Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ghostwriter: What's Up With Alex?

In case you were wondering, yes, this is the "drugs're bad, mmkay? If you do drugs, you're BAD," episode of Ghostwriter. It starts off with a rash of locker thefts. A girl called Delilah loses her tape player, and another girl, Maria, loses her camera. Our Tina is one of the victims. She loses her sheepskin jacket.

Alex hands Tina his jacket so she won't have to walk home jacketless and puts his arm around her. "Thanks, Alex, you're a really good friend," Tina says, while signaling fiercely with her eyes: "Touch me again and I sic my ancient traditional values Vietnamese father on your ass." I always thought Tina was mad foolish not to respond to Alex's sweet, but not over the top, advances. An edgy sounding guitar rif plays as a non-Ghoswriter team member, Kevin, enters the screen and tells Alex (or Alejandro as he insists on calling him) to walk with him to class.

Later in Urban Studies class, Jamal tells Alex that they have to meet after school to talk about the mystery of the missing stuff. Alex says he can't because he has to go play basketball with the Dragons. Jamal: "Get serious, they're the best three man b-ball team in the neighborhood...You go, boy!" Also, "I'm not bitter at all that I'm the token black guy, you're a head taller than me, and I don't even get a basketball subplot. Screaming Awoooga in music videos is enough for me. Yup."

At Jamal's house, the kids use Ghostwriter to find words near the words on the stolen items. (Tina had a grocery list written in Vietnamese in her stolen jacket pocket.) Ghostwriter returns "I LOVE ALABAMA," "For Sale," "Ralph's," "Body Work," "Used Batteries," and "Alarms." Oh, it's probably at a garage named Ralph's, I think. Ten minutes later, the kids copy down all the words, go through the phone book (remember those? vintage!), have a debate about whether Ralph's refers to a gym, a florist's, or a garage, and finally decide that Tina's jacket is probably NOT in the hands of a hick personal trainer. I suddenly realize how they managed to squeeze four episodes out of each arc.

Meanwhile, at Kevin's place, Kevin goes over some basketball plays with Alex, and the other member of the team, Spencer. Kevin uses code names to describe the basketball plays. He explains that his grandfather did the same thing when he was a fighter pilot. He tells Spencer to, "turn off the magic mirror," and Alex exclaims, "You call your television the magic mirror?" (Incidentally, his grandfather's MVP trophy is referred to as Aladdin's Lamp.) I guess this is supposed to make him seem strange, mysterious, and vaguely seedy, but it just kind of reminds me of the kids who were really, REALLY into Pokemon.

Tina, Jamal, and Hector decide to head to Ralph's Garage to see if they can get some evidence. Side note. For those of you who don't remember, Hector replaced Rob. He was the Mati (heart!) of the team except without a monkey. He was from Puerto Rico, was a bit younger than the rest of the crew, and had trouble reading/writing English. Alex meets him a couple of episodes ago as part of the Big Brother program to mentor him. He's essentially the pre-Dora the Explorer poster child for basic literacy skills. Don't you want to focus on reading, little Hispanic children? A lonely gringo ghost might harass you and make you solve mysteries. One other thing about Hector--he is played by William Hernandez, the gay guy on Real World. (And yes, the only reason I know this is because of youtube commenters. Rest assured, unlike the youtube commenters, I will not stoop to mocking Mr. Hernandez's sexuality.)

So Jamal, Tina, and Hector spy at the garage. Big Ralph sells Delilah back her stolen tape player out of the trunk of a car. Naive Tina, whose parents rarely let her out of the tailor shop except to do extra credit reports, thinks that he must be the thief. Hector informs them it's a fence (selling stolen items). He done learned some mad skillz on the streets of Puerto Rico. Hector then destroys any hope of us thinking he's got cred by walking up to the car trunk and looking inside for Tina's jacket. Big Ralph sees them and gets pissed, and here's where the first segment ends. When we return, Hector gets frightened and reverts to speaking in Spanish. Shut up, Mati. Tina asks to buy back her jacket, but Ralph is suspicious and wants to know who sent them. Since "a dead guy who can, the world" probably won't sound too convincing, and because they don't have the presence of mind to name the girl whom they JUST saw buying stuff, they make up a name. When Ralph doesn't buy that "uh, um...George Glass" sent them, he tells them to git, and they am-scray.

Later, the kids update the suspect list. Delilah gets added to the list. Yes, she stole her own item so she could buy it back marked up 150%. You guys totally need to start working on who killed JonBenet Ramsey next.

