In a world awash with unimaginative children's programming, inappropriate dialog, and overly disciplined rules, one show stood out above the rest. "Ghostwriter" fans will always remember the kid team who ran around New York cracking codes and solving mysteries. Some people have teased the show for its early 90's look of colorful outfits, trendy headgear, mild rap music, and brief introduction to the internet. But the show didn't reek of ignorance like some programs of today. The kids were hip in their time but the messages are timeless. While the Ghostwriter team worked on solving mysteries, they also learned about family feuds, environmentalism, drug abuse, violence, and war remembrance.
So who IS Ghostwriter? We don't know. In the pilot episode, a ghost suddenly pops out of a book in the basement of Jamal Jenkins. He's depicted as a bubble that floats around the screen before diving into books or a computer. Ghostwriter cannot hear or talk. It takes Jamal and his friend Lenni Frazer a few tries until they realize he can only communicate through words. Ghostwriter doesn't remember who he is or where he came from but he does want to "protect the children". The enigma surrounding Ghostwriter never went away but the idea of a word-searching ghost caught on. Because Ghostwriter can move from afar, he's able to transmit clues and tips back to the team and their notebooks. He can surf the internet and even time travel.
Ghostwriter may not be able to speak or hear but he can "feel" what's going on at times. In "Get the Message" the team got into a terrible fight and all of the hatred and rage almost erased Ghostwriter forever. But when they need his help, he gladly gives them advice with personal problems. In "Am I Blue", Gaby regrets stealing and lying to buy a costume. She spells out words to Ghostwriter on a Scrabble board describing her problems. In a touching scene, he assists her in writing out an apology letter to her parents.
The acting on the kids' behalf seemed overly enthusiastic for some viewers but let's not forget--this was a children's program. Exaggeration is necessary to let a young audience know what's going on. I remember watching this show at 10 years old and feeling relieved when they explained the clues carefully and even repeated necessary information so I'd catch on. And the kids ARE enjoyable to watch in action: creative, outgoing, different, and enthusiastic. New York is the perfect setting for ethnic diversity and watching them run around Brooklyn like a personal playground feels more natural than a Hollywood scene.
Jamal is the unofficial leader of the team. Levelheaded and easygoing, he prefers talking things over instead of fighting. Jamal enjoys science and karate. Lenni Frazer is an aspiring song writer who lives with her father above the Fernandez bodega. The Fernandez siblings are Alex and Gaby. They can get on each other's nerves but they care a lot about each other. Gaby enjoys talking and being in the spotlight while Alex is a detective wannabee, often carrying around a mystery novel. The four of them founded the team in the pilot mystery, "Ghost Story."
The team branched out to more members after Vietnamese-American Tina was able to read the words that Ghostwriter manipulated. The kids established a ceremony to initiate their new members. Tina is an aspiring filmmaker who's video camera has caught some interesting footage for their mysteries. She also shares a romantic relationship with Alex. Rob is a quiet eccentric boy who enjoys writing down poems and stories. He seems shy at first but his good intentions have helped others, such as clearing the name of a former gang member who was wrongly accused of vandalism in their school. The show has introduced a variety of adversaries from egotistical businessmen to menacing bullies to revenge-driven cartoonists but Calvin Ferguson is the team's ongoing protagonist. A boastful nosy student, Calvin is jealous of the team's success and has attempted many times to unlock their secrets. He's managed to realize they've got a supernatural friend but the team has stopped Calvin from knowing too much about Ghostwriter.
One of the hardest challenges for "Ghostwriter" was addressing difficult topics such as violence and drugs in a realistic environment. How do you do that on a PBS kid-oriented show? The brilliance of "Ghostwriter" was to do it through the creative stories and compelling characters. And to do it through writing. In "What's Up with Alex", Alex starts to shirk his responsibilities at home and is tempted to try marijuana because his "cool" friend Kevin uses it. He is deeply touched when his sister writes a letter begging him not to do dangerous things and he turns his choices around. There's the time Rob visits his friend Victor Torres and notices Quincy is wheelchair bound--a result of a gang war. That's enough to teach the audience the consequences of street violence.
The show took a slight downhill turn when Rob left the team and was replaced by Hector. Nevertheless, over two seasons of successful stories plus "Ghostwriter" books and poster made it a smashing success. When this comes out officially on DVD, I'm reserving my copy of "Ghostwriter", getting a notebook, and writing down the clues because the team will be one the case!!