It is often said that back in the dark days of Saturday Morning vs. Syndicated animation, it was the syndicated shows that had more bite to them; not being forced to conform to any one station’s standards and practices, syndicated shows could get away with a little more.
But in the case of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I just can’t see anything “edgier” about these syndicated episodes when compared to the Saturday morning offerings. Heck, in regards to season 4, the syndicated episodes are quite a bit *worse* than the Saturday morning episodes.
So with that in mind, we’ll be finishing up the last of TMNT’s syndicated episodes with this review. Hallelujah.
“Turtlemaniac” (written by Rowby Goren)
Monroe Q. Flem, an eccentric billionaire collector, has the largest Ninja Turtles memorabilia collection in the world. The only thing it’s missing? The Ninja Turtles.
One of the most amusing things about going back and watching these old TMNT episodes with a more critical eye than an 8 year-old is determining just when and where the story editing breaks down. And “Turtlemaniac” has some doozies.
Flem steals April’s Turtlecom and uses it to determine where the TMNT’s lair is so he can go there and capture them. However, the Turtles simply drive to his mansion and offer themselves up, eliminating the need for Flem to leave his front porch. Yet at the end of the episode, the Turtles are worried that Flem might remember where the lair was. How did they even know he was tracking them? And what was the point in including that subplot at all? He never actually goes to the lair and he’s never seen again in the series.
Right before the final commercial break, April is being dangled on a hook over a vat of boiling wax. The hook is attached to the front of her belt and she’s hanging horizontally, flailing her arms. When the show resumes for the third act, she’s suddenly hanging vertically with her hands bound behind her back and the hook attached to the rear of her belt. I guess this is less a story editing mistake than it is a storyboarding mistake (I can only assume there was a different boarder for each act to save time).
When April invades Flem’s front yard, she’s attacked by his guard dogs. When the Turtles invade Flem’s front yard, they’re attacked by his guard dogs. When Irma invades Flem’s front yard… nothin’. The episode just completely forgets about them for the sake of plot convenience.
Look, I’m not even picking nits, here (if I wanted to do THAT, I could harp on this episode’s bandana errors, voice over mismatching or that weird moment where Flem watches the same wax dummy melt on two different occasions via the magic of recycled animation). I’m just saying this episode doesn’t make a lick of sense and not in an intentional sort of way.
But all that confusing, contradicting, pointless stuff aside, there’s some fun to be had in this episode. The “obsessed collector” plot isn’t exactly revolutionary, and it’s been done better in other shows (the Powerpuff Girls episode “Collect Her”, for example), but at least we get a break from Shredder and Krang. I did feel more could have been done with the Ninja Turtle museum in Flem’s mansion, though. There are wax sculptures of Leatherhead, Mr. Ogg, Shredder, Bebop and Rocksteady, but most of the other exhibits are either generic (not tailored to any specific episode) or from completely made-up adventures (when the Turtles rattle off origins for several exhibits, they’re not describing any actual episodes).
What the story coherency lacks, the script makes up for with some snappy dialogue exchanges (when April identifies Flem as “the eccentric billionaire collector”, Irma reacts, “That’s so greedy! …I only want ONE billionaire”). And there are a few genuinely funny Fourth Wall moments that actually do poke fun at inorganic narrative wackiness (a pretty good exchange about why the Turtles are scaling the outside of April’s apartment with grappling hooks when just minutes earlier they were using the elevator).
Animation’s by the unidentified Japanese studio (again, you can tell its Japanese because they spell the “animation” wall scroll in the lair correctly). It looks pretty choppy through most of the episode, but some of the quicker action sequences are surprisingly fluid (Leo rappelling down a clothesline, Mike surfing a sewer tidal wave, the brief sequence where the Turtles leap through the trees). But even when the Japanese studio isn’t producing wow-worthy animation, they’re at least keeping the characters on model. That’s more than can be said for most of the other studios involved in this series.
“Rondo in New York” (written by Francis Moss and Ted Pederson)
When the Shredder steals a substance called evitalizer and uses it to bring an army of movie monsters to life only the star of the “Rondo” film series can help the Turtles save the day. Unfortunately, the actor who plays Rondo is a big wuss.
Love the episode or hate it, it’s still better than Last Action Hero.
While it sticks to the show’s formula pretty rigidly, I found “Rondo of New York” to be mostly enjoyable. When all else fails, horror movie parodies are an easy way to please me. And at any rate, the script actually holds together and isn’t falling apart at the seams like the previous episode’s.
The bulk of the episode involves the Turtles teaming up with the actor who plays Rondo to hunt down a pair of aliens brought to life from a movie reel. The movie-Rondo eventually comes to life to help, showing up his cowardly real world incarnation at every turn. The “actors aren’t always like their parts” lesson isn’t really played for maximum laughs (only so many times real-Rondo’s simpering can prove amusing), but there are a few quality gags (poking fun at short actors like Tom Cruise and Clark Gable, real-Rondo has stage hands follow him everywhere he goes, placing a series of milk crates down for him to stand on).
