After seeing TMNT episode 4: New Friend, Old Enemy on October 13, 2012, I posted this — again long-winded — appraisal on my Google Plus. I guess there was no better way to explain how much I appreciated the show’s excellence.
Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles does plenty of big, outstanding things to the highest level of quality facilitated by the medium, but it’s the little things that really make it all count. This week’s episode won me over again by demonstrating that with style.
If there were any shortcomings this week, it would have to be a slight lack of clarity on some of the plot ideas, and again the way-too-brief half hour time-slot, as always.
The high points were hitting me in the face at high velocity. This one was snappy, smart and filled with great moments, set-ups and callbacks.
This week the turtles gleefully enjoyed their first encounter with Foot ninja and their effective field commander; Chris Bradford. The fight scene in question is fantastic, with great moves and action, but doesn’t over-stay its welcome. It was a fitting, but not overdone moment.
Leonardo keeps the continuity by referencing the enemies from previous episodes.
With April’s help, Mike tries to make a human best friend via an obvious Facebook stand-in.
Donatello barely hides his wallpaper of April before letting her use his laptop. Hence, new viewers are informed about his standing crush while dedicated fans are titillated by this fun status update. Awesome.
Mike expresses his sense of betrayal with two very amusing callbacks.
In the end, Mike revels in his final act of revenge against Bradford when he unfriends him online.
Plus, if you look close, you can see the partially obfuscated image of an online video cued up on Bradford’s profile, the subject of which is Snake Weed from the premier special.
There were an astounding three moments of true art in this episode.
Splinter knocks Leonardo on his butt to demonstrate the virtue of fighting to win while challenging the old stereotypical idea that a “fair” fight is somehow honorable. He’s like Socrates meets Sun Tzu. That’s heavy stuff for a would-be kid’s show.
After Bradford needs a bargaining chip to squeeze secrets from Mike, he teaches him a special technique with the strict stipulation that he not share it with anyone else as a way to gain his trust. Of course, Mike immediately teaches the move to his bros who are practicing it when Splinter walks in to see it and recognize the style as being that of Shredder.
The money part of this is that the audience is first informed about it without blatant exposition. Instead, it’s insinuated with a very brief flashback presented in the same very distinct animation style that we’ve been seeing during Splinter’s anecdotes in previous episodes. This was an ingenious way to get the point across and doubly wink at an audience who’s paying attention.
Later, Mike is captured and then immediately rescued by his brothers, exclaiming “dudes! That was sporadic!” (“That doesn’t even mean that”, Donatello chides him). But it was all a clever ruse so the Foot could follow the turtles back to their hidden lair. But then! The trap was double-crossed when the turtles were clever enough to anticipate the strategy and turned the tables by setting up and ambush of their own and luring their opponents to a location that gave them the tactical advantage.
Holy crap that’s a lot to squeeze into 30 minutes minus commercials. I worry that this level of staggering craftsmanship is flying right over the target audience’s heads, plus the likely dull-witted heads of their parents. I’m no critical mastermind myself, but I, for one, highly appreciate it.
After watching the technical 3rd episode three times, I wrote the following uncharacteristically proper review on October 7, 2012. Other than a couple of corrections, this is again copied directly from my Google Plus.
Turtle Temper didn’t even barely uphold the myriad fan-service references and innuendo from the premiere, which I guess is something that would be tough to sustain throughout a whole series. I can forgive that, but it leaves the show feeling just slightly less substantial.
It also felt a little uncomfortably convenient that once again there was an accident by which the turtles inadvertently mutated a bystander into a hideous monster-of-the-week. I’m confident this won’t carry on to the point of becoming a rut just based on upcoming episode titles alone.
The dialog jumps around a lot. Sometimes it’s really clever, but sometimes it feels maybe a little too straightforward. I understand the need for expository lines to help very young new fans follow what’s happening, but sometimes the language is so beyond prosaic it’s plain enough to be Amish.
This episode revolved all around Raphael’s short fuse creating so much trouble for the team that they went on their mission without him. What set him off were some incessant insults from an obnoxious human. The insults are mostly childish and simplistic, but luckily it still comes of as legitimately annoying thanks to the very legitimately annoying voice of Lewis Black.
