We continue our journey through the lackluster season 6 of the Fred Wolf Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. These five episodes are mostly pretty eh, like the rest of the season, though I’ll express some inexplicable fondness for “Nightmare in the Lair”. I’m a real sucker for “Nightmare on Elm Street” parodies. We’ve also got the return of Slash, the Evil Turtle from Dimension X. Granted, this show didn’t offer the most dignified portrayal of Slash, but we’ll take what we can get.
“Shreeka’s Revenge” (written by Jack Mendelsohn and Carole Mendelsohn)
When Krang’s ex-partner in galactic conquest, the sorceress Shreeka, tracks him to Earth in search of a power ring he stole, the alien brain sets her against April O’Neil and the Ninja Turtles. Bad timing, as April is about to celebrate her birthday and just received an antique ring for a gift.
This was a pretty alright episode; I rather liked the bit of back story it gave for Krang. So apparently, early in his warlord days, he was allied with Shreeka until he betrayed her and stole her power ring. We’ll meet a few other faces from Krang’s past in future episodes, too. Like I’ve said before, Krang’s got a pretty interesting back story in this series, they just don’t explore it all that much.
As a guest villain, Shreeka works and she doesn’t. Most of the episode is spent on her trying to track April down, but just narrowly missing her each time, or having her efforts sabotaged by the bumbling of Bebop and Rocksteady (whom she foolishly conscripts, thinking it would be a blow to Krang’s operations). It gets kind of tedious, but Shreeka’s surprisingly charismatic, thanks in large part to Joan Gerber’s voice over. She plays Shreeka counterintuitive to her name, with a deep, raspy growl rather than a high-pitched shriek like you’d expect.
There’s some plot repetition with past episodes, mainly “The Maltese Hamster” which dealt with a similar circumstance (April getting a gift that turns out to be a rare artifact the bad guys want). There’s also the fact that this is yet another “rescue April” story. At 133 episodes, haven’t we had enough of that? I mean, the episode starts with her tripping on a plank of wood, tumbling into a wheelbarrow and nearly plummeting off the side of a building until the Turtles save her. She literally cannot walk more than two steps in this show without needing to be saved. There’s also a subplot about Vernon trying to steal April’s office that goes nowhere, but the Channel 6 subplots rarely ever amount to anything.
“Shreeka’s Revenge” is an episode with some good ideas in it, but they aren’t really explored to their full potential and are mostly drowned out by repetition and nonsense. I rather liked how Leo defeated Shreeka, though; by throwing a red hot rivet at her, tricking her into catching it. Though her immortal body is impervious to heat, her ring isn’t, thus melting the gold band and destroying it. A surprise ending, too, considering most of the episode is spent with Krang talking about how the ring is almost out of power, making you think the conflict will be resolved by the thing just running out of juice.
“Too Hot to Handle” (written by Jack Mendelsohn and Carole Mendelsohn)
When Vernon’s bratty boy genius nephew Foster invents a solar magnet for the science fair, the evil Professor Sopho steals it for his own sinister ends. Now the Turtles have to get it back with Foster’s help before the Earth crashes into the sun.
Professor Sopho? How did he rate a second appearance?
Sopho appeared a season or two ago in “Donatello’s Degree” and he was just another in the long line of generic one-off mad scientist villains. Yet, somehow, here he is again. For the last time, thankfully.
Sopho doesn’t enter the plot until about the midway point, when he steals Foster’s solar magnet. The first act or so sees Donatello trying to convince everyone that the Earth is on a collision course with the sun while all the other Turtles think he’s nuts. Then Foster shows up, acts bratty until the second act, when he reveals his solar magnet at the science fair.
It takes a really long time for the plot of the episode to kick in, and even when it does the run time is filled with a pointless hunt for Sopho’s hideout. The Turtles drive out to the remains of Sopho University, which is abandoned except for a shovel that has dirt on it from Central Park. So they drive back to Central Park.
Now… wait a second. So Sopho’s new hideout is beneath Central Park, right? So why would he take a shovel, use it at the Central Park base, then drive it all the way out to the country and leave it at the remains of his old hideout? I mean, I don’t expect this show to make sense, but now it’s just wasting time.
And yeah, Foster is an obnoxious little s--t. He throws tantrums and screams and cries and acts like a brat and he’s annoying all the way through the story. His actor sounds like a kid trying to do an impression of Peter Renaday’s Vernon voice and aw man, it’s bad. Vernon also tags along through the whole episode, so you essentially get to listen to Vernon in stereo.
