: Producer and writer Kermit Frazier has since revealed Ghostwriter's true identity. Ghostwriter was a runaway slave during the Civil War,” he said. “He was killed by slave catchers and their dogs as he was teaching other runaway slaves how to read in the woods. His soul was kept in the book and released once Jamal discovered the book."
With such a rich history already in place in the writers/producers' minds, it is little wonder that this show was as diverse and well developed as it was. The characters all had dreams, fears, hopes and relationships with their families that were authentic and realistic.
Sadly the show got cancelled after 3 seasons due to lack of funding. I can't think of a better reason to get PBS around. Since we're remaking everything anyway, I wouldn't mind seeing a modern version of Ghostwriter. Maybe it uses emoji to catch bad guys?! Someone develop this, please.
Blink & you miss them guest spots: Samuel L. Jackson as Jamal's dad, Julia Stiles as an awesome computer hacker, Spike Lee, Daisy Fuentes, Judge Reinhold, Salt-N-Pepa!