In our previous installment, we took a look at the first half of second season of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In those six episodes, a pretty solid story arc was established and run to its conclusion, as the Shredder was abandoned on Earth by Krang, forced to team up with Baxter Stockman and the Turtles were sent on a race to collect the Eye of Sarnath fragments before they could fall into sinister hands.
And all that’s pretty much over and done with.
The remaining seven episodes of season 2 aren’t nearly as focused; eschewing an ongoing narrative for more episodic fare. This approach is pretty much going to dominate the remainder of the series until we get to season 8, so don’t hold your breath for more story arcs anytime soon.
Still, there is something of a narrative flow to these episodes; Baxter Stockman is written out of the show as a partner for Shredder and Krang and Bebop and Rocksteady return to the forefront as primary villains. The episodes are almost all one-shots, but there’s still the overarching theme of the Technodrome needing energy to be brought back to Earth. While “the Technodrome needs energy” plot device is going to get really old, really fast come season 3, it was still new when they did it in these episodes.
This second half also contains much of the Playmates toy-shilling; strangely absent from the first six episodes. The Punk Frogs are introduced, as is Baxter-Fly. The Neutrinos (who got toys) make a comeback and April the Catwoman got a mutating action figure, too. REX-1, to my knowledge, never got a toy, but he did appear as a boss in the second Game Boy game. So the return of previously introduced characters helps make this half feel more cohesive than it ought to be, creating the illusion of a tighter-knit universe and cast of players that would ultimately get lost once the series became syndicated and boosted its episode count to insane proportions.
Enter: The Fly (written by Michael Reaves and Brynne Stephens)
After being vanquished to Dimension X in exchange for Bebop and Rocksteady, Baxter Stockman is sent to his execution by Krang. A disintegrator malfunction, however, fuses Baxter with a stray fly, transforming him into a mutant insect. Baxter then escapes to Earth to get revenge on both the Shredder and the Turtles. Shredder, meanwhile, has poisoned April with a rare plant, leaving the Turtles only hours to find the exotic antidote.
“Enter: The Fly” is easily the best episode of season 2 and one of the better episodes of the Fred Wolf series in general. There are two major plot threads happening simultaneously in this episode and the way they converge doesn’t muddle the overall story, but instead enhances the suspense of the conflict. The Turtles have a limited amount of time to find the antidote to save April and they’re first delayed by Baxter, then the Shredder and finally the pair working together. The tension builds very steadily and the two seemingly unrelated storylines end up complimenting each other really well.
Baxter is effectively written out of the series as a main antagonist; he’ll only make guest villain appearances for the remainder of the show’s run. While a few of those Baxter-Fly episodes are pretty good, his better days are pretty much behind him and he’ll eventually get reduced to more of a nuisance than a foe. As far as the Baxter-Fly episodes go, you’ll discern a trend in their resolution, as all but one end with Baxter being vanquished to another dimension. In the case of this episode, though, writers Reaves and Stephens use a “time-phase-shift” devise to put Baxter out of our misery. While a sci-fi cliché, it’s a welcome alternative to his being thrust through dimensional portal after dimensional portal.
Bebop and Rocksteady finally take their rightful places as Shredder’s right-hand stooges and they’ll remain there until the villain is written out of the series in season 8. Hard to believe it, but Bebop and Rocksteady have hardly been seen or heard from in this season beyond brief cameos; this is their first major appearance since the season of season 1. In a way, I kind of enjoyed their absence (despite how much I actually like them), because they’re gonna be in just about every single episode for a good long while. Considering the multitude of supporting villains of the mutated animal variety this show would introduce (most only making three appearances or fewer), I actually would have liked it if Shredder had utilized a rotating cast of mutant henchmen at his disposal. You know, just to mix the monotony up a bit (and this show is going to get VERY monotonous in season 3).
“Enter: The Fly” does have its drawbacks, though. The toy-shilling inclusion of the Foot Knucklehead in the middle is totally random and superfluous, as the machine is destroyed almost as soon as it’s introduced. This show was generally pretty good about introducing its action figure-oriented characters, but not so smooth at advertising vehicles and accessories.