On to the drugs. Alex and Kevin rendezvous at his house after having won a b-ball game. Kevin: "Since you're the MVP today, you get to light up." Alex looks horrified. "That's pot!" Kevin responds smoothly, "Also known as marijuana, reefer." (Ooh, someone saw Reefer Madness.) "Don't tell me you've never smoked a joint before...Whoa. This is so cool. I get to introduce you to pot for the first time." As strains of Like a Virgin play in the background, Alex nervously says he has to get going, and maybe some other time. Whoa, whoa, whoa. You know he's in for it now. I learned from such erudite sources as Irvine Welsh, the lady who wrote Go Ask Alice, and the Ninja Turtles (yeah Cartoon Allstars to the Rescue!), that when someone offers you drugs you're supposed to be a lot more assertive about it. Try, "Drugs make you mean to everyone like a monster!" Or if he calls you a chicken say, "I'm not a chicken, you're a turkey."

Next. Alex walks into the Korova Milk Bar. Er, the bodega. Mr. Ferrrrnandez chews out Alex for not cleaning the sidewalk outside the bodega. They got a fifty dollar ticket for not having a clean sidewalk. (Not having a clean sidewalk?! Who the hell runs Brooklyn, Ned Flanders? You ought to see some of the "bodegas" I visit here in Manhattan.) Alex growls that he hates the stupid store. Mrs. Fernandez says, "Alejandro, no quiso decir eso." Mr. Ferrrnandez lights up. "Spanish--you know what that does to me!" Er, rather, Alex translates back for the benefit of the audience, "Yes, I did mean to say that." Then he's grounded for being a smartass. So clearly the lesson here is that Alex should have smoked a bowl with Kevin because either way he was out fifty dollars.

Upstairs in his room, Alex is all angsty and he's totally channeling James Dean but without a wife beater (drag--that would look so awesome). Ghostwriter intuits that something's wrong (he can figure this out but, based on other episodes, he has no idea what copyright infringement, the FBI, or Mickey Mouse are). Alex and Ghostwriter write each other a few notes, and then Ghostwriter sends him one last message.

God, Ghostwriter, insightful. Also, NB to Alex, the sturm und drang of the young adolescent would seem way more plausible if you didn't have a poster of dinosaurs and what looks to be Humpty Dumpty over your bed. (I don't even want to know what you're thinking of before you go to bed.)

Lenni questions Delilah and figures out that Spencer told her about the fence. Lenni isn't wearing anything ridiculously ethnic, so let's skip over this to Kevin and Alex.

Alex is bitching about Papa Fernandez riding his ass. Kevin tells him, "You're going to miss a slamming party. The whole posse's gonna be there." Love the bitchin' 90s slang. Slamming. Posse. Party. Then Kevin tells Alex that Mary Jo will be there. Guys, the slang term for marijuana is Mary JANE, damnit. But it turns out he's referring to an actual girl named Mary Jo. And besides, our man Alejandro already has the yellow fever, so get over it. Side note. Kevin, unnecessary wearing of sunglasses is only permissible if you're Phil Spector at his arraignment or possibly Corey Hart, so take some visine and lose the shades.

At home, Alex has a black and white slo-mo day dream of Mary Jo approaching him, and then of himself wearing sunglasses and holding a b-ball.

Oh, Alex. You know, you don't have to do drugs to look like a total 'tard. Carrot Top does just fine drug-free.

Papa Fernandez comes to his room to scream at Alex for no particular reason and tells him to get back to work. I kind of like Mr. F. He's angry and belligerent, sure, but he COMMITS to it. When Mr. F leaves, our friendly drug user sneaks in through the window and mocks him for sharing a room with his younger sister. (That kind of skeeved me a little, too.) Apparently the party's over but Kevin brought over some pot. Alex hears someone coming, tells Kevin to leave and take his drugs, too. Kevin heads out but leaves the joint on the window sill. Druggie Kevin is an asshole for leaving his drugs where impressionable children and chimpanzees could get to them, but he wins points for not bogarting his squishee--er, joint, and for using the window as a means of entry and exit. When I was a little Sadako, I thought that only the coolest of friends used windows. Little Joey Potter on Dawson's Creek. Sam from Clarissa Explains It All.

Tina and Hector decide to go stalk Ralph some more. They gab over their shared love of greasy looking working class bears (okay, I'm using Hector's sexuality to make jokes, too. Bad Sadako!). If you thought that the FBI camping out in a pizza delivery van for two weeks when stalking mafia goons was subtle, you're gonna love how these guys decided to disguise their intentions.

