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Post-mortem: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ‘Season 1’ on Nickelodeon

photos/stills from the first season of nick's TEEANGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
photos/stills from the first season of nick's TEEANGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
© Nickelodeon / A Division of Viacom, Inc.

It’s been a while since “Booyakasha Showdown”, the season finale has aired for the nickelodeon series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the results for this examiner were mostly positive. But in conjunction with the whole season, how does “Booyakasha Showdown” nay, the entire series up to the end of the first season of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which ended August 8th, 2013 and has a new season premiering in the beginning of September 2013 fare?

Booyakasha!
Booyakasha!
Nickelodeon

Rest be assured, this examiner’s initial thoughts on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on nickelodeon have not exactly been favorable. The show suffers some what is sometimes brilliant storytelling for a kids show that is trying hard to be ‘popular’ and then other times it tries to be more funny than serious, and so on and so forth. What I am saying here is that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles suffers from schizophrenia in the tone department.

Despite it’s whack tone and failures in the story-department (more on that in a second), one thing must be said for the casting. At the end of the day, the show lives and dies by the voice cast, and Andrea Romano (yes, that same casting director from the classic WB days) has done it again: starring Sean Astin as Raphael, Jason Biggs as Leonardo, Greg Cipes as Michelangelo, and Rob Paulsen as Donatello, any semblance of joy is found in the casting and interactions between the four brothers. Even when the writing within the show seems to falter the wordplay, the warmth (and back-biting even) between brothers is so present and done so well that it is what gets me through each episode time and time again.*

(*) - Matter of factly, I would have strongly, before watching this series, argue that Corey Feldman and Robbie Rist were top contenders for Donatello and Michelangelo for another live-action or even animated movie. Let’s just say that is no longer the case…

Yet sadly, casting does not a good show make. For every episode that is quite well done, there are moments that showcase that the show is really trying hard… perhaps too hard to make the TMNT cool. Like Michelangelo is the comedy within the show, but it almost feels forced. And it ripples into the rest of the show. Like he just has to name every new ‘freak of the week’ mutant monster they face?

Oy.

What about the other times the show forgets what it is trying to do or say?

Take for example, the episode entitled “The Gauntlet” where-as the Kraang the four tmnt find out, are going to release a bomb atop of New York City which, if people are lucky, will mutate them, if not, will kill them. Now, up to this point, the Kraang have been questioned on ‘why are they really here’ or ‘what are they up to’ and it has been discussed that the Kraang are here to study us and take over the city of New York, then the Earth. So… some logic here: if the Kraang have been facing issues with mutations, why would they set off a mutagen bomb to blow up the city? What good would it truly do by creating all other types of mutant creatures to fight off; they are already having issues with the four turtles!**

(**) – someone has e-mailed me advising the Kraang’s plot has always made sense: to cover the city of New York in mutagen. But my logic question still stands: if they are trying to modify the planet and using NYC as testing grounds to see if the mutagen can help them terraform the planet, if the bomb doesn’t kill half the city, it will mutate it. As further experienced in later episodes as well, characters like the salamander, Leatherhead and the turtles themselves, would a city full of super-powered mutants be a good thing to fight against while you try to take over the city? And what if the bomb did kill half the city? Doesn’t that defeat the point there too? And another thing: for aliens who can’t breathe on our planet all to well, the Kraang’s droid exoskeleton’s design doesn’t showcase how they breathe in our atmosphere. Explain that, please?

While “The Gauntlet” features complete lack of common sense such as the whole Kraang subplot, the show then also tackles the whole Shredder subplot which finally comes to a head, and it really quite well done how the show up to those eight episodes had built the confrontation to the Shredder, and when the Shredder did attack our heroes, it was brutal feeling battle that the heroes felt and ended up going home with their tale between their legs!

And there you have a perfect example of a series that is torn between good and poorly orchestrated concepts. The introduction of characters like Leatherhead have ended up being great episodes. Then you get episodes like “Pulverizer Returns!” and you see how, for comedic effect, the writers play the turtles as heroes ‘burdened’ by certain things, and in this case, they are tasked with some loser again who in the end, pretty much ‘allow’ to be dosed with mutagen and his life ruined.***

(***) – Donatello sure does seem concerned, but it is more like a ‘because my master tasked me with looking over you, but I don’t want to, because, well, I don’t care.’ And the other three, Leo, Mike and Raph are annoyed but also find it funny and could have tried harder to actually save the kid which feels out of place. The argument that the TMNT are acting like teenagers would be a good one, but it is never addressed properly that the TMNT are acting incorrectly; they are just heroes. Also, why is it the TMNT in this one want to be heroes? I get that the TMNT are, that is the whole basis of the characters: they do good things because they are good-natured and have the ability to help. But they never seek heroism. It finds them. By the end of the season, they are full-blown ‘heroes’. But when stuff like that happens, it sure doesn’t really make me like the TMNT… you know, the heroes and leads of the series.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an animated series marred with trying to be many things: a show that sells toys, a show that sells, well, any type of merchandise, a show that needs to sell merchandise so much so that it tries to be annoying cool (and it shows), a show that is trying to be a comedy (like the original 1980’s cartoon), a show trying to be like the comic book (The Mirage one by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird that started the whole thing) and a show that plays up the clever season-long storylines, but in the end the show is trying so much to be everything to everyone, it ends up fumbling the ball all-together. Can Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles make the grade? The series has some equally compelling highs to the series own lows, (such as the cast, the entire Foot Clan/Shredder plot vs the blah Kraang story) and if the edges were trimmed down some, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles might just be a terrific show.