Updated: Mar 3, 2019
As a kid, The Real Ghostbusters was my go-to cartoon, and The Transformers was a close second. I'm sure I've seen every episode of The Real Ghostbusters at some point, and I've started to binge on the series again with the advent of Netflix.
In this article, contributing writer Luke Worle will expound on his favorite episodes of this beloved '80s TV classic. For a brief moment, this is Dave, the founder of Retro Injection. A good chunk of my life has revolved around Ghostbusters in its various incarnations; check out the menu at the top of the page to see my various ghostbusting exploits.
Some things which you held dear as a child do not hold up to adult scrutiny; the aforementioned Transformers series is one of them. However, as Luke will allude, The Real Ghostbusters was not initially written for kids. Adults who watched the cartoon in their youth for its action and adventure, can appreciate it now for its more subtle (sometimes adult) nuances and deadpan humor. I feel like the show grew up with me. The Real Ghostbusters aired as a time capsule, waiting for a generation to fully appreciate it. That time has come, and many lifelong fans are now sharing the episodes with their kids, continuing the cycle. The Real Ghostbusters is a legacy.
If you've never seen this cartoon, you're in for a great time. The Real Ghostbusters is completely canon, with continuity to the films weaved into the new animated adventures. The most clever, insane part about the whole thing? According to The Real Ghostbusters episode "Take Two," the live action 1984 film is actually based on the characters in the 1986 cartoon! The series is a flat-out work of genius, and the overwhelming odds are that you're already familiar with it. I wish there had been a feature-length The Real Ghostbusters movie, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that.
I wanted to pull the webmaster card, and add an entry which Luke did not include in his list: "The Collect Call of Call of Cathulhu" (below), written by Michael Reaves. Incredibly dark and intense, it could serve as an introduction to the lore of H.P. Lovecraft, one of the greatest horror writers ever.
Let's get pumped with the intro to this classic show, and I'll leave the rest to Luke. The article was his idea, anyway!
Hello, fellow '80s lover. I thought I'd slightly spice up each episode's review. Many sites featuring their own top ten Real Ghostbusters episodes seem a bit poorly constructed, click-baited or written by Millennials who seem to value today's prime-time adult cartoons as the formal benchmark for entertainment. Most people know of The Real Ghostbusters, but many don't really appreciate the genius of it, simply because it either eclipsed them as '80s kids, or they had the misfortune of growing up in the '90s. Well kiddos, The Real Ghostbusters is quite simply, the greatest cartoon of the 1980s. Sure, there are a number of spotty episodes, and even a few that are an acrid offering to the nostrils of good taste. However, this was and remains the scariest show ever produced for children's programming, and very much so the most emotionally deep.
You'll notice on the list that a majority of the episodes were spearheaded or written by story editor-writer J. Michael Straczynski. To his credit, he never bowed to censorship or ABC's insistence on making a dumbed-down, goofy kids show. When the network brass decided to make Slimer (the Urkel of the cartoon universe) the star of the show, they realized that Straczynki's darker treatments and scripts weren't going to cut the ghoulish mustard. Thus, after steadfastly adhering to its kid-centric, money-milking principles, the network lost the great Straczynski in the process.
In all things ironic, the show began to tank with viewers after the network neutered the show. We '80s kids were wise to the suits' intrusion, and didn't much dig the cast shakeups, Slimer spin-off or fake "mommy" Janine.
As mentioned, when Straczynski left the show after the first two seasons (returning to write a few more for seasons three and four), the remainder of the series woefully lost its way, although a few classic episodes are peppered in. Nonetheless, the nobility of the first two seasons can't be disputed. J. Michael Straczynski was the creative atom bomb of the show, crafting its finest moments. It is no surprise that half of these twenty episodes were penned by him. I left number ten blank, faithful Ghostbusters fan, so that you can choose your own adventure and fill it in. You've gotta jot that childhood nostalgia somehow!
Now, hyperbole aside, here are the very best The Real Ghostbusters episodes!
1. MR. SANDMAN, DREAM ME A DREAM
A knockout episode, this ethereal romp through a sleep-induced playground turned upside-down, is the perfected synthesis of The Real Ghostbusters in its prime. This artistic feat is even more impressive when you consider that it was one of the earliest episodes produced!
The plot involves an original show-canon creation, derived in part from bedtime folklore, wherein the formerly gentle giant who helps kids sleep is re-imagined as a nefarious creature with a sinister and over-aching plot to put the world to rest... permanently.
The Sandman stands as one of the most fiercely terrifying and complex characters dreamed up (pun intended!) by the great scribe J. MIchael Straczynski, and he wastes no spare moments nor pulls any punches in showcasing The Sandman's primal blend of imp and monster, punctuated by a Napoleon complex that rivals only President Trump!
Featuring the dark underbelly of nightmares and the liberating power of dreams, this classic must-see episode features mice-drawn chariots, twenty five-foot Easter rabbits, a surprisingly poignant cameo by Albert Einstein and incredibly layered emotive storytelling that cements this as the finest of all episodes. A Picasso for the kiddies.