Yes, they put a paper bag around the video camera. Those people on Candid Camera? They should totally have talked to you guys. I absolutely had to imagine the conversation these two had before heading out. "We have to be careful that Ralph doesn't spot us this time, Hector." "Ooh, should we go in disguise? I'll break out the body glitter!" "No, we need to be subtle." Connie Chung mans the paper bag as Mati looks on. They spy on Spencer bringing Big Ralph a plastic bag and taking some money. Ghostwriter informs them that whatever is in the bag says, "Luck will knock on your door." The dream team has no idea what it could be, and I make a mental note to have them sent a box of fortune cookies.

Gaby finds the joint on the window sill. She demands to know where it came from. Oh, Gabbers, you guys are from El Salvador. You don't know? She gives him a "Drug'sre bad, okay?" speech and he eye rolls. Little sisters just don't understand.

By the way, we have another suspect. A little kid called Arnie was seen holding a camera with a flower sticker on it. (Earlier, a camera was stolen that had a sticker on it.) The kids ask if he got it from Big Ralph, but he bolts, and he goes down in the casebook as a suspect.

Wait, you think Harry Potter over here is the thief? He looks like he'd have an ethical dilemma lifting a penny from the take a penny/leave a penny bowl.

At Urban Studies class, the kids are all doing class projects. (What kind of middle school has an Urban Studies class?) Jamal is paired with Jeffrey (the cute geeky kid from the election episode). They decide to do their project on drugs. Alex and Kevin are working together, and they get chewed out for not having a topic yet.

Another theft. A kid, Jason, lost a bracelet from his girlfriend that says "Love you 4-ever." Oh dear god, no. I'm pretty sure he just threw it out and is pretending that he fell victim to the thefts because he had the foresight to know that bling and bad grammar were going to become seriously uncool soon. Shift scene to Alex lamenting that last night, Gaby found the tell tale joint. He asks if Kevin didn't notice it was missing. Kevin responds, "I thought I might have smoked it and forgot about it." See? Drugs are killing his brain cells! Except I don't do drugs and I'm always burning through my Devil Dogs. Unless...Drake cakes burn brain cells, too?!

Kevin tells Alejandro to bring the joint to his casa after school and then says he's leaving because he doesn't feel so well. Dude, you smoked one, maybe two joints. Dr. House manages to pop Vicodin like tic tacs and solve complicated medical mysteries AND he keeps the hurt and pain of alienating everyone who cares about him bottled up inside without passing out in the middle of the day. Suck it up, homeboy!

Meanwhile, Gaby stresses over her brother and his drug problem. Inexplicably, she's at Lenni's house while Lenni and her hip dad appear to be out. Ghostwriter asks what's going on.

Okay, I know the kids love Ghostwriter, but imagine what it would be like to have a friend who ALWAYS knows that something's wrong, and who you can't really ever get away from. Well, okay, imagine this before the days of Twitter. Incidentally, don't you love the creepy toothed smile sticker Lenni has on her computer? What's the matter, did they run out of peace signs at Lisa Frank? Ghostwriter advises Gaby to write to Alex, and I blame these kids for the passive aggressive signs you see on bathrooms. No, don't write me a cute sign telling me what to do if I sprinkle when I tinkle, just say, "Quit pissing on the damned seat." Anyway, Gaby finishes her note.

Back at paper bag central. Big Ralph is talking to a shady looking figure giving him something. Ghostwriter reads "Love you 4-Ever" so they figure that the thief is right there speaking to Big Ralph. Conveniently, Big Ralph's girth blocks the thief's identity. The fuzz show up to arrest Ralph, and the thief bolts.

At Casa Ferrrrnandez, Dora and Diego argue. Gaby reads Alex her passive aggressive note. (Okay, that's better than just leaving it there, I guess.) He can't find the joint and heads out to Kevin's Den of Iniquity and Sin, which is basically the same as the set of Alex and Gaby's room except trippier.
You can tell that someone who does drugs lives here because of the lava lamp. Oh, set dressers, this just means that someone with no taste lives here. What next, Kevin has track lighting in his room?

Some kids dance looking bored and aimless. Oh no! They've lost their sense of rhythm. Alex wants to work on the Urban Studies project but Kevin's all, "Time to take the trip up the beanstalk, Jack." Goddamnit. I wonder whether or not to throttle Kevin and scream, "If you're going to make literary references, it's Alice in Wonderland, you sad, strange little boy." Alex goes all, "Drugs're bad, mmkay?" on Kevin who puts his arm around Alex and says, "Alejandro, is it wrong to steal a loaf of bread to feed your hungry family? ...and what if your family don't like bread...they like...marijuana?" Er, I mean, he goes on about how drugs are cool. Mary Jo comes over and Kevin tells Alex to man up.

