There’s a new Ghostbusters movie, and for all intents and purposes, it’s a lot of fun. Interesting new characters, some nostalgia, terror dogs, Paul Rudd – Ghostbusters: Afterlife ticks many of the necessary ectoplasmic boxes. Yet, I’m not all that taken by it, and that’s not because it’s bad per se, it’s simply that the best sequel came out quite some time ago.
No, I’m not talking about the under-appreciated comedy movie Ghostbusters 2, or 2016’s unfairly maligned reboot. Nor am I referencing the animated series The Real Ghostbusters or the 2009 action-adventure game that featured the original cast. This is about when Ghostbusters became darker and weirder and more progressive than it’s managed since, in a ’90s show that was in the right direction at the wrong time.
Extreme Ghostbusters gave the ’80s movie the Gen X treatment, with a younger set of heroes shouldered with defending New York from forces beyond our understanding. The ragtag team is rough around the edges, but no less dedicated, helped along by the watchful Egon. He guides them against some of the toughest spectral forces ever encountered, ten episodes of which are now freely available on YouTube.
Two things make Extreme Ghostbusters special: its whole-hearted ethos of “anyone can be a Ghostbuster”, and the way it embraces the scary side of the series. There’s a lot of genuine horror in the first two films, and this show leaned into that, while still remembering to be goofy and off-the-wall when the opportunity arose.
In this timeline, Egon, Peter, Ray, and Winston have retired from busting. All except Egon have left paranormal investigation behind entirely, whereas he now lectures about it to whatever few that’ll listen. His students, all four of them, get a field assignment to remember when he’s outgunned by something strange down in the subway, and they’re handed proton packs to help save the day.
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As terrifying as the encounter is, the group are exhilarated, designing their own equipment based on all the classic tech to take up busting full-time. Most have an affinity for it: Roland’s all about fancy new technology, Garrett’s a thrill-seeker, and Kylie loves the occult. The fourth, Eduardo, was just taking Egon’s class for an easy grade, but goes along for the ride, because who wants to be left out when you’re fighting poltergeists?
They all have distinct personalities. Garrett is a paraplegic from birth who uses a wheelchair, but participates in any outlandish activity he can; Kylie was drawn to the occult through her grandmother, with knowledge that rivals Egon’s; Roland is academically driven with hopes of going to medical school; and Eduardo’s a slacker for whom Ghostbusting becomes the purpose he didn’t know he needed.
Putting on those beige overalls, iconic nametags, and cumbersome particle accelerators means something different to each of them. It’s the chance to stare death in the face, or put incredibly specific information on the spirit plane to good use, or just finally doing something that feels worthwhile. They come to the occupation much like we approach our love of genre and pop culture, reciprocating and reflecting our fear of the unknown, desire to find acceptance, and infatuation with the dark and fantastical.
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The otherworldly adversaries put such dedication to the test. Mythological figures like the Golem and the sea dragon Lotan are made vivid and ethereal by the brilliant mid-’90s colours and well-defined linework. Jersey Devil acts as a mascot for cryptids, and if Ghostbusters ever wants the kind of success 2018’s Venom achieved, the producers will go whole hog on that particular subset of monsters.
Occasionally, something daft appears, like when the gang face a Leprechaun. But that’s all far outweighed by clowns that cause people to laugh to death, and people’s bones being stolen. Weird, existential body horror permeates the show, right down to the unsettlingly mellow outro. The big-screen Ghostbusters always saved the day, here, you’re rarely left feeling much comfort.
Which leads to what is potentially a hotter take than my headline: Ghostbusters suits TV more than film. No disrespect to Zuul or the pink goo, but they pale in comparison to the breadth of goblins, ghouls, nightmares, and impossibilities held within the 40 episodes of Extreme Ghostbusters. Monster-of-the-week formatting with greater character development makes for more well-rounded terror, this was evident in The Real Ghostbusters, and it’s further realised with this follow-up.
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Anyone can bust ghosts, and sometimes the hardest jobs fall on the unlikeliest of heroes. By the end of Extreme Ghostbusters’s one season, Roland, Kylie, Garrett, and Eduardo should’ve become legends in the field. Well, to me they are, and now a bunch of episodes can be watched on YouTube, maybe they’ll get their due. But if the incessantly reference-laden Afterlife suggests anything, it’s that other Ghostbusters fans and I have very different answers about who we’d like to answer the call when there’s something strange in our neighbourhoods.