There was a time when no one cared about Ghostbusters. It was the late ‘90s – the pre-Pokemon, post-Mighty Morphin Power Rangers days to be exact. Nobody’s kid was exactly clamoring for a sequel, reboot, or a Ghostbusters continuation of any kind – except for Dan Akroyd, who was practically lobbying for a third installment while sitting front row at the Ghostbusters II premiere. Which is why we have this: an awkwardly timed, tonally disruptive Ghostbusters animated series.
Enter a brand new cartoon that picked up the sticky, ectoplasm-covered mantle of The Real Ghostbusters and wore it slightly askew to evoke that wholesome sense of 1990s irreverence: Extreme Ghostbusters.
Living up to its name, Extreme Ghostbusters was extreme indeed. One glance at its radically-inclusive team lineup is all you need to notice that. The XGB are made up of people who weren’t usually portrayed as heroes on cartoons (and still aren’t, if we’re being honest). Also, the writing team was well aware of how its predecessor was both intentionally and unintentionally disturbing – because several of them had worked on it. That’s why the horror elements of XGB were dialed way the fuck up, becoming much darker than the Real Ghostbusters was during its heyday.
Extreme Ghostbusters had the balls to tackle heavy subject matter and broader social themes when we weren’t expecting it. It invited us into the psyches of its main characters, chronicling the struggles of their personal lives which usually intertwined with the ghost-of-the-week plots. To refer to Extreme Ghostbusters as a serialized story is stretching it, but there was a loose sense of long term continuity being played with, which more often than not took the form of throwbacks to The Real Ghostbusters.
(Oh, and yes that was a redesigned version of classic RGB villain Samhain in the intro. But no, he never appears in the actual show. So why was there was an action figure released as part of the corresponding toyline? The fuck if I know.)
With this dimension added to its storytelling, XGB was often thoughtful in ways that its parent series couldn’t be. RGB‘s optimistic cheese was swapped for melancholic decay simply because the climate of chidren’s television at the time could allow it. Thanks to programs like Batman: The Animated Series, which had aired in the interim between Real Ghostbusters and Extreme Ghostbusters, cartoons for kids could speak to all ages and be adult without being rated R. The writing staff, guided by the likes of Richard Raynis, Jeff Kline, and Dan Akroyd, would take advantage of this pre-millennial moodiness to usher the franchise into more dramatic territory.
Extreme Ghostbusters was produced by Adelaide Productions, the same animation house that gave us other animated TV adaptations of movie franchises that didn’t necessarily need it during the mid-’90s, like Jumanji, Men in Black, Starship Troopers, and Matthew Broderick…whoops… Godzilla (we wrote about all of these in more detail right here).
So why haven’t you heard about Extreme Ghostbusters before? Or if you have, how come you haven’t seen or heard much of it since? (Sheesh, it’s on Hulu now you guys. Catch up.) I’m sure the reasons I just outlined above played a role in its limited presence. It was bad enough XGB was written for an older audience. That it wound up lost in syndication and aired at ungodly hours of the morning didn’t help much either.
And let’s just say the marketing team didn’t fully grasp the essence of the show, or it’s true appeal. I mean, take a look at this promo:
Does that make you want to watch this show? In retrospect, maybe. But even if it showcases the most horrific monsters from the series, it downplays XGB’s mature direction. All of those factors combined left this experiment in genre-bending at a disadvantage, much like one of the marginalized outsiders you’d find on its team. Speaking of which…
The Extreme Ghostbusters were formed when a handful of misfit students signed up for Dr. Egon Spengler’s college course on the paranormal. Instead of making them buy really expensive textbooks they’ll only look at a handful of times, Spengler teaches these four whippersnappers all about busting: what it is, when it got started, and how it can make them feel good. These kids are:
Kylie is a goth girl. Since this series came out way before My Chemical Romance, she’s legitimately goth. But this was also a long time after darkwave came and went, so her influences are a little foggy. Still, Kylie looks like Siouxsie Sioux if she made a cameo in Rollerball. So that’s commendable.
It’s implied that Kylie is in her neo-Elvira phase because of the death of her grandmother Rose, who she talks to during the series from time to time. Finding out what happened to her after she passed on is perhaps Kylie’s biggest motivation as a character. It’s also seems like she’s got a thing for studious older men with ponytails and inadequacy issues (wink-wink).
Kylie is voiced by Tara Strong, who has worked on pretty much every cartoon ever animated past 1987. But you might know her as Bubbles from The Powerpuff Girls.