As Kevin plays the devil to Alex's Faust, Alex has a memory montage of all the good, non-drug moments in his life. Mr. Ferrrrnandez talking about Alex becoming a man. Gaby's letter. Rallies with the team. Alex springs to life. "It's just not me, man. I can't do it." He heads out.

Then we come to Jamal and Jeffrey working on their school assignment by talking to a drug counselor named Mr. Oliver.

"I'm not too old to know what kids go through. I hang out in the hood, travel from school to school and do anything I can to keep drugs off my kids." he says. You can tell he can relate to today's youth because of his hip, reversible vest that's ethnic but not TOO ethnic. He asks the kids what the best weapon to fight drugs is. Jeffrey thinks it's guns, Jamal thinks it's the police. Turns out it's knowledge. I was going with hope myself. Damn. "I use knowledge to kick drugs in the butt!" Ooh, you know he's edgy because he used the word "butt." He advises the kids that it isn't ratting on your friends to encourage them to get help if they need it. Mini narcs. You just know that the only reason Grandma Jenkins is so sanguine on her mail route all the freaking time is because she's lighting up now and again.

Next, the Ferrrrnandezes find the joint. Alex pulls the old, "Uh, it was a friend's." Alex is grounded until he decides not to hang out with his druggie friend. Mr. Fernandez: "He's going to keep trying to convince you to do things that you know are wrong." Gee, considering that this whole plot revolves around Kevin basically selling every possession he has to feed the beast within, why the hell is he so eager to give away his stash for free? (Oops, did I give away the ending?) Lighten up, Mr. Ferrrnandez, it's just marijuana. It's not like he's selling Amway.

Back to the mystery. Connie Chung is on the case. Jamal and Tina decide to go review the videotape of Big Ralph and the thief later. Alex blows them off and they think he's a jerk. Turns out that Arnie knew about Big Ralph being a fence because his mom used to date him. And in n other news, Spencer won't let Tina question him.

The kids rally at Lenni's place to watch the video. Two hours of "Back and to the left, back and to the left, BACK and to the left," later, we find out that the thief in the video is sporting a DRAGONS jacket. The kids gasp. Yeah, I know. He should have been wearing a Members Only jacket. The eighties were only a few years ago. Anyway, the kids figure it's Spencer. But Jamal points out that all the Dragons are suspects, except for Alex, who doesn't have a jacket yet. So it could be Spencer, Victor (former member of the team), or Kevin.

Later, there's a basketball game but the Dragons forefeit because Kevin doesn't show. Spencer and Alex are pissed. At Kevin's place, Spencer yells at Kevin who protests that he didn't feel well. What the hell? Did you get the munchies and cram an entire pie down your gullet? Spencer and Alex tell Kevin he has a serious problem, and they leave. Alex realizes he's in trouble since he was already grounded and had to sneak out to go to the game. Spencer leaves and Ghostwriter tells Alex to seek help from his friends.

At Lenni's, Gaby points out that Alex can question Kevin. But Lenni and Tina seem to think Alex is NOT a team player. Tina points out that he "dissed" her and Jamal when they wanted help on the case. (Tina, stop shooting the poor boy down and then whining when he gives you your space. It wasn't cute when Joey Potter or Jen Lindley did it, and it's not cute when you do it either.) Suddenly, Alex shows up.

Meanwhile, Jamal has a valid excuse for missing the rally. He and Jeffrey are working on their project. Jeffrey jumps around the room playing air guitar and singing about how drugs mess up your head, while Jamal rolls his eyes. Yep, play that funky music white boy. Actually, compared to Lenni and her godawful excuse for music, Jeffrey's freaking Bowie. Jamal inexplicably pumps iron.
Oh, Jamal, just break out the roids, and go for it. You're never going to compete with Alejandro's athletic skills on your own.

Anyway, Jeffrey points out that they could make a music video for their project--Lenni did one. (And already your conception is better than her actual video.) Jamal shoots down his idea. Jeffrey's next idea is to write an anti drug book and Jamal has conniptions because writing a book is way too ambitious. Jeffrey's actually kind of cute. He's growing on me. Lose Mati and add him to the team. Oh wait, no one would know what Rally J meant if he was on the team.

