Sunday, 16 February 2020

The Spooktacular New Adventures of Casper: 3 Boos and a Babe/Elusive Exclusive

The Ghostly Trio are a close-knit group, and there's not a lot that could come between them, although the seductive allures of a bewitching banshee might be enough to put them at loggerheads. It's mid-February and the world hasn't quite gotten Valentine's Day out of its system, so now seems like an appropriate time to look at our first glimpse into the Trio's universal lovesickness for the ghoul with the lungs of steel. "3 Boos and a Babe/Elusive Exclusive" was the fifth episode of The Spooktacular New Adventures of Casper - it aired on March 30th 1996 and was later released on VHS by Universal Home Video, alongside "Poil Jammed/A Picture Says A Thousand Words."

3 Boos and a Babe:

So, in the series Casper attends a school for dead children (which is grim as hell but, unlike the 1995 movie, the TV series didn't dwell too hard on the morbid implications of its premise). Here, we see the origin of one of the series' long-running arcs - the Ghostly Trio's admiration for Casper's teacher, Ms Banshee, and their ongoing efforts to impress her. Technically, this wasn't the first time they'd encountered Ms Banshee - they were in the same room as her in the very first episode, "Spooking Bee", although I guess they can't have been paying much attention then. Despite their best efforts, the Trio never get anywhere with her, for Ms Banshee is regarded as seriously hot stuff among the ghosting community, and she's not going to settle for a trio of common or garden poltergeists when she could be dating the ghosts of dead celebrities. And she certainly seems to get around. In this episode, she's seen dating the ghost of Clark Gable, and elsewhere in the series she was revealed to have also been romantically involved with the ghost of Bob Marley. In addition, it seems that she's not adverse to experimentation with fleshies, because in another episode she attempted to fuck Dr Harvey.

Ms Banshee's not very into the Trio, although one thing they do have in common is their mutual disdain for Casper's scaring prowess, or lack thereof. Ms Banshee has summoned the Trio because she's concerned about Casper's academic progress and thinks that he requires a terror tutor. The Trio see an opportunity to get into the comely banshee's good graces by putting themselves forward for the task, although immediately they run into a problem, in that there are three of them and only one Ms Banshee, and as such this is probably not going to work out (and Banshee did indicate during her aforementioned pursuit of Harvey that she doesn't do polyamorous relations). Each of them manages to commandeer Casper for long enough to attempt to showcase how their own unique styles of scaring can help the friendly ghost to become a world-class specter. In all three cases, Casper incorporates the techniques poorly, and Ms B ejects them unceremoniously from her classroom. Eventually the Trio stop their infighting and figure that Casper is really to blame for making them all look bad. Meanwhile, Ms Banshee receives a call from a familiar suitor.

  • At one point, the Trio end up on the set of prime time soap opera Melrose Place, one of Fox's hottest shows of the day. The cast look down their noses at the Trio for hailing from a daytime slot, so the Trio retaliate by combining their spectral powers to morph into the one thing they know will scare the bejesus from them - Rupert Murdoch screaming that they're fired. Melrose Place took place in a swanky apartment complex in West Hollywood, California, and followed the melodrama-soaked lives of the glamorous twentysomethings living therein. I recently watched a random episode, and what can I say? The dialogue was risible and the storylines utterly hokey, but then again it is a soap, so possibly it's that way on purpose? Actually, there was something I found very weirdly unsettling about it that I couldn't quite put my finger on (it had a chilling aura, and I'm inclined to say that it wasn't a coincidence that my pet rat Freak went into a spooked frenzy while it was playing). Also of note is that it had Andrew Shue, aka the man who came the closest to cracking the mystery of who shot Mr Burns.
  • Stretch says, "I don't mean to toot my own petard." Obviously, he's amalgamated the two idioms "to toot ones own horn/trumpet" (brag about one's own achievements and abilities) and "to be hoisted by one's own petard" (be injured by one's own offensive). The latter originates from William Shakespeare's Hamlet, and "petard" refers to a kind of bomb, although bonus points if you knew that the name was derived from the French word p├ęter, meaning to fart. So yes, Stretch did effectively say, "I don't mean to blow my own farts." Who says that scat humour can't be highbrow?
  • Casper's line, "Women are from crypts, men are from mausoleums," is a reference to the controversial book, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus by relationship counselor John Grey, which was first published in 1992. Controversial because...yeah, I think the book's problem is evident enough from the title alone.
  • Ms Banshee has a copy of Norwegian expressionist Edvard Munch's painting "The Scream" hanging in her classroom. Munch painted the iconic image, he claimed, in an effort to represent an infinite scream he sensed surging through nature while watching a sunset in which the sky turned as red as blood. It follows that this would be right up a banshee's alley.
  • As noted, the ghost who shows up at the end of the episode for a date with Ms Banshee is deceased actor Clark Gable (1901 - 1960), best known for playing Rhett Butler in Victor Fleming's 1939 film Gone With The Wind. There are two allusions to Gone With The Wind here - firstly, when Gable informs the Trio, "Frankly, you fools, I don't give a hoot!", a reference to Butler's iconic line, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn", which was considered edgy as sin back in its day. At the very end, Casper attempts, unsuccessfully, to mollify the Trio by assuring them that, "Tomorrow is another day," the conclusion that Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) reaches at the end of Fleming's film after being on the receiving end of Butler's aforementioned condemnation.

