Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Heroes in a Half Shell!
By Dave Newman on 28th October 2020
I think it’s inevitable that I’ll be reviewing the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie soon, so I thought I’d review some episodes from the first few (good) seasons of the cartoon, which I took a minute to get into, but when I did I was into it I was REALLY into it!
Enter: The Fly
From season two, where the Technodrome had been sent to Dimension X, but Shredder was working on Earth. Shredder had suffered one failure too many thanks to geeky scientist Baxter Stockman, so exchanges brains for brawn and gets Bebop and Rocksteady back. Stockman is sent to Krang, who has no use for him, so sticks him in the disintegrator unit. A fly also gets in, causing a mutation that turns Baxter into a mutant fly, with an obvious reference to The Fly. Baxter seeks revenge on Shredder, but because he has a fly brain now he’s easily manipulated into thinking it was the Turtles who are to blame for his mutation, so he joins up with his old boss to destroy them. At the same time, Shredder has sent April a poisonous plant that she’s taken a whiff of and the Turtles must get the antidote soon.
A lot going on here, and it’s obviously a momentous episode with Baxter’s mutation. He’d keep coming back to ever diminishing returns, but humour aside (Krang annoying Shredder by insisting he’s on a gar-barge for their meeting) it’s pretty horrific in parts of this episode, with the forced transformation, April’s debilitation and Shredder almost scaring a rabbit-like deliveryman to death. Awesome moment at the end with the Turtles almost being walked into a trap before Splinter, who doesn’t know how to drive, bursting out of nowhere in the Turtle Van (“It is remarkable what one can do when one is forced to!”). Less awesome is an obvious forced inclusion of the Knucklehead, actually a really good toy, which is destroyed quickly, as well as the Turtle Trooper ‘Chute Packs. But, still one of the best episodes of the show.
From season three, with the Technodrome back on Earth, but near the core. Channel 6 boss Burne Thompson heads back to the streets to file a report on the Turtles, with prissy Vernon an unwilling assistant. Also, the temperature is rising in NYC to the dismay of all, with air conditioning taking a big hit all over. Icy in the sewers, though. Something is definitely up. Who are the mysterious S&K Refrigeration? Yeah, you can probably guess.
It’s half-action, half-comedy. The plot with the refrigeration gas (Shredder and Krang are draining Freon and then Neutrafreeze to cool the Technodrome) gives us the action, with the Turtles battling Shredder, Bebop and Rocksteady and the Foot Soldiers and trying to save the captured April. On the comedy side, Burne and Vernon are captured by Russian spies after getting the passwords wrong (“The Turtles are green!”), then mobster Don Turtelli gets hold of them (“I was looking for those darn Turtles!”), and finally they’re abducted by alien Elvis impersonators. Burne has a breakdown on the air trying to recap all these events.
So, you take a half-baked plot about air conditioning and some supporting characters and push them to the front and somehow get something entertaining. At this point, the show could do no wrong.
Plan Six From Outer Space
From the fourth season of the show, with Shredder and Krang and the entire Technodrome back in Dimension X again. Shredder sends Rocksteady and Bebop to Channel 6 to steal equipment to help rebuild the Technodrome. Disguised holographically as their pre-mutant punk forms, they end up becoming TV executives and forget their original mission. Meanwhile, the Turtles consider retirement from the hero biz and a vacation with no evil super-villains to stop.
TMNT had always had a sense of humour, but the tongue was firmly in cheek by this point, with Krang going on a homicidal rant against Shredder and lots of one-liners. There’s also a knock on Transformers with the Pretendicon, which is a robot sent to kill the Turtles that ends up adopting the form of Splinter but then takes a blow to the head and starts freeing animals from the zoo. Leonardo gets a Crocodile Dundee moment with a mugger. Rocksteady and Bebop struggle in their mission to put rockets in the basement because they can’t find it, but wow Burne by putting the Six O’Clock News on at noon.
Raphael, in a typical bit of breaking the fourth wall, criticises the quality of the “search for the pepperoni” plot device that ties up the Turtles for most of the episode. There’s a good bit of visual humour with a billboard that reads HELP STAMP OUT BILLBOARDS. Still searching for the basement, Rocksteady and Bebop walk into a studio recording of the Idaho Potatoes (singing “I heard it through the potato vine!”), an obvious mickey take of the Californian Raisins Show (Bebop: “That bomb?! I was just gonna cancel it!”). There, April sees through their disguises and gets taken captive, but manages to delay them by sending them all over the building in search of THE BASEMENT. The Turtles get there in time to stop them and send them back to Dimension X empty-handed.
So, it’s very much a switch to comedy by this point, with David Wise basically writing stuff that amuses himself, but the characterisation and dialogue is snappy and fun and I’ve always enjoyed it, even though it’s the turning point for it being as good as it was.
Conclusion: I’m pretty much ready to forgive the Turtles any shortcomings unless it’s boring, and these episodes aren’t, so three thumbs up from me!