Invasion of the Punk Frogs (written by Michael Reaves)
Seeking to create a quartet of evil opposites to the Ninja Turtles, Shredder uses a canister of mutagen to create the Punk Frogs: Attila the Frog, Genghis Frog, Napoleon Bonafrog and Rasputin the Mad Frog. Training them in the martial arts, he uses them to steal chemicals necessary for the production of more mutagen. The Turtles attempt to take down the Punk Frogs, but are quickly menaced by Captain Hoffman and his Anti Mutant Task Force.
The Punk Frogs were the first of many attempts to create evil counterparts to the Ninja Turtles. We’d later get evil turtles in the form of Slash and Tokka and eventually another quartet in the Dark Turtles. The Punk Frogs, though, didn’t last long as villains; being turned to the side of good by the end of their introductory episode.
Like most supporting villains/heroes, they’d only make a couple of reappearances in the series (and even a cameo in the first anime OVA), but I always kind of liked them. I think it might be because I had the Genghis Frog toy as a kid and got a lot of mileage out of it. Incidentally, Napoleon Bonafrog was the only other Punk Frog to get a toy from Playmates (one that looked nothing like his animation model), much to the lament of many a child and collector.
If there’s any problem with the Punk Frogs, it’s that they lack individual personalities. I can’t even remember which one is voiced by Jim Cummings; they’re all so identical. I like that, while the Turtles use ninja weapons, the Punk Frogs use medieval weaponry (an axe, a mace, a bow and arrow, a whip), but I still can’t match the names to the weapons after all these years. They only make, like, three or four appearances, so does it really matter?
The episode also introduces Captain Hoffman and the Anti Mutant Task Force. They get their own uniforms, logo, specialized vehicles, everything! And we never see them again. The Fred Wolf series had a lot of squandered ideas, but the sidelining of Hoffman (voiced by Cummings) and his Task Force seemed like the most inexplicable. The authorities being out to get the Turtles was a recurring them through several seasons, so one would think they’d have kept the Task Force around as recurring antagonists. Then again, considering how penny-pinching the production of this show could be, they probably just didn’t want to pay the extra voice actors.
Splinter No More (written by Michael Reaves, Brynne Stephens)
After devising a retro-mutagen concoction, Donatello returns Splinter to his human form as Hamato Yoshi. Shredder, meanwhile, finds an ancient spell book that will allow him to open gateways to other dimensions. When he accidentally opens a gateway to a world of monsters, only Splinter, not Hamato Yoshi, can save the day.
Michael Reaves should get some sort of award for being one of the first writers of children’s animation to sneak in nods to H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. His most famous example is, of course, the episode of The Real Ghostbusters titled “The Collect Call of Cathulhu (sic)”, but this episode of TMNT should qualify as another sly nod.
Here, Shredder locates an ancient book of spells (not identified as the Necronomicon, but close-enough) and accidentally summons a giant tentacle-monster from beyond time and space in an underground temple. The Lovecraft influences are pretty obvious, from that standpoint, and makes for one of the more memorable episodes of the series.
But there’s more to “Splinter No More” than just the Cthulhu Mythos influence. As early as the first episode, the Turtles swore that their mission was to return Splinter to his form as Hamato Yoshi… a mission they almost instantly forgot about. Here, in a random acknowledgment of continuity, they renew that vow, but then start to regret it as they fear Splinter will end up leaving them forever to return to the surface.
There’s a damning condemnation of humanity in the story, as Splinter’s parting lesson to the audience (after the retro-mutagen wears off) is that humans always fear what is different from themselves, they treat each other like garbage and it’s much better to be an animal. Ouch.
New York’s Shiniest (written by Richard Merwin)
While investigating a story about the NYPD’s prototype robot police officer, April winds up forcibly saddled with a bodyguard in the form of the quasi-functioning REX-1. As April tries to get the robot cop to stop following her around, Shredder steals the machine’s schematics and creates his own army of robots to take over New York.
