Rubrics and Tendrils of Richard Gehr

8 April 1994

Space Ghost Coast to Coast

Just what the universe needs: another talk show. But while the premise of the animated Space Ghost Coast to Coast (Saturdays, 11 p.m., USA) might at first glance seem a little, well, silly, its execution is a popcult junkie's multimedia wet dream. Introduced in 1966, artist Alex Toth's cut-rate Hanna-Barbera character turns out to be the ultimate chat-show cipher. Rather than Hollywood or Times Square, the desolate Ghost Planet hovers menacingly behind the official talk-show desk, while avant-squonk guitarist Sonny Sharrock provides the real-life music played by Space Ghost's animated bandleader and onscreen nemesis Zorak ("I am the lone locust of the apocalypse," nags Zorak, strangely reminiscent of Kathie Lee Gifford. "Think of me when you look to the night sky." "Yeah, right," sighs Space Ghost.

Within about the first three minutes of Coasts to Coast 's first episode, it had already machinegunned references to Star Trek, Lost in Space, Monty Python, Ren and Stimpy, Beavis and Butt-Head, MST3K, and The Simpsons --not to mention the implied presence of Dave, Jay, Arsenio, Conan, and Greg. With such guests as dietary dynama Susan Powter, giggling Bee Gees, and a wrinkling trio of Gilligan's Islanders, Coast to Coast condenses vast amounts of TV history into tight, fast 15-minute TV happen ings that outdo Talk Soup for concentrated strangeness.

"Who are you really?" asks Space Ghost of Susan Powter. "What's your secret identity?"

"I'm really a transsexual," confesses Powter. "I'm not a woman at all!"

Like Max Headroom, the TV creation he most strongly reflects, Space Ghost's fake futurity wryly manifests the medium's here and now: airless cocktail parties combining self-promotion and insult-fueled deflation in equal parts. Since the interviews are pre-recorded, no guest will ever disturn the Ghost. This leads to such perfect TV moments as irritating comedian Kevin Meaney getting blasted into the void, or the inspired absurdity of Space Ghost proclaiming in perfect Letterman rapture, "Hey, look at me! I'm talking Shakespeare with Gilligan!"

Coast to Coast combines televisual maximalism--hilarious writing, rapid-fire editing, stock footage, phony self-importance, and TV's most stereophonically enhanced sound track--with some of the cheapest animation to come down the pike since Klutch Kargo (sp?). It all works like a well-oiled pleasure machine. After all, isn't this what television ultimately boils down to: an overdeveloped white male ghost, on a talk show, in a box, in space?