The Whipstaff Inmates: 

Something we would occasionally get earlier on in the series were these short pieces with visuals in the style of US artist Edward Gorey, which aesthetically made for nice change of pace. This skit, "The Whipstaff Inmates", takes us on a guided tour of each of the main characters, in wittily penned verses by Chris Otsuki. Again, this was the fifth episode, so by now we already knew full well who most of these characters were, but it's still fun to hear each of them receive their own poetry stanza in their honor. Presumably, calling them "inmates" is intended to make it sound as if Whipstaff is some kind of unconventional psychiatric hospital (which I suppose it is).

Actually, the title is somewhat misleading, as several of the featured "inmates" (including Spooky, Poil and Ms Banshee) do not live at Whipstaff. There is another character featured in this segment who's referred to only as "The Journalist" - he's the only one whom we hadn't already encountered in an episode proper at this stage, although his more formal introduction is coming up in the next story. His real name is Perry Piscatore, and he's basically the closest thing the series has to a recurring antagonist (unless you want to count Amber, although she's more of an antagonist for Kat specifically and tends not to get directly involved with the ghosts), albeit just barely - despite being framed as an important cast member in this particular skit, his appearances in the series are few and far between. As antagonists go, Piscatore is more of a bungling nuisance than he is a genuine threat; he's aware that Whipstaff is haunted and aspires to make a name for himself by proving the existence of ghosts to the world, but he doesn't know the half of what he's doing, so in practice he's really his own worst enemy.

Here's the poem in full:

The house called Whipstaff is the dwelling
folks in Friendship fear the most.
Let's go in and hear the telling
of who lives there, man and ghost.

The friendly ghost is never nasty.
He's loyal, friendly, truthful, trusting.
He never does a thing that's ghastly.
That's why ghosts find him disgusting!

The doctor treats ghosts by the hour
to turn them from their spooky games.
His patients do all in their power
to thwart his therapeutic aims.

The doctor's daughter finds it gaggy
living here with ghost and ghoul.
She says they're weird, but that's exactly
How schoolmates view her here at school.

The stinky one delights in making
smell-o-grams in deadly doses.
He leaves our noses sore and aching
with his own brand of halitosis.

The fatso ghost is always eating
every moment, night or day.
Since he's skinless, we must wonder
Where he puts it all away.

The Stretch, without a hint of error,
morphs up faces terrifying.
But none of these can match his terror
seeing Casper friend-ifying!

The journalist, with plans aggressive,
seeks ghosts on film, come snow or rain.
He goes to lengths somewhat obsessive.
His colleagues think him quite insane.

The spooky one is tough and scrappy.
For scaring fleshies he's a beaut.
But Poil keeps him far from happy
because she finds his nose so cute.

The pearl is sweet, but Spooky would rather
cast this beauty before swine.
He daily bears her thoughtless blather.
She's driving him out of his mind!

We find the teacher somewhat strident.
Her screams are good at breaking things!
We think you'll find the game is over,
When this not-so-fat lady sings.

So Whipstaff is the haunted manor
where all these ghosts and ghouls abound.
And we agree, with perfect candor,
It's the weirdest place around!

Elusive Exclusive:

Investigative journalist Perry Piscatore crashes Whipstaff Manor with the intention of hosting a live broadcast exposing the ghoulish activity within. Neither Harvey or Kat appreciate the intrusion - particularly Kat, who is concerned that publicity of this magnitude would transform their abode into an unlivable media circus. The Ghostly Trio, by contrast, are delighted, not only by the prospect of getting to terrorise such willing fleshie prey, but by the possibility of becoming TV stars in the process. Casper, meanwhile, isn't fussed, because he understands why Piscatore's plan is doomed to fail - ghosts don't reflect light, and as such they cannot be photographed (the Trio are apparently unaware of this). After a failed attempt to warn the Trio, he figures that the best thing to do is to simply stand back and let nature take its course. Which it does - Piscatore is rendered a laughing stock and the Trio are disappointed to learn that their first-rate scaring went uncredited.

