Laura Remembers Ghostwriter
Ghostwriter is one of those shows I used to love when I was about nine. This was around the same time period that I liked Adventures in Wonderland, but you see I loved Ghostwriter with much more fervor. While I liked Wonderland, I was aware that it was a bit juvenile for me. I don't think I had the same feeling about Ghostwriter, which gave me that warm and fuzzy feeling that I now only get from fairies and Christmas.
As per usual, my memories on the subject are fuzzy, and the things I remember may not be the most important things. Let's see what I can do.
The ConceptA group of multicultural friends are brought together by a mystical force that only they can see, possibly a ghost, which appears as an ethereal sort of falling-starrish glow, and which can only communicate with them by rearranging existing letters (from signs, books, notes, graffiti--whatever happens to be around) to form messages. The kids, in turn, could only communicate to Ghostwriter by slowly writing out messages while sounding out the words. The ensemble cast slowly grew over the course of the show as more children were "chosen" to see Ghostwriter and its messages.
The SettingNew York City, present day (1992-1995)
The CharactersIn the first episode Ghostwriter chose his first two victims. The 'Writer has good taste: the Original Two are the best characters. They are:
Jamaal: Jamaal was one of those really nice, together guys, like Pablo from Zoom, only fictional. He was a natural-born leader, a quiet driving force who led with the power of his charismatic sweetness. PLUS, he was played by a kid called "Sheldon Turnipseed"! Wow! If I could, I would marry Jamaal.
Lenny: Lenny was a cool tomboyish girl who wrote music. She was a tough, smart latchkey kid with a lot of courage and resourcefulness. And she was pretty cute, if I remember correctly. In the later episodes, she started developing breasts, which made me feel funny inside. If I could, I would marry Lenny.
Jamaal and Lenny's golden age of being the only two Ghostwriter kids only lasted for about the first episode, but they were always regarded as the first and best in the team. They were the ones to explain Ghostwriter's power to the later members of the team. And the unlikely friendship that they forged after each independently having the Ghost talk to them would last for the remainder of the show's run. The bond between Lenny and Jamaal was a beautiful one.
Now on to the rest of the characters.
Alex: He worked in his family's grocery and was about the third kid recruited by Ghostwriter. I don't remember much about him.
Gaby: Alex's exuberant, outgoing little sister, who shared a room with him and also worked in the store, was chosen next, to Alex's dismay. But the secret they shared made them closer as siblings. Gaby was the first of the younger tier of Ghostwriter kids; while Lenny, Jamaal and Alex were all in about seventh grade, I believe Gaby was still in elementary school when the show started. I think the second or third season was her first in middle school.
Tina: Tina was Gaby's friend from school, another of the younger set. I guess she must have been pretty cool, because I remember liking her, but I don't remember much about her.
Hector: Hector was always branded as "Johnny-come-lately" to me because he appeared in the final season. He was little urchinish outcast taken under the wing of one of the older kids--Alex, I believe--shortly before being accepted into the fold by Ghostwriter. He became the new youngest, as he was still in elementary school when he came on the show, and by that time Gaby and Tina had already graduated to their first year of middle.
Jamaal's Grandma She was the sort of official mentor for the team, an intelligent, kind, open-hearted postal worker.
Lenny's Dad He was a musician, I think, and he was one of those cool dads who's sort of absentminded and doesn't really know how to be a dad, so he sort of lets his daughter do whatever she wants, and treats her as an equal, and she learns a lot of responsibility this way and takes care of the everyday business of living in the household, so she and her dad are sort of codependent. It was cool.
Storylines I RememberGhostwriter episodes ran in story arcs of about six episodes each. During each arc, a mystery was discovered and solved, the characters got more and more involved, some characters fell into danger. A new team member was introduced at a rate of about one per story arc.
At the beginning of every episode except the first one in the arc, Jamaal's voice would cry "Rewind!"; a clip show of scenes from previous episodes would be shown backwards at about 4x speed with a rewinding noise, and then the footage would play as Mr. Turnipseed narrated pertinent information from the story so far.
I remember very little of storylines. Here goes:
Tina's Movie Star Mystery This is the one I remember best, strangely. Tina became an assistant to this aging movie star. One of her duties was to write responses to the woman's fan mail, and I remember this one scene where she wrote a really stiff, businesslike reply, but had to keep rewriting it in order to capture the ex-star's gushy, oh-so-fabulous voice (the movie star called everyone "pookie"). The mystery occurred when it became evident that someone was trying to kill the movie star. I actually remember who did it, too, but I won't spoil it for you. I will tell you, however, that one of the clues was "copper bob"--the team found it by doing a rubbing of the topmost page on the suspect's phone pad--and they had to go through the various possible meanings of that phrase.