Jeffrey yells that Jamal has no ideas of his own. Jamal: "How can I think when you're bouncing around my room like a lunatic?" "Yeah, well maybe I'll just go home and bounce by myself!" Jeffrey shoots back. After they fight, the two apologize and Jamal explains he feels left out since Alex didn't want to work with him. Jeffrey tells Jamal how cool he thinks he is, doing stuff with his friends. Aww.

At Lenni's. Alex tells the kids that Kevin has a real problem with drugs. That he could start doing harder stuff. Lenni replies, "He has a serious problem."

No, Lenni, that hairdo? That's a serious problem. Today you're piling your hair on your head in a bun--tomorrow you could be Amy Winehouse. Anyway, Alex apologizes for having friends that wear Dragons jackets instead of pens around their necks. Then he tells them that he hasn't gone home yet because he's afraid his parents will be pissed. Gaby says that he should write them a letter. Goddamnit, stop with the passive aggression!

Anyway, the letter works. Alex is back in his parents' good graces like Errol Flynn in sweet underage pussy. And Jamal agrees to let Alex work with him on his school project with Jeffrey. Alex is back to the straight and narrow.

Alex goes to find Kevin and finds him paying off a drug dealer with some of his stuff. God, how much does pot go for in Brooklyn these days? Alex tells Kev he needs help, but Kevin blows him off. Rally A time. The kids talk about Kevin and Jamal tells Alex to talk to Mr. Oliver. Alex is reticent but Jamal vouches for him, saying, "He's cool." We're taking tips on coolness from a token who makes Steve Urkel look slamming.

At school, Alex seeks out the drug counselor.

Mr. Oliver sits in a turned around chair, so Alex will know he's on the level. Alex doesn't want to narc out Kevin despite Mr. Oliver's hip mannerisms. Mr. Oliver shakes Alex's hand, hoping he'll change his mind soon. Then at Jamal's, Kevin, Jamal, and Jeffrey decide to write a drug brochure as part of their project. I'll hand it to you, that is slightly more imaginative than a collage, which is what we had to do in anti drug indoctrination--er, health class. Jamal proposes that they do theirs like a comic book and call it "How To Say No to a Friend." It's so...lackluster. So unoriginal. Has no alliterations. Isn't remotely catchy. Somewhere in the distance, Nancy Reagan screams, "It's perfect!"

At school the next day, Lenni questions Spencer. Spencer explains that he delivers Chinese food to Big Ralph and that's it. Lenni thinks he's hiding something. Tina questions Victor but realizes he couldn't have done it because he was at a track meet during one of the robberies, with tons of witnesses. Back at Lenni's, the kids stare at the video tape for a few more hours as I zonk out. "Back and to the left. Back and to the left." The kids finally realize that the weird message ("Luck will knock on your door") was a fortune cookie. Stupid kids. They decide that they should call for Chinese food and that when Spencer comes, they'll show him the videotape of Big Ralph and the mystery criminal and that if he looks guilty, they'll know it was him. When Spencer comes over, he reveals that Kevin used to work for the Chinese place and knows Big Ralph. Uh oh.

Chez Jamal. The comic book brochure. Turns out you can do all kinds of things instead of smoke a bowl. Jamal illustrates these things for us. You can play baseball. Graduate from high school.
Get molested by a bearded stranger. As the kids finish up their anti drug propaganda, I get a vague urge to light a doobie.

On to the denouement. Ghostwriter finds some clues involving the "Magic Mirror" and "Aladdin's Lamp." Yep, Kevin's hocking his crap to finance his drug problem. Anyone surprised here? Alex shows up and figures out what the clues mean. Ghostwriter reveals that Kevin is at the basketball court, so Jamal and Alex go find him.

He's lying down in pain, barely able to speak. Good god, did the drug dealer decide to take something else in lieu of payment? Like, Kevin's ass virginity? Jamal goes to find Mr. Oliver as an uplifting song about light at the end of the darkness plays in the background.

At the bodega, Alex talks on the phone. He hangs up and tells Papa Ferrrrrnandez that friend Kevin will be in the hospital for two more weeks. "What about his drug problem?" asks Papa F. "Is that going to go away in two weeks, too?" Ooh, zing. Kevin's going to get drug counseling and they'll decide how to deal with the locker thefts when Kevin gets out. Everyone got their stuff back, though, so that works out. And it seems that CPS paid the Fernandezes a visit because Alex isn't going to be sharing a room with Gaby anymore--Mr. Fernandez is going to convert a spare room into a bedroom for Alejandro!

And, scene! Well, good episode, except there was no closure about the things that really matter. Like will Alex's new room include a jacuzzi and a washer/dryer? And did the kids get an A on their drug brochure or just an A-?