If you ever need proof why a first draft should never go straight through to production without proper story editing and rewrites, then “New York’s Shiniest” is where you need to turn. This episode is downright hilarious in its own ineptitude, failing so many fundamental principles of story cohesion it practically falls apart at the seams.
The episode begins with the Shredder already being aware of the REX-1 program and dictating to Krang his plans to create an army of evil robots based on REX’s design. Then, later in the episode, after watching April do a news report on REX, that is when Shredder comes up with his scheme; acting like the entire thing was news to him.
The most hilarious moment comes halfway through the episode, though, when the Turtles drive the Party Wagon into the East River and have to swim to the surface when it sinks. The very next scene is… April and Splinter driving the Party Wagon down the street and encountering the evil REX clones. Not only did that make it past the scripting and story editing stage, but it escaped the critical eye of the storyboarders, the directors and the animators. Like anybody who made this cartoon gave a shit about what they were doing, anyway…
The episode also boasts some really awkwardly placed educational and public service material, like the Turtles defeating a group of burglars by lifting their van and scaring them away (followed by Leo making a comment about non-violent solutions). There’s even a weird non-sequitur where Leo chides humanity for polluting their water sources.
The landscape of the animation industry in the 80s was very different than it is today and a vast amount of the people employed in it, like I said, did not give a shit about what they were doing. For more on this, see any given interview with prolific animation writer Donald F. Glut.
On the bright side, Jack Angel’s voice over for REX-1 is really good and the character-itself could have been a lot of fun if they’d used him more (he only appears in one more episode after this one). Also, as a bit of trivia, in the Japanese dub of “New York’s Shiniest”, REX-1 got renamed. His new name? “RoboCop”. And somehow, nobody sued.
Teenagers from Dimension X (written by Michael Reaves)
When the Neutrinos (Zak, Dask and Kala) return to New York to warn the Turtles of Krang’s Mento-Neutralizer (a device that saps the willpower from its victims), Shredder becomes intent on stealing their Starmobile and its inter-dimensional portal beam.
You know, most “recurring” characters in the Fred Wolf TMNT cartoon rarely made more than two appearances; a third if they were lucky. For whatever reason, though, it was the characters I loathed the most that got to make the most appearances. And that brings us to the Neutrinos, who I think appeared four or more times in this show.
I always thought the concept of the Neutrinos was interesting; they were the race opposing Krang in Dimension X, trying to keep from being conquered. The execution, though, left something to be desired. Those fuckin’ voices, man. I’ve never wanted to strangle Tress MacNeille more in my entire life, and I’ve seen every episode of Animaniacs. Of course, considering her modification in vocal performance for Kala in this episode, I’m inclined to think someone beat me to it and was strangling her in the recording booth. If Kala in season 1 sounded like Dot Warner, Kala in season 2 sounds like Dot Warner with throat cancer.
This episode also introduces another Playmates toyline tie-in: the Cheapskates (the Starmobile was also a vehicle in the toyline, so one might suspect its prominent appearance in this episode as an advertisement, too). I actually find the toy ads in these episodes to be one of the funniest things about the show, as the writers clearly were not comfortable trying to shoehorn the weird playsets and vehicles into their scripts (despite most of the staff having written for He-Man, Transformers and G.I. Joe), so the things come off so ridiculously. Just wait until you get to the episode where Shredder has to come up with a good reason to torture the Turtles with a modified toilet.
As for everything else in the episode, this one was all over the place. The Mento-Neutralizer is mostly forgotten as a source of suspense with the actual bulk of the story involving the Turtles trying to get the Starmobile before Shredder catches them, then get its crystal engine block fixed before Shredder catches them, then escape from a “Road Warriors”-esque section of the city ruled by the Cyber Punk gang because I don’t even know why that was put in there, really.