2. THE BOOGIEMAN COMETH
Another ace in the hole, this episode also introduces an original Real Ghostbusters canon character, once again derived from folklore, but certainly parading itself with a headstrong arrogance in front of ABC censors. It's incredible that this episode and aforementioned character made it through the development stage, due to the insurmountable amount of skin-crawling creep factor. The plot is relatively simple, wherein we meet two precocious kids who are visited nightly by the titular character.
The Boogieman is another character who terrifies on sight, even in the confines of cell- drawn animation. Grotesquely proportioned, with a voice that is a hybrid between broken glass and eternal nightmares, the Ghostbusters gang must spring into quick thinking action to outsmart the Boogieman on his own turf, a nocturnal carnival from hell. Key scenes involve his twisted and multi-layered labyrinth, weaving through the closets of all the world's children.
Once again, it's up to our ghostbusting pals to save the day... and night. This splendid episode brings tension, intelligence and high-octane excitement to the proverbial table. It's a feverish fusion of terror and remembrances of our childhood imaginations, navigating through the billowy shadows in our closets. There's much to be said about taking a familiar character in folklore and completely reinventing the villain. The storytelling paints the darkness with shades of light as the kids and Egon confront fear, once and for all.
3. THE THING IN MRS. FAVERSHAM'S ATTIC
One of the most poignant episodes (once again penned by the great J. Michael Straczynski), the storyline takes us through the life of an endearing but troubled elderly woman who wins Peter's heart. She's tormented by the sinister noises coming from her attic, and thereby we learn of a terrible miscalculation done to give her a wonderful life long ago.
This episode boasts almost Lovecraftian elements in its storytelling composition. Most telling though, is the emotionally-charged denouement.
This is when the show wasn't about gimmicks or dumbing down emotional and terrifying content. It was about good overcoming evil, with a ragged trail of cartoon razor wire wrapped around our hearts. OK, so maybe it's not Hamlet, but for a children's cartoon, the show could be incredibly deep. This is one of the very finest of those episodes. That, and horror. Lots of inexplicably ABC censor-approved horror.
All in all, the final minute of this episode is one of the most beautifully-constructed scenes ever in a children's TV show. Perhaps it's one of the most touching moments in TV, period.
4. RAGNAROK AND ROLL
Similar in tone to the aforementioned The Thing In Mrs. Faversham's Attic, this episode borrows heavily from atmosphere, with dark graceful pacing and heady drama that could have come from a Fritz Lang film. The animation is beautifully developed and revealing, and the characters are lively, relatable and emotionally enriched. This is essentially a love story gone wrong... very, very wrong.
A wounded and lonely soul named Jeremy decides to end the world after his relationship is broken off by a lovely anime-looking woman named Cindy. Aided by his deformed but warm-hearted friend DyTillio, Jeremy sets about setting up the apocalyptic dominoes to ensure the world's end, all through the variable of a magic flute. Eventually the Ghostbusters notice that the apocalyptic scenario is going to be re-purposed ala the original film, and endeavor to set into action a plan. They seek to convince Jeremy to forgive, mourn and move on instead of destroying the world.
This one is incredible on many levels, that it has the feel of a mini-movie by way of Kafka, The Lord Of The Rings and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Very few episodes dare come close to focusing on characters alone with minimal action and succeed in spite of these constraints. Perhaps the most emotional of all the series, "Ragnarok and Roll" deserves its very high ranking, and will be enjoyed for ages to come.
5. THE GRUNDEL
Possibly the darkest of all the series' many dark entries, "The Grundel" is truly spellbinding. A young boy is seduced by the power of an evil creature called a grundel, and it's up to his brother (and the Ghostbusters) to convince him that not only is blood thicker than water, it's also the only tie to which worth binding. The grundel methodically pursues the boy and eventually begins to slowly apprehend him. This episode is unquestionably the dark-tinged zenith of combining a frightening story with an even more frightening villain integral to the good vs. evil narrative. An all- around classic episode.
6. WHEN HALLOWEEN WAS FOREVER
Another great episode, this one revealed another great series canon character based on folklore named Samhaim. Reality begins to disintegrate all around New York, morphing it into an alternate Halloween-oriented universe.
The team go into action against this classic foe and must safely contain Samhain, rescue Slimer from his clutches and save the world, all under a twenty one-minute running time (commercials allowed). J.Michael Straczynski offers up another classic Real Ghostbusters foe and a nightmare story on top of it.
7. WHO'RE YOU CALLING TWO DIMENSIONAL?
Imagine if you will, that you are the Walt Disney of your time and your creations dazzle the real world-because they are alive, literally. Imagine that your intention to enchant the world becomes an obsessive quest that further takes you down the proverbial rabbit hole, and you mistakenly create a dastardly foe who kidnaps you and imprisons you into the cartoon environment you created. Well, that's basically the storyline crux of the very great Straczynski-penned episode ''Who're You Calling Two Dimensional?''