If you’re interested, here’s some pretty amazing Kylie cosplay brought to you by Deviant Art user EGB-art-fanfic. If you’re not, do it anyway. It’s really neat.
As XGB goes on, Kylie learns much from Egon. She eventually evolves into a junior version of him, having gained an expert knowledge base on occult mysteries from firsthand experience. Kylie also had a love/hate relationship with…
No, not Geraldo Rivera. Eduardo. Poor guy. I bet he gets that all the time.
Characterized as a “cynical latino”, Eduardo is XGB’s answer to Bill Murray/Peter Venkman. His saracastic demeanor conceals the more sensitive persona he hides within that’s mostly fueled by an internalized fear of failure (thanks for getting up close and personal, official website).
Mostly though, Eduardo is all about giving Kylie a hard time when he’s not jumping to her defense. Or saving her life. Or taking the blame for her. Or gazing longingly at her as she walks away. Or having intimate fantasies about her alone in the dark while touching his cartoon…proton pack. Because he’s a Ghostbuster. What did you think I was going to say?
Rino Romano, whose vocal chords immortalized Tuxedo Mask in the first thirteen episodes of the original DIC dub of Sailor Moon, Batman in The Batman and Luis Sera from Resident Evil 4, plays Eduardo and does a bang-up job doing it. I mean, his vocal stylings sound just “cynical” and “latino” enough to make it believable for me.
Since he enrolled in Egon’s paranormal studies class after seeing the Ecto-1 displayed at a car show once, Roland is most certainly the practical one of the bunch. He’s a mechanic who prides himself taking the WYSIWYG approach to life, which makes him a great help with tuning up the Ecto-1, repairing the proton packs, de-sliming the microwave, etc. Overall, Roland’s a nice guy. And…that’s pretty much all you need to know.
Mr. Jackson was played by Carlton from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air himself, Alfonso Ribeiro. Did you know he hosts America’s Funniest Home Videos now? (Does that make him the new Bob Saget?)
Garrett may have been born without the ability to walk, but that doesn’t stop him from living a thrillseeking, extreme sports kind of lifestyle. He’s the wisecracking daredevil of the group and he’s not afraid to rub it in anyone’s face. Having a main character with a life-affecting disability remains groundbreaking to this day, but XGB’s landmark in cartoon progress was taken down a few notches when their own friggin’ toyline failed to release a friggin’ action figure for him. As a matter fact, he’s the only Ghostbuster in the history of Ghostbusters not to have a toy likeness of himself collecting dust in Goodwills and Salvation Armies across the country. Way to go, Trendmasters. You had one job.
Fortunately, Garrett was still the kids’ favorite in most of the focus groups conducted prior to the show’s debut, so his character was considered a success. There’s a lot of insight about this how Garrett was created in this vintage interview with co-creator Bob Higgins. I recommend giving it a read if you’re looking for more general information about the creative process behind the scenes.
Does Garrett’s voice sound familiar to you? That’s because it belongs to Jason Marsden, who you may recognize from such animated features as Gummi Bears, Peter Pan and the Pirates, Kim Possible, Lion King II, and A Goofy Movie. Oh, he was also Thackery Binx from Hocus Pocus, and that strange grey-haired kid from Eerie Indiana, an obscure canceled TV show I happen to have strong feelings for.
Yep, he’s still blonde for no reason. But he got skills. And you need those to be a mentor. Also, glasses.
In Extreme Ghostbusters, Egon is an insecure overthinker, so he’s a lot like he was in The Real Ghostbusters (In fact, he’s still portrayed by Maurice LaMarche). Except now, he’s having a mid-life crisis which amplifies his neuroses. He serves the XGB in a managerial role for the most part, though there are certain points throughout the series that he does step up to save the day (pilot excluded).
Witnessing his students’ progress is both encouraging and discouraging for Egon; he’s proud to teach them how to bust, but he misses busting himself. I don’t know why he’s freaking out, because he’s still pretty good at it. Just ask…
Janine gets her old job back at the Firehouse when she also signs up for Egon’s Paranormal 101 course, because she’s a gigantic stalker of Swimfan proportions. According to the old official website, she spent all of her time between Real Ghostbusters and Extreme Ghostbusters “flitting from job to job…trying not to pine for Prof. Spengler” (She’s voiced by Pat Musick here, by the way).
