The Ghostbusters, Doc Brown, Danny DeVito and Chevy Chase All Teamed Up for History’s Strangest Earth Day PSA

Also E.T. and Rodney Dangerfield, for some reason
The Ghostbusters, Doc Brown, Danny DeVito and Chevy Chase All Teamed Up for History’s Strangest Earth Day PSA

This weekend is Earth Day, that special time when a small segment of the population pretends to care about the environment for 24 hours before going back to their routine of driving SUVs and hunting dolphins with gas-powered Big Mac cannons (we assume). While society as a whole doesn’t seem to make a big deal about Earth Day anymore, back in 1990, it was huge. Enough so that it was the subject of a major television event starring Oscar-winning movie stars and legit comedy legends.

The Earth Day Special aired on ABC, with nearly every celebrity imaginable teaming up for a two-hour extravaganza with the express purpose of saving the planet — how could it possibly miss?

The resulting show was a mess, best described as “What if an anthropomorphic TV Guide joined Greenpeace then slipped into a coma nightmare?” The special opens with Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman — confusingly not playing themselves, but rather, fictional couch potatoes “Vic” and “Paula” who are also watching the show we’re about to watch. Then Bugs Bunny shows up, as does Robin Williams as a Southern preacher-type character. So we’re two sentences in and have already lost the plot. 

But it gets weirder; we actually get to meet “Mother Earth,” and it’s Bette Midler! Unfortunately, she immediately collapses and has to be rushed to the hospital, where she’s aided by Doogie Howser.

Oh, then Doc Brown from Back to the Future shows up because, of course, he does. Really, who better to warn America about the dangers of climate change than the guy who lives in a Burger King parking lot and routinely experiments with stolen plutonium?

Doc isn’t the only 1980s comedy movie icon we see either. Harold Ramis soon appears in full Ghostbusters regalia, playing Egon’s non-canonical brother Elon Spengler, part of the “Wastebusters.” He then chases down and accosts Nathan Thurm, Martin Short’s shifty lawyer character from Saturday Night Live. If this all sounds amazing, we assure you it’s not.

More SNL and SCTV alumni pop by for a bizarre dream sequence in which DeVito’s character fears that he’ll be ridiculed for his environmental beliefs by his poker buddies, played by Dan AykroydChevy Chase and Rick Moranis.

Later, Rodney Dangerfield plays Dr. Vinny Boombatz, now a Dating Game contestant who wins the affections of Geena Davis through his environmentally-friendly ideals. 

And we haven’t even scratched the surface of the Dramamine-worthy cavalcade of pop-culture characters. E.T. appears in a random trash pile, Kermit the Frog worries that he’ll soon become extinct, Dennis Miller complains that the Weekend Update desk isn’t biodegradable, and we visit the sets of sitcoms like Cheers, Golden Girls and, more regrettably, The Cosby Show. Then Will Smith, Queen Latifah, Kid’ n Play, Ice-T and more rap about how humanity should be “workin’ together,” all while E.T. creates a magical, glowing book.

The special is chock-full of advice for everyday Americans, like “recycle” and “repair leaky faucets,” but comes up short when addressing the ecological damage being done by corporations. The most we get is a scene in which Michael Keaton plays a fictional small-town factory owner who regrets the way he disposed of hazardous waste. Perhaps it was a bit too much to ask for Disney to call out, say, their soon-to-be corporate partner Nestle or their long-time theme park sponsor Exxon

Making all of this feel even more like the 1990s TV equivalent of that celebrity “Imagine” video, the special premiered at a charity dinner where some stars showed up in limos, and guest Richard Branson bragged that he planned to plant a tree for “every passenger who flies” his then-new airline, and restaurateur Tony Bill described his eco-conscious afternoon spent buying antiques, aka “recycled furniture.” Happy Earth Day.

You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter (if it still exists by the time you’re reading this). 

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