Sadly, the Ghostbusters redux in 2016 wound up an uneven - if occasionally inspired - feature. As a result, its box office take was too tepid for Sony’s tastes, slowing plans for a major franchise revival. Nevertheless, the power of ‘80s nostalgia compels, permeating modern culture, as evident in the Duffer Brothers’ fantastic throwback romp Stranger Things. The show, along with the kids’ Ghostbusters-themed Halloween getup, inspired original film actor and writer Dan Aykroyd to propose a curious new path for the team: a Stranger Things-inspired Ghostbusters series on Netflix.
According to Aykroyd's concept, the streaming saga would feature the professional paranormal investigators and eliminators before their heyday, following them through their high school days. While curious, there’s something about the overeducated group of thirty-somethings that doesn’t scream “fast childhood friends.” They give off the air of colleagues who bonded, becoming friends through their shared, offbeat areas of interest. Their academic days, when they were inspired to step into the fields of psychology and parapsychology (and that’s just Peter Venkman), sound like fertile ground for a fresh look at the traditional team.
For one thing, their days spent in higher learning have a lot of bearing on their eventual business venture. Murray’s sardonic Venkman notes a degree in parapsychology. Sure, times may be a-changin’, as TV channels are overloaded with shows about ghost-hunting teams and paranormal activities, but no esteemed and accredited universities offer such an esoteric degree plan now, much less 40 years ago. The series could dig into Peter, Egon (Harold Ramis), and Ray’s (Aykroyd) efforts to pursue such wildly unconventional independent studies.
Not only that but a streaming Ghostbusters: The College Years (a very halfhearted title suggestion) also has a golden opportunity: It can showcase the experiences that pushed the triad into their chosen fields, offering a wealth of possible adventures - both comedic and poignant. Even if the production focuses primarily on their years in academia, there’s no reason it couldn’t flash back to significant moments from their childhood, including, yes, high school. Still, the meat of the show would be best served by a steady intake of the formative squads’ collegiate hijinks.
Perhaps Ghostbusters could explore the origins of Egon’s unusual collection (spores, molds, and fungus) or feature an utterly skeptical Peter on his first, eye-rolling ghost hunt ("Ray, the sponges migrated about a foot and a half"). Their adventures could detail Ray’s family history, presuming it echoes Aykroyd’s own eclectic relations, including his spiritualist great-grandfather, spiritualist, and Psi Factor-producing father. Plus, once the future spectral pest controllers get their first taste of the supernatural, the series could examine Egon’s unique engineering process. While the writers wouldn’t have to get faux-technical, a la Star Trek, his blend of science and paranormal which inspired their “little toys” like P.K.E. meters, ecto-goggles, and proton packs – perhaps even his inspiration behind building a ghost trap to “bust some heads… in a spiritual sense.”
Speaking of technical issues, there is one specific problem any Ghostbusters spinoff needs to address: the team itself. Successfully recreating these iconic characters for the small screen won't be easy. Each actor would portray a somewhat younger version of the characters seen in the film. As such, they’d need to look similar to their namesakes while also channeling the voices, mannerisms, and styles of each character as they develop them – without appearing like caricatures or spoofs.
The cast would also have to work seamlessly as an ensemble, much like the classic crew (and, to a lesser degree, the reboot). The dialog and plots also require the same finesse as the casting. Each line must crackle with the era-appropriate wit of a well-oiled ensemble cast. And even though the easy temptation is to subtly shift the show into the 1980s, to take advantage of our modern cultural wistfulness, a longer-running series should start at the beginning of their academic associations. Subtracting the appropriate time for each degree program (since each of the original three has at least one Ph.D.) would set the college-age 'busters in the early to mid-'70s.
For added oomph, the series could incorporate many of the original actors, with the action derived from flashbacks. Each episode or two, depending upon the length and diversity of the story arcs, could feature one or several of the present day ‘busters as bookends, relating their anecdotes as students to an interviewer, a college class, or even their paranormal proteges. This way, they could interject some Winston (Ernie Hudson), Janine (Annie Potts), Walter Peck (William Atherton), or even, Rick Moranis-willing, Lewis Tully into the show.
Beyond the characterization, the show could also explore Aykroyd’s initial concept for Ghostbusters: interdimensional travel. While the concept was too high-budget for the 1984 picture, a longer series with a decent budget combined with far-superior modern effects could easily trek back and forth through time, as well as crossing into the nearest convenient parallel dimensions. The series could even connect, much like the IDW’s comic book crossover, to the rebooted film, where one of the two teams is shunted into the other’s alternate reality. It would be a great way to rectify the film and connect the two disparate ends of the franchise in a meaningful way.
Given the slavish devotion of the fan base and the numerous moving parts involved, a Ghostbusters streaming series is a tricky proposition. But it could actually work. Aykroyd’s high school-age adventures is an interesting way to go. At the same time, it seems like the heart of their story takes place in college when the lads came together as a functionally dysfunctional team. During this timeframe, they rounded out their eccentric personalities, honed their group dynamic, and were drawn deeper into the world of the paranormal.
Naturally, a Ghostbusters show is purely conceptual at this point. If Aykroyd gets the okay for a high school throwback, we’d watch the heck out of it – assuming it’s fashioned with the same love as the original film. With the right ensemble cast, as well as a competent script and direction, a look back at the formation of the original crew would prove illuminating and might even mollify some of the unnecessary animosity towards the reboot crew. Most of all, any storyline must remind fans of the most important elements of the franchise: bustin’ ghosts and cracking wise.
Do you like the idea of a retro-Ghostbusters series featuring the original team as teens? What about a college-aged crew? Or, should they just leave the franchise alone? Let us know in the comments.