In my past reviews of the Fred Wolf TMNT animated series, I think I took a jab at season 3 at least once per article. If you’re reading these reviews sequentially, then you probably think I loathe the season with every fiber of my being.
Well, that’s only kind of true.
You see, some of my all-time favorite episodes of the Fred Wolf series are buried in the third season. It’s a great season for villains and supporting heroes, as the Rat King, Leatherhead, Casey Jones, Metalhead, Lotus Blossom and Usagi Yojimbo all make their first appearances, while Baxter-Fly makes a return in two of his better episodes. As a kid, I watched the show mainly for the characters more so than the stories, and as an adult, I can’t help but feel the same way as I slog through it. Though they didn’t get enough appearances and rarely met their potential, I really do like many of these incarnations of the well-known villains over their Mirage or 4Kids counterparts (Leatherhead especially).
The problem was that this season was commissioned to meet syndication demands. That means TMNT, so far only 18 episodes strong, had to have a grand total of 65 episodes by the end of season 3. For those of you without a calculator handy, season 3 consists of no fewer than 47 episodes. And they had to be produced in the same amount of time that it previously took to produce 13 episodes (and before that, 5 episodes).
While season 3 is impressive in terms of quantity, the same cannot be said in regards to the quality. Most of these episodes look like utter shit. The animation duties had to be divvied up among a number of studios across Korea, the Philippines and Japan, and the episodes had to be out on time no matter what (and for as little cost as possible). Some of these episodes are nearly incomprehensible in their animation errors. The scripts, most of which had to be first drafts turned in without proper story-editing, are riddled with contradictions and nonsense. And the pace of production couldn’t even meet the schedules of the voice over cast. Main characters, and I’m talking headliners like Donatello, Raphael and Shredder, will randomly have different voices intermittently throughout the season because the actors weren’t available to record their lines and there was no time to have them come back and record them later.
This season is just a train-wreck of low quality and a shining example of how NOT to make a cartoon. Most shows nowadays are not made for syndication right out of the gate, and certainly not with 47 episodes churned out in a handful of months. Syndication is something you earn through longevity; a reward for quality and popularity. But the 80s were different and creating programs for syndication, as cheaply and as quickly as possible, was more the norm than the exception. And if the animation was terrible and the writing made no sense and the voices for the characters changed randomly from episode to episode… who cares? Children are stupid and they won’t even notice.
To their credit, the show continued for over a hundred more episodes despite this nosedive in quality… so what can I say to defend myself? The producers and Fred Wolf must have been right.
Anyhow, despite all THAT, as I said when I opened this intro, there are some great episodes that emerged despite the obstacles presented.
Beneath These Streets (written by Michael Reaves)
Believing the Shredder and Krang destroyed after the Technodrome sank to the Earth’s core, the Turtles have begun to slack in their ninja training. Our heroes have presumed too much, as not only has the Shredder survived, but he’s stolen a new medi-laser prototype which can repair the busted Technodrome. Thanks to the laziness of his students, Master Splinter is grievously injured in battle and the Turtles must steal back the medi-laser: the only thing that can save Splinter’s life.