Airing in 1996, this predated the paranormal reality TV explosion that really look off in the 00s, with such shows as Ghost Hunters, Destination Truth and Most Haunted, although Fox were currently airing a series called Sightings, hosted by Tim White, which delved into an assortment of bizarre phenomena from an investigative news perspective. I took a brief look at one of their episodes on ghosts, and my immediate impressions were that it's no In Search of...(which I love, even if it is all hogwash). The whole premise of a live broadcast inside a haunted property had also been sent up a few years prior in the one-off BBC special Ghostwatch, which was actually a spoof, although it caused some controversy when it aired in 1992; it has since become something of a cult item.

  • Harvey lists a number of his personal phobias in this episode - in addition to being areophobic and coulrophobic, he's afraid of stand-up comedian Carrot Top. Well, that's understandable.
  • Harvey is voiced by Simpsons alumnus Dan Castellaneta in the animated series. I'm not sure to what extent he was attempting to mimic Bill Pullman, but I'd say the best way to describe his Harvey voice is that he sounds like a more genial, less gravelly version of Krusty the Clown (basically, how I'd imagine Krusty would sound if he wasn't such an avid chain-smoker). The voice is distinguished enough that I don't find that distracting, although when Harvey barks at Piscatore "You have obviously no concern for other people's privacy!", I can definitely hear Krusty in there. 

  • Among Piscatore's audience is talk show host Geraldo Rivera, who confides to the camera that Piscatore's car wreck of a broadcast is, "more pathetic than that time I opened Capone's vault!" Back on April 21st 1986, more than 30 million viewers tuned in for the syndicated television special, The Mystery of Al Capone's Vault. Hosted by Rivera, the two-hour special was dedicated to the live excavation and opening of crime lord Al Capone's recently-discovered secret vault at the Lexington Hotel in Chicago, Illinois, with the sensational hook that nobody could be entirely certain what they would find within. At the end of the special, the excavators ripped open the vault and America found itself staring into...a big fat nothing. Actually, that's not strictly true, for there was a small collection of empty bottles in there, but this disappointed Rivera's viewership, who were hoping for something more along the lines of dead bodies or hidden treasure. Instead, that ugly void in Capone's vault became the perfect metaphor for the emptiness of "event" television, the vacuousness of a media frenzy spun from absolutely nothing. Still, those two misspent hours weren't a total wash, as popular culture now had a wonderful new punchline in which to sink its teeth. Everywhere under the sun, creative types were savage in their mockery of Rivera's fiasco - in the field of animation alone, the special was also sent up in the Simpsons episode "Homer's Barbershop Quartet", and the Alvin & The Chipmunks episode "When The Chips are Down".
  • Also watching is talk show host Phil Donahue, who finds Piscatore's efforts, "worse than when I put on a skirt!" Donahue's wife, Marlo Thomas, then appears and challenges him as to why he doesn't take the skirt off, whereupon we see that he's still wearing it. This is a reference to Donahue's practice of wearing skirts while hosting shows dedicated to the subject of cross-dressing. Good for him, if he likes his skirts so much.
  • Stinkie pays homage to contemporary Jim Carrey vehicle The Mask (1994) when he launches his attack on Piscatore. Fatso clearly has more of an eye for the classics, for he comes at Piscatore in the style of Gloria Swanson's character from Billy Wilder's blackly comic noir Sunset Boulevard (1950), which, incidentally, is narrated by a ghost (I would assume....?)
  • There are also a couple of references to Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist (1982). Piscatore remarks, "If it worked for Spielberg, it'll work for me", shortly before using a television set to lure Stretch into view, a la the titular ghost from Hooper's film. He subsequently declares that, "They're heeeeeere!", with the intonation of Heather O'Rourke's character. Note that the authorship of Poltergeist has been the subject of long-standing controversy, with several accounts suggesting that writer/producer Steven Spielberg effectively had greater on-set control during the film's production, so Piscatore is simply falling in line in crediting him over Hooper. (Spielberg, of course, also produced the Casper movie, which itself contains a nod to Poltergeist, during the sequence where Harvey examines himself in the bathroom mirror.)
  • This episode ends with a rare victory for Casper (it's far more common for episodes to conclude in the style of "3 Boos and a Babe", with the Trio chasing after Casper, something that was explicitly acknowledged in the Season 2 episode "A Midsummer Night's Scream"). Here, Casper informs Stretch that he cannot slug him, and when Stretch challenges him on this, Casper responds, "Because it's my turn!", (echoing an exchange between Stretch and Stinkie earlier from in the episode) and proceeds to headbutt Stretch in a surprisingly violent manner. Still, if you're on Casper's side then I wouldn't celebrate too raucously, as you know he paid like hell for that stunt right after the fade out. Stretch, the alpha ghost of Whipstaff, wouldn't stand for that kind of insubordination from Stinkie or Fatso; he's sure as heck not going to take it from Casper.

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