The Hacker A hacker was screwing with the school computers, changing kids' grades, implanting viruses, and delivering a bomb threat. To protect their school, their friends, and themselves, the Team has to use the external modem on Jamaal's computer (the first time I ever heard the word 'modem' was through this show!) to track the criminal into a private chat room where he discussed his plans before the assembled hacker audience. Soon, however, the team's chat room persona is discovered to be a goody-two-shoes interloper, despite their clever choice of "handle" (which I can't recall at the moment). Ah, suspense!
Other than that, all I remember is little things: disjointed scenes and concepts. Like this:
The Pens Early in the series Jamaal masterminded the concept of carrying a small black pen--similar in size, shape and ink quality to your average Pilot pen--on a string around one's neck, so he and Lenny would always have something to write with if they needed to communicate with Ghostwriter. As new members were inducted into the Order of Ghostwriter, the typical ceremony was to award them with their own pen necklace.
Casebook They kept the clues about the case in a notebook called the "Casebook." I'm not sure if they each had one or if there was a communal one or what.
Lenny in the Sewers Once Lenny was in the sewers.
Jamaal's Computer In the first episode, Jamaal's sister left for college, leaving him her old word processor. It came in useful on many occasions. He often used it to type messages to Ghostwriter; a sage decision on his part, as, unlike the childrens' usual written notes, it left no trace of a strange, one-sided dialogue that could surely be used as evidence against his sanity if opportunity arose.
The Box of Serenity One of the girls once made Ghostwriter a nice little home/bed-type place by filling a shoebox with happy words like "relaxation" and "peaceful".
Codes One time Alex was teaching Gaby about different ways to write things in code. I think they wanted to code some of their messages to Ghostwriter. It was really cool in my nine-year-old mind. I kind of love codes.
QuestionsAs I think about Ghostwriter, questions arise in my mind about the basic premise, powers, and limitations of Ghostwriter. I'm not sure if any of these were ever answered on the show.
1. What is Ghostwriter, anyway? I feel like allusions were occasionally made to its being a ghost, but whose ghost?
1a. Male or female? What profession? What were the circumstances of its life? How old was it when it died?
1b. In what era did it live? When did it die?
1c. Can it remember consciousness as a past being? Does it have personality?
2. Why does Ghostwriter want to help these kids? It seems to basically do whatever they ask him to. Why? What made it decide to start helping children? What is it getting out of the deal?
3. Only certain children can see Ghostwriter. Why? Are they chosen by Ghostwriter itself, or some other force? Are they chosen at all--is it just random?
3a. How come the only children who can see Ghostwriter live so close together, and, in fact, are friends?
3b. Is there a limit to the number of people that can see Ghostwriter? Why doesn't it make everyone see it? Does it just want people it likes?
3c. Do the children lose their ability to see Ghostwriter as they age? If so, that's really sad.
4. What are Ghostwriter's powers, exactly? It would seem that it can read super-fast, rearrange letters (in a semi-illusory manner, for no one else notices the letters being rearranged except for the chosen kids), and travel very quickly. Are these the limits?
4a. The children often write messages to Ghostwriter, but how do they let it know what they want it to read? I guess if they see his sparkle-glow around, they know he's likely to read whatever's in the area. But can they "call" him?
I feel like the potential of Ghostwriter's power was underused. They could have used him to spy on top-secret government documents or something! Or to gain access to private sections of the library! Or to find out what Susie's writing in that secret note to Sarah in math class! They could have used his speed-reading abilities to their advantage in school, at least. Quick, Ghostwriter, go through this Amy Tan book and find pertinent quotes for my report.
And Ghostwriter could travel really fast! I know Jamaal had a modem, but this was largely pre-internet. They could have used Ghostwriter to communicate with people around the world. If I had access to Ghostwriter, for example, I'd use him to send little messages to Nick in California (providing Nick saw him also; and I see no reason why he wouldn't.) At the very least, they could have used him as their personal messaging service. "Ghostwriter, tell Gaby to meet me after school." "Ghostwriter, tell Alex I'm gonna be late for work." "Ghostwriter, tell Jamaal I love him."
But I guess Ghostwriter chose his kids wisely, because they never made any attempt to exploit his power. If they tapped his abilities as a spy, speed-reader, or messaging service, it was in an emergency, or to aid them in solving a humanitarian mystery. Those kids were allll right.
I was always disappointed that I never got to be a Ghostwriter kid. I carried around a pen around my neck and everything. But that primitive-computer-animation glow never came. And I never got to meet Lenny or anything.
But, Ghostwriter, if you're reading this, I still think you're pretty cool. Sure, you weren't as awesome as Lenny or Jamaal, but as a character, I mean, you were okay. And I think it would be cool if you were my friend. I mean, they're pAlexably grown up by now, but you're a ghost, so you're still the same as you were, right? I promise not to exploit your powers, even if I think of ways to do it, cause I'm basically a good person. And I'm still a kid at heart.
And I still carry a pen around my neck, just in case.