Shredder, Bebop and Rocksteady spend most of the episode running back and forth between the lab (to get the evitalizer), the theater (to get a film reel), the lab again (to get more evitalizer) and then the theater again (to get another film reel). Their antics are sort of reduced to background noise as the Turtles fight the unleashed movie monsters (the best of which, parodies of the Universal Classic Monsters and modern slashers like Jason and Leatherface, don’t show up until the very end).
Basically, it’s an alright episode. I can’t really praise it, but I can’t really mock it, either.
“Planet of the Turtles” (written by George Shea)
Shredder invades the Planet of the Turtles and steals a device called the Personal Energy Projector. The PEP allows him to siphon all of Earth’s energy and use it to power the Technodrome. So of course the Ninja Turtles try to stop him.
One would think the TMNT would be a little more excited about the prospect of an entire planet populated by anthropomorphic turtles just like them. One would think. Heck, this won’t even be the last time the TMNT are whisked away to a planet full of humanoid turtles. Next season will bring us the similarly titled “Planet of the Turtleoids” (which is a completely different turtle-planet from this one, as it’s called Shellri-La).
“Planet of the Turtles” doesn’t compare favorably to “Planet of the Turtleoids”, either. I get the feeling that the eventual recycling of the idea was a consequence born from this episode completely squandering the concept. The Turtles tune into a TV broadcast from the Planet of the Turtles completely by accident, but don’t seem to really care. In the third act, Don takes a 2-minute detour to the Planet and, again, is totally unenthused about the place. Compare that to their sense of awe in “Planet of the Turtleoids” and the idea that this episode was written off as a mulligan seems all the more believable.
Anyway, the bulk of the episode has to do with the TMNT battling a pair of wrestlers from the Planet of the Turtles: Hans and Feets. And yes, they’re obnoxious parodies of Hans and Franz from Saturday Night Live, right down to a riff on their catchphrase. Exactly why Hans and Feets join up with the Shredder is never elaborated upon; in fact, it seems to occur off-camera. They go from prisoners to henchmen between scenes, so I’m going to assume an explanatory sequence got cut for time. And speaking of scenes that probably got cut for time, during the final battle in the portal room of the Technodrome, piles of slippery goop suddenly appear all over the floor with no origin. I’m guessing there was a gag written to explain the stuff, but that got excised… except the editors forgot to remove the other scenes where the goop comes into play.
Another bit of bad editing occurs throughout the second and third acts which take place in the Technodrome. The portal room is a recurring stage, but the villains appear and reappear within it whenever it’s convenient to the plot. For example, they’re in the portal room laughing hysterically about their evil scheme. Then April and Splinter invade the Technodrome through the portal room in the next scene, yet the villains are suddenly gone. Then when we cut back to the portal room, they’re in it again. This happens a few more times. Maybe Krang and Shredder had the runs?
And man, just how much energy does it take to power the Technodrome, anyway? At one point, Krang declares that he’s successfully siphoned “half of Earth’s energy”. Really? Half of all the energy on Earth isn’t enough to power the Technodrome? At this point, I really think the thing is more trouble than it’s worth.
“Planet of the Turtles” wastes its most interesting concept in favor of bad SNL parodies and incomprehensible editing. It’s no surprise that story editor and head writer David Wise elected to call a do-over one season later.
“Name That Toon” (written by Misty Taggart)
Krang sets a dematerializer in the sewers beneath New York with the hopes of destroying the city. The only way to stop the device is with an alien keyboard that just happens to have landed in the hands of Irma’s musician friend, Howie.
We seem to be flip-flopping from lunacy to competency with this batch of episodes, as “Name That Toon” doesn’t suffer from all the story editing mistakes that plagued “Turtlemaniac” or “Planet of the Turtles”. It’s a pretty straight forward plot, but at this point I’m just grateful for any episode that makes sense.
“Makes sense” being a relative term in regards to this show, as we’re still dealing with a plot that revolves around an alien Casio that disarms explosives when it plays the “Heroes in a Half Shell” melody from the show’s theme song. The character of Howie is a weird pastiche of Woody Allen… if Woody Allen were a musician. I’m not really a fan of Woody Allen, but I think if you’re going to parody him, then the impression should be really over-the-top. Rob Paulsen’s impression is too subtle, though it might be that the character wasn’t really written as an Allen homage; the parody being Paulsen’s idea. The songs he sings are grating, and he does about three of them in this one episode, but they’re supposed to be painful, so I’m inclined let it slide (I wonder if they had to pay royalties to Dion & the Belmonts for the “Teenager in Love” parody?).