Even though she greatly helps Egon out by keeping his books and clipping his toenails and all that jazz, he still doesn’t seem to notice her persistent advances. Maybe that’s because he’s secretly in love with…
I mean, Janine says they’ve been living together for a whole decade now. Slimer might look a little different by the way, but this big floating pound of goo is still the same adorable troublemaker from beyond that he’s always been. Which is good; he’s the grounding force of the Ghostbusters franchise, ghoul helps us. Except…he’s a little withdrawn in Extreme Ghostbusters, and not featured as prominently as he was during RGB. I, for one, am okay with that, even if it makes my face a little sad.
Slimer has friction with Eduardo sometimes, since he’s the “Peter Venkman” of the group. Or could be because of his hair. Either way, Slimer’s redesign makes him a little moodier and more odd, but that only makes us want to give him a big ol’ hug – after we put on our hazmat suits, of course.
Billy West voices our little Slimeball this time and does a great job.
Now that we’ve introduced the cast of characters, let’s look at the best episodes Extreme Ghostbusters cranked out. By the way, I recommend watching each one of these in the middle of the night. Preferably in an abandoned structure of some kind, with sharp objects lying around and a heavy breathing sound coming from somewhere you can’t tell.
Or the comfort of your own home works too. Whatever.
Ep. 1-2: “Darkness at Noon” Parts I & II written by Billy Brown, Dan Angel & Dean Stefan
The Extreme Ghostbusters’ first adventure covers a lot of territory, even for a lengthy two-part origin story. Achira, an entity that specializes in spreading disease, is unleashed by subway workers (much like how the Door of Hell is opened up in the Real Ghostbusters episode “Knock, Knock”). Egon can’t handle it alone, so he forms the new team from his small class roster. He gives them on the job training while infected, and while Kylie is possessed by Achira herself. Now that’s what you call a trial by slime. Er, fire.
Ep. 4: “Fear Itself”written by Duane Cappizi
Does everyone want to know what the deepest, darkest fears of each one of the Extreme Ghostbusters are? If you do, I’m not going to spoil it for you. Watch this episode and find out. Or read the Wikipedia entry if you’re strapped for time. Up to you.
Ep. 5: “Deadliners”written by Duane Cappizi
I admit, I was on the fence about Extreme Ghostbusters as a whole…until I watched this episode. “Deadliners” might be one of the most terrifying cartoon episodes I’ve ever set eyes on. I’m not saying that it made me pee myself or anything, but I was definitely squirming at certain points.
Actually, I’m surprised this episode is not more notorious than it is. It simultaneously takes on R.L. Stine and Hellraiser in the same bloody axe swoop. The XGB must defeat Cenobite-like creatures who operate on innocent people and turn them into monsters. Will they rescue that group of screaming people tied together with entrails in the corner over there? I wish I could say yes.
Ep. 6: “Casting the Runes”written by John Semper
A set of runes is stolen from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. When you touch them, you are sent to another dimension and put in the indentured servitude of a very unsympathetic hell-god. So don’t do it! Whoops, looks like Eduardo just did. Well…shit.
Ep. 8: “Home Is Where the Horror Is”written by Neil Ruttenberg
What happens when two young boys get abducted by an older woman when they stop by her home, hoping to sell her candy? The Ghostbusters have to step in and rescue them because it turns out the entire house itself is one big ghost. Yep, I’m not sleeping tonight.
Ep. 9: “Killjoys”written by Alexx Van Dyne
What would really disturb half of XGB’s target audience – and then some? Hmm. What about Vampire Clowns?
There’s a high probability that “Killjoys” might give you nightmares because most people are absolutely terrified of clowns. Me, not so much. But I understand why they’re scary, just as I understand that being bit by a vampire is not very fun and doesn’t feel too great. As does Eduardo, who not only gets bit by one, but eventually becomes a vampire clown himself whil slowly losing his sanity.
The gang tries to save him, but…
Ep. 18: “Ghost Apocalyptic Future”written by Steve Perry
Sci-fi visionary Steve Perry must be an X-Men fan, because he wrote this episode, a tribute to Days of Future Past (and a damn good one at that). When Kylie is suddenly catapulted to a dark future in which demons and ghosts rule New York, the gang works with a mysterious man from said future who switched places with her to get her back. Eventually they do, but after learning that they will all go on to be remembered throughout history as major heroes…except for Garrett.
Ep. 23: “Slimer’s Sacrifice”written by Adam Gilead
When Slimer finds himself trapped inside a containment unit (again), Eduardo must travel inside of it himself to rescue the big anthropomorphic booger to stop Ragnarok from happening (also again). Cue cameos from busted ghosts of yore.
