Ghostwriter (TV series)
Surreal, quirky mystery/educational series on PBS and The BBC from 1992-1995 produced by Sesame Workshop. A group of middle-school kids in Brooklyn, New York are the only ones who can see a benevolent, amnesiac ghost, whom they dub Ghostwriter. He can only see and communicate through writing, and he uses his abilities to help the kids solve mysteries. The show never made it clear who Ghostwriter was, or why he chooses to help people. Although some episodes implied that the ghost retained more memories than he claimed to, Ghostwriter's true identity was never revealed.
His abilities, by contrast, were extremely well-defined. For example, when the kids take a comic book as evidence, Ghostwriter can't see anything in it except the speech balloons. His spying often made the perp obvious very quickly, but the kids then had to find other evidence that would be admissible in court -- with a few exceptions. Each mystery was a four-part episode, except for the premiere and "To The Light," which were five-parters.
Presumably because of PBS censorship codes, almost all violence on the show happened off-camera. This made the show painfully slow and talky most of the time. But some scenes were truly scary nail-biters. The villains ranged from eccentrics to raving nutcases, and were fascinating -- too much so, as they made the heroes look bland. Some episodes managed elaborate mysteries without any villain at all.
Not recommended for anyone over the age of twelve, but worth seeing just for how the writers managed to come up with tension without much on-screen violence or if you grew up with the show and see well it was back then to now. And keep an eye out for Julia Stiles, Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee in guest roles.
If you're looking for the trope that could have gone here, see Playing Cyrano. Not to be confused with a literary ghostwriter, defined by That Other Wiki as "a writer who writes books, articles, stories, reports, or other texts that are officially credited to another person". Also not to be confused with the film The Ghost Writer.
- Adult Fear:
- The "Over a Barrel" arc. Your kids helping out in an inner-city community garden can only be good, right? Except when they're getting sick from toxic waste and the government's dragging its heels over cleaning it up.
- "What's Up With Alex" as well. Nothing more frightening for a parent than having to deal with the possibility of your son getting into drugs.
- "Lost in Brooklyn" - in the process, a girl is missing in New York City. And to her, this is a completely foreign country.
- Alliterative Name: Jamal Jenkins.
- Amateur Sleuth
- An Aesop
- Annoying Younger Sibling: Gaby.
- Black and Nerdy: Jamal.
- Breaking Bad News Gently: This is usually the first reaction that the team has when a new kid first sees Ghostwriter.
- Bond Villain Stupidity: Spoofed in one episode.
- Can't Get Away with Nuthin'
- Chekhov's Gunman: Tina was around in the first arc, but didn't see Ghostwriter until the second.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Craig.
- The second episode (which was Craig's first and only appearance) was actually the pilot of the show; producers would later shoot a new premiere episode to better explain the origins of Ghostwriter.
- City of Adventure: Usually Brooklyn, once London, seeing as the BBC co-produced the series.
- Cliff Hanger
- Cousin Oliver: Two of them.
- Deal with the Devil
- Dream Sequence
- Education Mama: Tina's parents, who especially won't let Tina's older brother drop out of school to join a band, and scold Tina herself for not helping out enough around the home.
- Feet of Clay: Almost every episode.
- 555: Many phone numbers which prove key to solving cases.
- Five-Man Band: Briefly, before cast changes made it moot.
- Five-Token Band: Played somewhat realistically.
- Foreshadowing: Every episode.
- Functional Magic: Ghostwriter's abilities are very precisely defined.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: After Jamal's Grandma interrupts his fantasy about the girl he likes, he's reluctant to stand up.
- Hollywood Hacking: Who is Max Mouse? To be fair, it's a little more plausible than other examples
- Hot-Blooded: Alex, at times.
- Immigrant Parents: Alex and Gaby's parents are from El Salvador, and Tina's are from Vietnam.
- Inexplicably Awesome: Ghostwriter is this.
- Jerkass: Calvin Ferguson.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Alex.
- Just a Kid
- Kid Detective
- Leeroy Jenkins: Rob has shades of this - he doesn't go in and disrupt a plan so much as he charges into dangerous situations on his own with no backup. Examples: getting trapped in an abandoned subway tunnel because he didn't tell anyone where they were going, entering a dressing room to find out what an unhinged stunt actress was up to and getting knocked out and tied up for his trouble, and finally going by himself to a gang hideout to look for a friend of his and nearly getting beaten up by the gang members.
- Master of Disguise
- Military Brat: Rob.
- Missing Mom: Lenni's father is a widower.
- Morality Pet: Jerkass Calvin really loves his pet parrot Attila and is devastated when it dies. In fact, losing Attila seems to have been the catalyst to Calvin's semi-redemption.
- Motive Rant: Played straight and spoofed.
- Multigenerational Household: Jamal's grandmother lives with his family.
- Murder Simulators: One mystery involved a cult of schoolkids who would meet in secret to reenact their favorite arcade game, and had taken to organized theft to feed their addiction.
- New Transfer Student: Rob, later Hector.
- Nosy Neighbor: Calvin.
- Not Himself
- Odd Friendship: Rob, the shy, bookish son of an Air Force Colonel and Victor, a poor, Hispanic former gang member.
- Official Couple: Alex and Tina.
- One of Our Own: The single most common plot on the show.
- The Other Darrin: Sometime late in the series, Gaby's actress was replaced.
- Parental Bonus: The only question is whether or not it was intentional.
- Jamal on Rob seeing Ghostwriter:
Jamal: It was his first time. We all know what that feels like.
- Parent Ex Machina
- Playful Hacker: It's revealed that Max Mouse is actually Janice, who does it because nobody notices her at all.
- Poirot Speak: Alex and Gaby's family, as well as Tina's.
- Post Modernism: The anti-finale.
- Put on a Bus: Rob moved to Australia.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits
- Revival: 1997's The New Ghostwriter Mysteries, which aired on CBS, replaced the entire cast, and made a number of other changes to the series (Hey, it's that girl from Harriet the Spy!).
- The Rival: Calvin.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Rob's homeless friend Double T is strongly hinted to have PTSD from his time in the Vietnam War.
Gooey Gus: "It's not easy being purple!"
- Show Within a Show: Gaby is a huge fan of the Galaxy Girl TV series.
- Six-Student Clique
- Sixth Ranger: Rob.
- Soapbox Sadie: Lenni is a downplayed version of this. She never tries to force anyone else to think her way, thus avoiding the usual Broken Aesop about that comes with the trope, but she often speaks out about her beliefs, especially through her music.
- Story Arc: Unusual for a serial kid's show. Every episode would begin with a recap.
- Tagalong Kid: Casey.
- Technology Marches On: This show is almost painfully 90s in terms of technology (and fashion). Almost everything that the character(s) do can be handled with cell phones nowadays. (One would wonder what Ghostwriter would do if it happened today)
- They Fight Crime
- Time Travel
- Token Minority: Subverted; there are actually fewer white characters on the show than minorities. This is justified since it takes place in the ethnically diverse New York.
- Two Lines, No Waiting
- Very Special Episode: The episode "What's Up With Alex?" centered on Alex being accused of smoking marijuana by his father. It even aired with a warning that the episode would deal with issues that kids would need to ask their parents about for more information when it first aired on PBS. It never re-aired on Noggin.
- Viewer-Friendly Interface: Complete with ridiculously slow typing.
- Viewers are Morons: What seemed to be the basis of many plot points/storytelling tactics.
- Why Couldn't You Be Different?: Rob's father initially thinks he should be more athletic.
- You Meddling Kids