Tongue-in-cheek I’m compelled to mention that a person of his character’s IQ range would almost never refer their satellitedish by that proper term.
All that said, there’s also a lot I really loved about this one.
Splinter had yet another relevant anecdote to share that served dual purposes of furthering the growth of one of the principal characters (Raphael) while also revealing more about his own backstory — and especially how it relates to the rivalry between himself and Shredder. That is some seriously admirable fiction.
Likewise, Splinter’s tendency to relate to his turtles in a way that’s tailored to each of their personalities gives him an especially compelling new persona. He’s not just a great new interpretation of the character, he’s an uncommonly well crafted expression of the archetype.
This week’s episode went a long way to alleviating one of my biggest personal anxieties about the whole TMNT premise. In the 80s, the property degraded into a glorified Loony-Toons universe of animal-people. Given the mechanism of the mutagenic central plot device it almost seems like a regrettably inevitable eventuality. In Nick’s turtle world, though, the bad guys are beginning to take on a much more bizarre and monstrous appearance.
The villainous Spider Bytez definitely took on several arachnid qualities, but also looked very alien and didn’t directly resemble either a man or a spider. Unlike the formulaic, predictable human and animal hybrid characters we used to see, this one is truly freakish and hardly recognizable as harboring any former connection to humanity, much like Honey Boo-Boo’s mom.
Overall it was great again and my only real gripe is I wish it could be an hour long every time.
Despite my superhuman capacity for patience, the wait for a new episode is beginning to make me a bit stir crazy. To placate myself I’m reading over some of my old writings about the show. For example, the following are my impressions that I posted on my Google+ while watching the premiere special: Rise of the Turtles on September 29, 2012.
It’s turning out to be a genuinely good show. It has a nice balance of serious action and lighthearted gags. Despite 3 interrupting phone calls from the same number, the dogs barking at trash in the alley, and a family conflict drama, I’m managing to enjoy the show. It’s even made me stifle a couple of laughs already.
This show has the best version of Raphael ever.
Yeah it’s a good show. I could watch it even if it weren’t about ninja turtles (but it is, so I actually will).
Even though I’m still not 100% on board with the really tall Splinter, it does make for a more parental dynamic, and I love this Splinter’s personality.
The mutant creature bad guy introduced in this episode (Stinkweed* — a human criminal mutated into a 10 foot tall plant monster) turned out to be slightly gruesome. Even though he looks all vegetable, he voluntarily split his own stalk in half to regain his legs, which revealed he’s still meat — and bones — on the inside. His chest also exposes his beating heart.
The Kraang have a very odd manner of speaking which is delightfully weird.
Shredder barely made a cameo at the very end. It looks like his head is all charred up, opera-phantom style.
I forgot to mention, the origin story is a nice mix of the Fred Wolf and New Line versions. Splinter was human; Hamato Yoshi. He was the one who was carrying the bowl of baby turtles (not a random kid). They were spilled because he was attacked by the kraang. He didn’t touch them because they were isolated in the bowl, but a rat had run across his foot moments before. Based on that, I assume the mutagen works according to the Fred Wolf rule: mutating into the form of the last living thing that one came in contact with.
I like it because it makes more sense that the turtles and Splinter fell into the ooze when it was dropped by the kraang, instead of the impossibly convoluted series of unlikely accidents that had to take place in the FW cartoon. Likewise, it makes more sense that human Yoshi knows the kung foos instead of the silly story in the movie about a pet rat mimicking his human keeper.
The following day…
Now I just watched today’s repeat. It was just as good or better the second time around.
A couple of things I forgot to mention:
- Sometimes the turtles run with their arms dangling behind, Naruto style.
- Leonardo is kind of an ego maniac.
- Shredder is stationed in Tokyo and is only motivated to travel to NY when he learns Splinter is there.
- The least plausible thing so far is that when they encounter their first pizza, they have literally no idea what it is. Really? They’ve never seen a commercial for pizza in 15 years of TV?
After my 3rd viewing, I noticed that they have a very large pizza sign hanging in their kitchen. That’s yet another detail that compounds the oversight in the “first pizza” scene later in the episode.
* Looking back, I’m not sure how I brainfarted “Stinkweed”.