Ep. 24: “Grundelesque”written by Martin Olson
Remember Grundel from RGB? He comes back here and creeps out Kylie and Roland’s little brother. It’s disturbing, but not as disturbing as “Deadliners” was. (Holy fucking shit.) Still, if the classic Grundel episode still bothers you, this will most likely have a similar effect on you. Or your children.
(Actually, forget I said that. Don’t show them this. Ever.)
Ep. 29: “Til Death Do We Start”written by Lane Ralchert
If you thought “Deadliners” dialed the horror elements up to eleven, this episode takes them to twelve, thirteen and beyond. It’s about a well-to-do “yuppie” who is being harassed by the ghost of a skinless vengeful bride who can fly. She also screams. A lot.
Don’t believe me? Just look at those screencaps up there! No, don’t look away. Keep looking…yes, that’s it…keep your eyes on the prize…
Ep. 35: “Rage”written by Thomas Pugsley & Greg Klein
Egon stays with Eduardo while the Firehouse is being fumigated. The problem is, his brother, an NYPD officer, hates the Ghostbusters and doesn’t approve of Eduardo’s involvement with them, so it’s just a little awkward. Oh, and there’s a troll going on a rampage across the city too.
Ep. 36: “Heart of Darkness”by Neil Ruttenberg
John DeLancie guest stars as Dr. Edward Kirilian, one of Egon’s old colleagues, who goes crazy and tries to open up a portal to the netherworld using crystal skulls at Kylie’s old junior high. Or something.
Ep. 37: “The Sphinx”written by Steve Roberts
Egon hits a mid-life crisis when he helps the extreme team hunt down The Sphinx, a creature who drains the brain power of the smartest people in the city when they fail to answer his riddle correctly. Admittedly, it’s a riddle we’ve all heard before in other, more cheesier cartoons than this. But since Egon gets a confidence boost by solving it after beating himself up all episode, we’ll file this plot under “simple yet effective.”
Ep. 39-40: “Back in the Saddle” Pt. I & IIwritten by Gary Stuart Kaplan, Larry Swerdlove, Brooks Wachtel
The series finale sees a long overdue event in the XGB universe come to pass – a crossover with The Real Ghostbusters team. Janine organizes a surprise party for Egon’s big 40th birthday and Peter, Ray, and Winston all show-up. But when a new ghost is reported across town, the original squad insists that they trap it instead of the XGB which leads to tension ahoy. In the end, the two groups learn how to work together to stop a mysterious entity from the Bermuda Triangle that’s heading towards New York City.
“Back in the Saddle” is the perfect note for Extreme Ghostbusters to go out on, as it demonstrates how the “new kids” handle things, and how much deeper and richer their world is compared to that of their predecessors. This isn’t to say that the Real Ghostbusters themselves are portrayed as shallow here; it’s just that their behavior is surprisingly consistent with how it was on RGB, so much so that it’s almost as if no time has passed at all. On top of that, it’s obvious Adelaide Productions took great pains to animate their faces in the same style as RGB instead of redesigning them completely.
This is also a frustratingly premature endpoint for a show that’s still starting up. “Back in the Saddle” feels more like the premiere of a second season that never happened, one in which the RGB crew was added to the cast, and the show could build a stronger continuity with its past while defining a new kind of future. (I guess we’ll have to settle for IDW’s comics instead.)
Extreme Ghostbusters spent a great deal of time and energy carving out its own dark niche in a franchise known more for its laughs than its scares. Extreme Ghostbusters was wise to pick up on the dark threads that The Real Ghostbusters left dangling in its wake, weaving together a rather mature exploration of the horrors of life, death, and beyond. It’s too bad that theoretical second season didn’t happen. It would have been great.
Extreme Ghostbusters might not have made a dent in TV history, but it did go on to enjoy success on the video game platform, with two different sidescrolling Game Boy Advance releases and a Playstation game called The Ultimate Invasion, a first-person shooter like Time Crisis but not nearly as pretty looking.
If you’re dying to know more about the Extreme Ghostbusters and the effects it had on Ghostbusters in general, YouTube user Phelous has a lot more to say on the topic in this highly infortmative video I suggest checking out. Until then, bust you later!
Stephen Harber ain’t afraid of no ghosts. Leprechauns, well, that’s a different story. Read more of his work here. You can find him on Twitter @onlywriterever. Check out the graphic novel project he’s been working on too, while you’re at it. Or else.