Reaves tries to develop the “romance” between Michaelangelo and Kala, but like all other instances of “romance” in this show (Raphael and Mona Lisa, Leonardo and Lotus Blossom), it goes absolutely nowhere.
The Catwoman from Channel Six (written by Richard Merwin)
After inadvertently stepping onto Shredder’s matter transporter platform at the same time as a cat, April is transformed into a ferocious catwoman. Shredder seizes the opportunity for revenge, fitting April with a mind-control collar and sending her to hunt down Splinter in the sewer lair.
This episode has something of a soft place in my heart, as the manga adaptation was the first Japanese Ninja Turtles comic I ever translated. The pages for that have since been lost to the internet ether, but it was a pretty crap comic, anyway (lots of cut and paste art). For whatever reason, April as the catwoman would retain some level of popularity among the franchise, as she would get a mutating action figure and even make a reappearance in the Comic Bom Bom Super Turtles story pages by Hidetsugu Yoshioka.
“The Catwoman from Channel Six” actually concludes something of a character arc that ran all throughout the season, as Irma pined to meet the mysterious Ninja Turtles. She finally gets to meet them in this episode as a rather strong nod to continuity (along with Krang making some ominous comments about the Technodrome’s return which will be fulfilled in the season finale).
Regardless, it’s still a sloppily written episode with conflict set-ups that make no sense and threat resolutions conveniently produced from the writer’s rectum. In the middle of the episode, April frees a tiger from the Central Park Zoo to help her track down Splinter. The tiger then appears at April’s apartment, alone, to attack the Turtles, then reappears a moment later in the sewers with April to attack Splinter. There’s a brief subplot in the episode where the Turtles scour the city for the cat April got her molecules mixed with, because finding the feline is supposedly important. April is returned to normal, however, when the effects of the transporter wear-off, making the hunt for the cat meaningless. And finally, the transporter-itself is destroyed by the idiocy of Bebop and Rocksteady without the Turtles being present. In effect, the villains, when left to their own devices, foil their own scheme without any protagonist interference whatsoever.
I’ll concede to that last part being a little funny in a “Dr. Doofenshmirtz” kind of way.
The Return of the Technodrome (written by Michael Reaves)
Tired of waiting for Shredder to defeat the Turtles and make way for his conquest of Earth, Krang takes some initiative and brings the Technodrome through the inter-dimensional portal, intent on dealing with the Turtles himself. As the war machine creates earthquakes to level Manhattan, the Turtles have to find some way to shut down Krang and Shredder for good.
The season finales were often the most notable episodes of the TMNT cartoon, as they’re memorable for their habit of bringing the Technodrome back only for it to get shipped off someplace else for another season. This, incidentally, would proceed to get really damn monotonous, but just be grateful that something is actually happening to further the plot of the series.
We finally get to see the Shredder commanding armies of Foot Soldiers and Rock Soldiers for the first time since season one ended, not that the brainless storm troopers prove any more effective than Bebop or Rocksteady. It always did puzzle me that Shredder had this vast army of disposable, heavily armed warriors at his command and he scarcely ever utilized them. In season two there was the excuse that Krang had banished him to Earth without any aid, but in the remaining seasons they’re just sort of forgotten about.
The ending is one I remember vividly from my childhood, as when I first saw it, I thought it was supposed to be the series finale. Splinter refers to the “final battle” before they invade the Technodrome, and the way the thing sinks into the lava at the Earth’s core in the last few scenes left me thinking all the bad guys had just died. No such luck.
If there’s any other remarkable thing to mention about this episode, it’s that Donatello shuts off Niagara Falls with a faucet and that’s so ridiculous I’ll buy that it was written on purpose. As it happens, though, Niagara Falls looks nothing like Niagara Falls. I don’t think the Korean animators got the message.
And so season two ends. For all its faults, it had direction and a loose sense of continuity between the episodes. You can say goodbye to that, as season three is no less than 47 episodes in length and thusly forced to use a LOT of stale, go-nowhere plots to pad the episode count out until it reaches that magical 65 (the number needed to qualify for syndication).