The animation is surprisingly good, too; maybe the best we’ve seen all season. There are little touches strewn throughout, such as energy glowing around Don and Shredder as they’re locked in combat. The fight in Howie’s apartment is probably the most violence we’ve gotten in this show in a long time, as the characters actually punch and kick one another instead of dropping curtains on them or whatever. Don even bludgeons Shredder in the face with the end of his staff.
I’m not saying increased violence actively improves the episode or anything, but actually that’s precisely what I’m saying, yeah.
“Menace Maestro, Please” (written by Martin Pasko)
Still after the alien keyboard, Shredder tracks it to an abandoned theater called the Floxy, where it’s been turned into a pipe organ. The Turtles try to stop him from getting the powerful energy device, but both parties have to deal with the mysterious Phantom of the Floxy.
The second half of this inexplicable two-parter is quite a bit worse than the first half, both in terms of animation and story. It’s ostensibly the same setup, the Turtles and Shredder fighting over a musical instrument made from an alien spaceship, but by this point the “arc” is getting a little tiresome. I think the three-parter from the beginning of season 3 where the Shredder steals parts to fix an air conditioner was more thrilling.
Howie makes his second and, I think, final appearance in the series. And good riddance, too. His gimmick of singing obnoxious jingles at the drop of a hat was tolerable for one episode, but only one episode.
The “Phantom of the Opera” parody is sort of a half-baked addition included to give the episode a little more pep. Erik, a technician in the theater, is of course revealed to be the Phantom of the Floxy (even if you weren’t acquainted with the “Phantom of the Opera”, they don’t really try to hide Erik’s machinations). Erik is then revealed to be Erk, the shape-shifting alien that owns the spaceship that got cannibalized for musical instruments.
And this won’t be the last time this show resorts to a “Phantom of the Opera” parody, either. Season 6 will bring us “Phantom of the Sewers”. I think this show was better when it was stealing ideas from other cartoons instead of stealing ideas from itself.
“Super Hero for a Day” (written by Francis Moss and Ted Pederson)
When geriatric superhero Gadgetman comes out of retirement, the Shredder tricks him into thinking the Turtles are super villains. As Gadgetman fights the Turtles, Shredder uses the distraction to steal energy for the Technodrome.
This is the first episode of the season to reference the Technodrome being trapped in lava after a volcanic eruption on the Dimension X asteroid. Of course, the episode where the volcano erupts, “The Dimension X Story”, won’t air until much later in the season, toward the end of the CBS Saturday morning run. Just thought I’d bring it up in case anybody gets confused.
The Turtles living in a world populated by superheroes is an idea that goes all the way back to the original Mirage comics. Peter Laird first introduced it back in TMNT #15, where a group of elderly superheroes come out of retirement to team up with the Ninja Turtles for a new adventure. The 4Kids animated series would run with the idea, too (even adapting Peter Laird’s story). So the plot of this episode isn’t anything terribly unique to the TMNT universe.
I think if there’s a problem with the episode, it’s that Gadgetman’s blundering has little to do with his being out of shape, but that he’s just… stupid. When he tries to save a school bus from falling off a bridge, he nearly gets all the kids inside killed not because he wasn’t physically up to the task, but because he had no clue what the heck he was doing. It makes Gadgetmen out to have been mentally incompetent all along and never a particularly good superhero.
Or it could be a parody of Inspector Gadget. I don’t care.
And in case you might have forgotten just how old The Simpsons is, this episode makes a reference to it (a then-contemporary recital of Bart’s catchphrase, “Don’t have a cow, man”). This episode is 23 years old and the show its referencing is still on TV. Jeez.
“Back to the Egg” (written by Dennis Marks)
Shredder teams up with Captain Croolick, ringmaster of an interdimensional circus who wants to make the Turtles his new star attractions. To capture them, he transforms Leonardo and Michelangelo into 5 year-olds.
Yeah, while it should come as no surprise that an episode where the Turtles get transformed into children is childish, this one is *annoyingly* childish. As in, you have to suffer Leo and Mike throwing temper tantrums, starting food fights and otherwise getting into mischief while the other Turtles and April strain to keep up. It’s pretty irritating, all things considered.
Still, it’s a good episode for voice acting. Townsend Coleman and Cam Clarke show some impressive range as they play their characters as children. And a guest actor (unidentified in the credits) voices Captain Croolick with a surprisingly good Sydney Greenstreet impression.
This would be the last episode aired in syndication, too. The remainder of season 4 ran on CBS Saturday mornings and those episodes, incidentally, are probably the better batch of season 4. In just the next six episodes, we’ll be introduced to popular recurring villain Slash, unpopular recurring villain Pinky McFingers, popular oneshot heroin Mona Lisa and yet another return of Baxter Stockman.
You can pick up the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Original Series – Season 4 on DVD from Amazon.com.