WHATEVER HAPPENED TO…The Cast of Ghostwriter

If in the early ‘90s, you were a) between the ages of 7 and 14, b) owned a television, and c) literate, then you probably watched Ghostwriter.  Produced by the Children’s Television Workshop (now called the Sesame Workshop) and BBC One, it premiered in the U.S. on PBS on October 4, 1992. Despite its popularity, the show was abruptly cancelled in its third season due to a lack of funding.  The final episode was broadcast on February 13, 1995.

Ghostwriter focused on a racially diverse group of pre-teen friends who lived in Brooklyn, and solved neighbourhood mysteries with help from an invisible ghost.  While much of the young cast’s acting was painful to watch, especially in the earliest episodes (most of the kids were from non-acting backgrounds), the show was a hit with its target audience.  It was also lauded by teachers, who praised the series for teaching writing and research skills to young students, and emphasizing the importance of reading.

Generally, the members of the main cast have kept pretty low profiles since the show wrapped almost two decades ago.  So, what are they up to these days?

Todd Alexander Cohen (Rob Baker)

After Rob bid farewell to his pals in Brooklyn and left a gaping black hole in my first grade heart, Cohen appeared in a handful of commercials.  He attended NYU with fellow cast members Sheldon Turnipseed (Jamal) and Mayteana Morales (Gaby), and graduated in 2002.  He now lives in Los Angeles, where he works at the William Morris talent agency.

Blaze Berdahl (Lenni Frazier)

While Berdahl continued to perform in commercials, soap operas, and New York theatre after saying goodbye to the Ghostwriter Team, it was voiceover work that appealed to her the most.  In 2006, Berdahl became the voice of “Swiffer” products.  Most recently, her voice has been featured in commercials for Subway restaurants, Bermuda Tourism, and the Ford Focus.  With a steady supply of work to keep her busy, I guess we shouldn’t expect her to release a remix album of Lenni’s “You Gotta Believe” anytime soon.

David Lopez (Alejandro “Alex” Fernandez)

Queens-born, Colombia-raised Lopez attended Rutgers University in 2002, and hopefully graduated.  In 2004, he lent his voice to a character in the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas video game.  He has since returned to Colombia, and probably has a very happy wife.

Mayteana Morales (Gabriela “Gaby” Fernandez)

Mayteana graduated from NYU in 2003 with a degree in dramatic arts.  She is now part of funk/R&B/jazz/reggae/fusion/hip-hop/soul group The Pimps of Joytime.

Tram-Anh Tran (Tina Nguyen)

After graduating with a degree in finance from Penn State University in 2001, Tram guest-starred on Lifetime’s Zoe Busiek: Wild Card in 2004. She seems to have made her family her top priority, crushing the souls of Alex/Tina shippers everywhere.

Sheldon Turnipseed (Jamal Jenkins)

Sheldon has fallen off the radar entirely. Maybe Ghostwriter can track him down.

William Hernandez (Hector Carrero)

At age 15, William left home because his family did not accept his homosexuality.  He continued acting, and landed parts in various obscure movies.  In 2004, he was part of the cast the Philadelphia season of MTV’s The Real World.

Lateaka Vinson (Casey Austin)

Vinson, who played Jamal’s annoying little cousin, traded in her knock-knock joke books for university textbooks. She completed her Masters in speech pathology at Hampton University.

Melissa Gonzales  (other Gaby)

Melissa took over the role of Gaby for the final two story arcs of the series.  She has since been seen as “girl two in bathroom” in a 1999 movie nobody saw called Light It Up.

Several recurring and one-shot characters in Ghostwriter have had relatively successful careers in film and television.  Julia Stiles, who played an intense young hacker in a fleece hat in season 2, went on to become a Hollywood actress and it girl in the early 2000s.  She also graced the cover of my very first issue of Seveteen in September 2000.

Jamal’s father was played by Samuel L. Jackson.  I hear he’s had a few roles here and there.

Unfortunately, time has not been kind to Ghostwriter.  Because of its “real world” setting, and heavy dependence on computers (through which the team “spoke” to the titular character much of the time), the show is now painfully dated.  Still, that didn’t keep Shout! Factory from releasing the first season on DVD last year.

Ghostwriter was a gem of a show from a time many (well, I) consider to be the golden age of children’s programming. It was an educational program, but never pandered to its viewers, never laid on the lessons too thickly.  Its (for the most part) amateur cast may not have been destined for Oscar-winning roles in the future, but they portrayed their characters to the best of their ability, and with total sincerity.

