Tuesday, April 16, 2013

TMNT "Random" Reviews: "Return of the Shredder"

Fred Wolf Episode #6
Written by David Wise, Patty Howeth (story) and Christy Marx (teleplay)
Directed by Bill Wolf
Original Air Date: October 1st, 1988

--Well, everybody, it's the start of a new season. The results are usually seen as a huge step down from the quality of the first season / pilot, and strongly disliked for it. Others wish the old cartoon would have kept the tone of season one forever.

--But I'm not upset about this. Yes, the animation took a hit, and the tone is now softer and the battles less intense, but it's not a huge difference and I'm not invested in the idea that the first season is flawless, or that it was necessarily the ideal for the old cartoon. I see where other fans are coming from, but don't feel that big a sting from the downgrade.

--A lot of people give Leonardo shit for having "no personality", but it often seems to be a case of, "This character is disciplined and stoic, and therefore he has no personality because 'having a personality' means being vivacious". His arguing with Mikey over the best sickening pizza toppings to buy is showing a personality, that he's more stoic and disciplined.

--But yes, I know that this argument is also made because FW Leo spent a lot of time stating the obvious. That, is easier to understand.

--I can also buy the lady mistaking the Turtles for alligators: I have relatives who care that little about distinguishing between animals.

--What's interesting is that the season begins with a departure from the status quo that everyone remembers from their childhoods, and the one that existed for the majority of the series. Shredder gets sent back to Earth with nothing because he begs Krang for the ride, and then has to further beg Krang for whatever he gets, while Bebop and Rocksteady hang around and play Beavis and Butt-head from the Technodrome.

--This state would have gotten old in a different way than the common formula did, and it works best as a temporary thing. Such a formula doesn't use the villains to their full potential: in order to do that, all the villains would need to be together, and using all the same toys.

--Furthermore, kids would have gotten bored with the visual drabness of Shredder just hanging out on Earth. But it is hilarious, and because I forgot this period in the s how's history existed, I "rediscovered" it as a new, novel thing. So, you know, I like the temporary departure, but just understand the potential problems with it.

--Shredder begging like a cuss to get more of his stupid weapons is great. We get some great jokes and lines, and I love watching it. Old married couple, indeed.

--The only problem is that the big criminal operations that Shredder had in season one are totally forgotten. For me it's more a problem of continuity than a problem of making Shredder look wimpier. I'm just not that invested in the idea that he should be a "better" villain. Being funny is where FW Shredder's strength is, and I would tweak some of the writing faults but not abandon the goofy angle entirely.

-- I don't like any of the Channel 6 crew as characters, but giving April a life outside the Turtles, providing her with friends and co-workers to make sure she is not totally defined by the Turtles, is important. A good series tries to develop the lives of its secondary and tertiary characters.

--But ordinary human characters probably bore most kids, I realize this. I just can't let go of this idea that there are storytelling principles that transcend target age and tone, which is why I'd make a terrible writer for children.

--Irma is my least favourite of all the Channel 6 characters. I know I've said it all before, but: I expected a funny, fellow nerd-girl and got animated Cathy instead, whose characters flaws are not comedic flaws but just things she is "supposed" to do because she's a female character. And she's not nerdy, just gawky in an annoying way. Irma's only saving graces are her few moments of wry cynicism, which she doesn't have enough of.

--Burne is the least aggravating of the three characters. His J. Jonah Jameson-like hate of the Turtles being revealed as just a way to impress his trophy girlfriend save them from being a transparent rip-off of JJJ. But when the series keeps going with this angle, it doesn't work.

--There's still some continuity with Splinter's transformation going on. I'm going to review some Splinter episodes eventually, and I enjoy the series having story arcs while they last. Having them doesn't compromise the humour and the light tone of the series, and I miss 'em a little.

--Though I like seeing the Shredder get screwed over, I'll admit that it was a mistake to whittle down his fighting prowess as the series goes on. A villain should have the advantage over the heroes, and the Shredder could still have this and remain a funny, stupid character. Nobody needs to go all-out.

--A lot of people are probably excited by Peter Cullen's various voice cameos in this episode, with Smash being the longest one, though I think he also played "Napoleon" and one of the Shredder's would-be muggers. I never liked Optimus Prime, and none of his other roles have really gotten under my skin, so it's lost on me except as a spot-the-VA game.

--The Crooked Ninja Turtle Gang is one of those gags that don't seem self-aware. Not everything in this show is ironic, and plenty of its clichés are used earnestly, for the purposes of plot. That the Shredder continues to think of them as his pawns doesn't mean the whole thing was intended as a satire. I don't think it is.

--Besides all that I mentioned above, another thing that distinguishes the first half of season two is that human Baxter Stockman is the Shredder's current sidekick. I had completely forgotten he hung around in human form for that long, and Baxter has really grown on me, with (as far as White Baxter goes,) his insane human version being my favourite, even if he's the most cliché in comparison to the ordinary Baxter and Baxterfly.

--This is the best episode for human FW Baxter as he usually is: the mad, simpering henchman. While there are funny moments in the rest of his episodes, and "Curse of the Evil Eye" is in a class all by itself, the gonzo
visuals of the insane asylum and the Ultimate Rat Catcher, and equal displays of malevolence and spinelessness make "Return of the Shredder" stand out on that level.

--From what I can make out on my DVD, the insane asylum is called, "Sunny Dale Home of the Bewildered". I love the absurd way it's visualized: giant green recliners and bright yellow padding, with a guy in full Napoleon costume.

--Usually I try to let continuity slide, but Baxter's unknown transition to evil bugs the heck out of me. Not only is he far more nasty, but he shows a solidarity with Shredder that wasn't present before, even when he describes the events of "A Thing About Rats". It's never explained why, and it makes it pointless to start out with him unvillainous.

--And how does Baxter know who Splinter is, anyway? He didn't seem to be around when the Shredder directly talked about him.

--Tiffany and Burne were totally doing it in his office. Yikes.

--I can believe her scream is a sonic death ray, too.

--I freaking love the Ultimate Rat Catcher. It's such an insane design, with random, useless arms everywhere holding junk, crazy jaws, and all that whatever. I wonder if it was ever optioned as a vehicle for Playmates Toys, because it would fit right in with the rest of those ridiculous vehicles.

--But how the fuck did Baxter know where the Turtles' lair was? And of course, nobody remembers afterwards.

--While I still assume that Baxter Stockman wanted to kill rats purely for profit, the old cartoon brings up the exterminator angle again in this episode, and this time Baxter seems genuinely happy at the prospect of some rodent murderin'. It's another inconsistency in his new persona, but it's easier to accept as just a symptom of his inexplicable insanity.

--Pat Fraley's crazy cackling and warbling is inspired, and for some reason I find it humorous instead of wanting to poke out my own eardrums. It's weird.

--While Splinter is often a kidnap victim, he gets redeemed more often than April does, having his moments of respectability and usefulness to counterbalance those kidnappings. She doesn't have enough to really stand against these other moments.

--Shoddy materials on that Ultimate Rat Catcher

--That giant fist-tipped battering ram reminds me of the Dreadful Flying Glove from Yellow Submarine…

--April's arrival really doesn't do much, does it?

--April winking at Splinter is pretty damn odd. And try not to think about the implications of what that means. I know I'm not.

--Overall, I see why this is considered a step down, and why this new status quo didn't last for long. But y'know what? It's still a fun episode, mostly for watching the villains get fucked with.

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