Walt Fleischman, a character who's a clever combination of Walt Disney and the Fleischer Brothers, has been imprisoned and it's up to the Ghostbusters to take him back from the vacuous innerspace in which he's stuck. We're treated to some clever jokes, care of Straczynski (who knew how to push adult humor into his episodes without getting unnecessarily risque), as well as a sinister backdrop environment in which the gang is at real risk of death in a cartoon world. The episode is also ironic for its cartoon-within-a-cartoon substructure, where the fourth wall is broken down and the gang must find their escape with Walt. Suffice it to say, it all adds up to an extremely rewarding finish line sprint where we see creations come to the aid of their creator.
The character of Dopey Dog is... OK. I think his intention to champion the good gang to rescue Walt is a highlight of the episode, but Ray singing the Dopey Dog theme song is perhaps a tad puerile to the highbrow critics who demand their Real Ghostbusters with limited whimsy and a side order of goth. In spite of what could have been a zany failed episode, it reveals itself to be surprisingly deep, scary and ultimately redemptive. Walt is voiced by the legendary voice actor Don Messick, whom you might know better as the voice of Scooby-Doo.
Straczynski really knocked this one out of the park, and found that perfect balance between a light-hearted kiddie show and the dark unraveling of blackest black.
8. LAST TRAIN TO OBLIVION
This classic is another noteworthy addition to the list. One particular reason for me, is the gorgeous ending in which the ghost of Casey Jones waves goodbye to the Ghostbusters from afar as the sun begins to rise. Haim Saban's incredible score is on display, as the searing electric guitars catapult you to another dimension and color you all kinds of emotional.
The story is about the ghost of train conductor Casey Jones returning to... wreak havoc? Save New Yorkers from unjust tax hikes on Jersey-bound train fare? Settle down. The impetus for his return from sleepy oblivion is to... wait for it... enter into sleepy oblivion. This episode cleverly plays with the notion that he's a ghost in limbo who needs to do something in order to make his travel back to wherever former legendary locomotive engineers go to, in that great rail yard in the sky.
This is a very touching episode and that ending is one that I fondly remember at the age of six years old, watching this classic as it premiered back in 1987.
Episode purists might tend to put this a bit lower on the ectoplasm echelon and a notch higher than many monstrously middling mid-series misadeventures, but some would argue it warrants a spot on this list simply for its brilliant grand finale.
The ending is weaved of magic, love, heart and hope which are so many noble and eternal concepts inherently lost in today's paltry cartoons. We kids of the '80s had the best at our feet, and this incredible episode is no exception. Relive the ending's theme song via glorious Youtube, and imagine yourself waving back to our dearly departed (and now resting in oblivion) Sir Casey Jones.
9. THE MAN WHO NEVER REACHED HOME
This entry is about looking within to discover the perils of running from one's self. It's a very haunting episode with incredible meaning. I won't attempt a psychoanalytic couch session on a Real Ghostbusters episode, but this one features a truly great storyline with Ray switching places with a ghost from the 1800s desperately looking to find "home."
I won't divulge much past this premise, but the episode has not only stood up to the test of time, but also to the already genius standards of the series as a whole. In selecting episodes for this list, this episode was chosen for its finely-honed accuracy in nailing down the fraught tension of the human condition trying to reconcile life, death and the transformative crux between the two points of existence. That, and Slimer eats a lot of hamburgers in one scene. I mean, a lot. But in all seriousness, it's a great episode and a must watch. Once again, it has a pitch-perfect note of the bittersweet at the end.
10. (FILL IN THE BLANK, OH YE GHOSTHEAD.)
11. MRS. ROGER'S NEIGHBORHOOD
12. FLIP SIDE
13. EGON'S GHOST
14. NIGHT GAME
15. THE BOOGIEMAN IS BACK
16. NO ONE COMES TO LUPUSVILLE
17. KNOCK, KNOCK
18. X-MAS MARKS THE SPOT
19. SLIMER, COME HOME
20. THE HEADLESS MOTORCYCLIST
Rounding out the top twenty are simply titles and rankings, as I felt it much too tedious to explain why each episode begs to be watched. There's so much to explain and an article can become a budding novella instead of a simple top ten list that features essential tidbits. So, those above were the remaining episodes in order of (relative) greatness.
All seasons are worth watching, but the first three seasons capture the highlight episodes. A few latter day classics can be found in seasons four and five, but be wary: The tone of the show ditches its tight writing for the plastic flowers and fake sunny shores of ABC's presumed juvenile idiot demographic, instead of the smart kids we were. We were left wanting the bleeding heart of darkness and light that was the inherent makeup of the series beginnings. However, thanks to the passage of time, the series has become a bona fide classic and I can see value through mostly all of the seasons. Even the kitschy episodes have some level of merit. Yet, when the series was great, it was great.
Thanks for reading. If you have half a grand, go ahead and fork it over for the very worthy DVD box set, offering all glorious episodes housed in a novelty firehouse.