Due to the fact that most kids have access to the entire world at their fingertips thanks to the Internet and cell phones—neither of which were very sophisticated or mainstream when Ghostwriter was on the air—a reboot of the series would prove to be an incredible challenge for producers. Who needs Ghostwriter when you can text? No need to follow suspects around the city when you can gather all the information you need on them via Facebook. Mysteries could be solved with a single Google search. Ghostwriter was a product of its time, and maybe it’s best left there, along with Alex’s striped Hammer pants.

“Suburgatory” and the Limbo of Contemporary Adulthood

I don’t watch a lot of TV. I hate the obligation of having to follow story lines or emotionally invest in character who will eventually disappoint me. With my eccentric viewing habits in mind, it is surprising to me that I’ve actually put some effort into watching the new show “Suburgatory.” I like much of its cast and find its over the top antics amusing. However, as much as I want this show to win my favour, I believe it falls short. I labour over the hows and whys – poor writing? Too exaggerated? Characters have no depth? Although, those are all problems for me, they don’t bother me too much. Ultimately, what bothers me is that the show is navigating the hilarious pitfalls of suburbia with the wrong demographic. Instead of wry urban teens, and their hunky overwhelmed city slicker dads, I think Surburgatory should be about twenty-somethings.

 

The premise of Surburgatory goes as follows: Tessa (Jane Levy), savy ingénue mahattanite, is relocated to the suburbs after her working-joe, single father, George (Jeremy Sisko) discover that she is in the possession of condoms (as if teenagers never have sex in the suburbs). Tessa and her father move from the wonderful city only to discover a shallow, pretentious, mean and absurd society in the suburbs (as if only nice, humble and down to earth people live in New York). The teenage and suburban fish-out-of-water stories are tried and true recipes for hilarity. Mean Girls, certainly comes to my mind, and Surburgatory shares some familiarities with the hit movie (both maintain narrative metaphor of suburbs as animal kingdom, and feature in a supporting role Ana Gasteyer). Even though I feel like I’ve been there and done that as Surburgatory throws television tropes at me, I still want it to like it. I find Tessa charming and amusing with her unpretentious narrations, and George’s gruff discomfort in the societal trappings of the suburbs in endearing. Yet as much as I try to like it, I still think it really should be about twenty-somethings.

 

This belief stems from the Tessa character who takes us with her on her strange journey is this foreign land. Depicted as mature beyond her years due to her upbringing, Tessa’s self-awareness and dry sarcasm read more as a recent college grad, than an educated young woman trying to survive highschool. She even dresses like she just got out of a Liberal arts college! Her relationship with George, who is supposed to be a young parent, feels more like that of a couple than a father/daughter duo. When they affectionately bicker about how to get out dinner with the neighbours it reads more like a pair newly-weds than parent and child. With all this in Tessa’s growing pains just aren’t all that convincing, and the pithy story-lines about the pitfalls of highschool seem old and tried.

 

Suburb as purgatory is how the show got its name, and we all know that purgatory is the timeless limbo between heaven and hell. Yet as a space where a sinner goes to expiate their sins before starting their afterlife, the shows premise reads more as the condition of a partied-out college grad who just can’t seem to jumpstart his or her adult life than the impatient highschool who knows they will be leaving eventually (hopefully).

 

20-somethings seem to be the in things these days with shows like “the New Girl,” “Two Broke Girls,” and “How I Met Your Mother.” Yet, as a member of this demographic myself, I know for a fact that not all twenty-somethings live in the city and scrape by at diners, hang out at coffee shops, and go to bars to observe the antics of their womanizing friends. Some of us have to move back home after university, some of us can’t get awesome, well paying jobs, especially in this climate. We’re taught about and lived in a bigger world only to return to where we began. Yet where are we in Suburgatory? Rather than always talked about teen, I would love Tessa to represent that feeling of limbo that so many us pseudo-adults are facing.

 

Top 5 Artists from Shows from My Childhood

Some people lead normal adult lives. But some of us people wile away the twilight hours on YouTube, watching painfully wholesome episodes of 20-year-old kids’ shows. This phenomenon I know nothing about inspired me to compile the following list of the top 5 artists from TV shows from my childhood.

 

 

5. Jacob (Join In!, TVO, 1989 – 1995)

In the pantheon of classic Canadian children’s television, Join In! is a show that is often overlooked. For those who have never heard of the series, allow me to break it down for you. Join In! revolved around three roommates who lived in a loft that looked not unlike a wunderkammer. They sang a lot of songs. That’s kind of it. It was adorkable Zack in his suspenders and tie-dyed shirts who made my 5-year-old heart flutter, but it was artsy Jacob in his very strategically paint-splattered overalls and socks/sandals combo who kept it real.

 

 

4. Splatter Phoenix (Darkwing Duck, Disney Channel/ABC/UPN, 1991 – 1992)

This former painter’s weapon of choice was a magic paintbrush, which allowed her to trap her victims in works such as “Guernica” and “The Persistence of Memory” (which I guess were on loan to St. Canard’s gallery from the Museo Reina and MoMA). Shunned by the art industry, Splatter Phoenix proved that Hell hath no fury like an artist scorned.

 

 

3. Van Go Lion (Zoobilee Zoo, 1986 – 1987)

While I questioned his judgment as an artist when he recruited mischievous Lookout Bear to work on one of his paintings, Van Go remains one of my favourite Zoobles. One of the most attractive (and elusive) qualities in an artist is humility, and Van Go showed viewers that he had it in paint buckets when he gave up a life of fame, probably women, and possibly drugs to stay in a town with a population of seven. The cat was not only a great artist, but also a great friend.

 

 

2. Milo Kamalani (Pepper Ann, ABC, 1997 – 2001)

Created by former comic strip artist Sue Rose, Pepper Ann was unique in that it featured a predominantly female cast of characters, most of whom aggressively rejected conventional notions of femininity. If that weren’t awesome enough, its most prominent male character, Milo, did NOT conform to society’s standards of masculinity. He wasn’t a jock, he wasn’t preppy; he was an artist. For challenging gender norms, my wool beanie’s off to you, Milo.

 

 

1. Mr. Dressup (Mr. Dressup, CBC, 1967 – 1996)

Mr. Dressup, played by the late, great Ernie Coombs, was Canada’s answer to Mr. Rogers. He’s probably most well-remembered for the costumes in his “Tickle Trunk” but for the young and artistically-inclined, the highlights of the show were his trips to the drawing easel and craft counter. Mr. Dressup inspired kids to see opportunities for creative expression in junk which most parents would not think twice about throwing away. With a career spanning nearly 30 years, an appointment to the Order of Canada, and a brief dabble in rap (for serious), Mr. Dressup is a true Canadian icon, and a champion of quality children’s programming.

An Introduction of Sorts…

Man we wish our respective bedroom were this awesome (and tidy!)

Shell: So, first off, I want to welcome the poor souls who have either stumbled upon or have been shepherded to our fair blog. Welcome! I’m Shell and she’s Nina.

Nina: This blog. What is it you ask.

Shell: Weeellll “Mass Cultured” is my and Nina’s html love child – a bloggy smorgasbord of everything (and not everything) pop culture related

Nina: We decided to start this blog because being in your mid-20s isn’t fun. Assuming you’ve completed your university/college studies, you’ve racked up a crapton of debt, and are no less sure about What You Want To Do With Your Life than you were when you were sitting in the back of your grade 10 English class, burning yourself with your eraser.

Shell: I hate to interject, but how do you burn yourself with an eraser? I never did that in highschool.

Nina: I think you just rub it against your desk until it gets warm enough. I know that’s how you do it with pens.

Shell: Teenagers are weird. I don’t get them anymore (I don’t think I got them when I was one either) but carrying on, Nina –

Nina: Hence, this blog. Navigating the roads of post-graduate life and emerging adult ennui. It’s not like we have a big mission statement, we’re just doing this because we’re bored.

Shell: So what’s the point of all this? Why should people care that we’re bored?

Nina: hmmm…because we’re…nice?

Shell: Awesome?

I think more than anything to offer to people, in today’s society of sharing, piracy, and wayyyyyyy too much information – we want to offer our own perspective with others, because we feel what we have to say can resonate with the people we know and love, and the people we don’t know and therefore don’t love (but don’t hate either).

Nina: YAY!

So, to wrap it up before this becomes a “tldr “moment -We believe that even the most mundane things can be talked about with both intelligence and wit – whether it’s an old episode from a children’s TV show, or a new art film.

Shell: We hope you enjoy our endeavor.