“Nightmare in the Lair” (written by Dennis O’Flaherty)
When Donatello’s latest invention, the dream-o-vision helmet malfunctions, it releases an extradimensional creature named Creepy Eddie from Nightmare Land. Creepy Eddie begins making the Turtles’ nightmares tangible, intending to invade the Earth and take it over.
Okay, so maybe by 1992, a Freddy Krueger parody wasn’t the most timely pop culture reference. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare came out a year prior and most people were pretty well done with the character. But I still loved the guy at the time, so this episode felt special to me when I saw it.
It wasn’t very often that kid’s cartoons referenced or parodied contemporary, rated-R horror movies; at least not back in the late 80s and early 90s (until Animaniacs came along). Which is funny, especially when you look at the current TMNT cartoon running on Nickelodeon, which has referenced everything from Evil Dead to the Toxic Avenger. They even did their own take on the Nightmare on Elm Street parody with the Dream Beavers (and got Robert Englund, too!).
The Fred Wolf series mostly parodied “safe” horror movies. Stuff like the Universal Classic Monster films, The Fly or, more prominently, riffs on B-grade giant monster movies. “The Monster that ate Hoboken” is referenced extensively in this episode, for instance. A Nightmare on Elm Street parody was a rare treat in that day and age.
But okay, so the episode is rife with problems. There’s a whole subplot about April and Vernon trying to show the boss’s nephew Milton around the Channel 6 office and it never, ever connects to the main plot about Creepy Eddie. It is completely and utterly superfluous to the story and exists to fill time.
There are weird logical errors, too, like Donatello shorting out the TV while the Turtles are trying to watch a movie, then they’re watching the news a few minutes later, then they get up and go to Don’s lab to ask him if he can finish his experiment so he can get the TV working again. Huh?
My favorite f--k up comes around the last act or so. Raph and Don return home to the lair and enter the living room. They hear trouble in Don’s lab, so they run through the door behind the TV set. They then… emerge from the door on the opposite end of the same room. What? How?
Unless they have two adjacent, identical living rooms, maybe.
No, this probably isn’t a very good episode. But as a matter of strictly subjective taste and personal nostalgia, I like it.
“Phantom of the Sewers” (written by David Wise)
The Turtles look into a case involving the so-called Phantom of the Sewers, a masked man who seems hellbent on sabotaging Willie Wombat’s Pizza Pan Theater restaurants. What they learn is that the Phantom isn’t the problem, but Rufus Higby, the owner of the restaurant chain who uses his robot performers to rob banks.
So, we already did the whole Phantom of the Opera parody shtick back in season 4. The episode “Menace Maestro, Please”. Recycling plots is nothing new for this series, I know, but still. It’s the principle of the thing!
That said, “Phantom of the Sewers” is actually quite a bit better than “Menace Maestro, Please”, so I’m not too bothered with David Wise calling a do-over on the idea. The episode is loaded with Wise’s signature absurdist humor and fourth wall gags and despite recycling a parody the show already did once before, the actual plot of the episode is entirely original. Part of the Phantom’s origin involves Higby splashing him in the face with a beaker of “chemicals”, thus disfiguring him and driving him into the sewers in shame. At the end of the episode, the “chemicals” turn out to have been paint.
I dunno, it was kinda funny.
The main conflict of the episode involves the animatronic anthropomorphic animal performers from the Chuck E. Cheese’s parody joint going crazy and trying to kill the Turtles. In that way, this episode actually predicts the Five Nights at Freddy’s franchise two decades in advance.
This is one of Wise’s most tightly plotted and focused scripts, sticking to a single plot and developing it at a solid pace. There are lots of great action set pieces, like the Phantom facing down Higby on a catwalk spanning a burning stage or a booby-trapped catacomb in the sewers, and even when the animation doesn’t do the stories justice the humor keeps things rolling. It’s probably one of Wise’s better efforts.
“Donatello Trashes Slash” (written by David Wise)
After receiving an intellect boost from an alien race, Slash returns to Earth to get revenge on the Turtles and take over the world. Donatello has to match wits with the new genius Slash and prove who the smartest Turtle really is.
Alright! Slash! He only appeared in three episodes of this series, but they’re all pretty good. This is probably my favorite of the bunch, mainly because it actually portrays Slash as a credible threat instead of a brain dead loser.
As much as I liked the first Slash episode, the fact that he was so freakin’ dumb sort of limited his potential. Wise seemed to figure that out and this episode is mostly centered around the fact that Slash is so physically powerful, that if he were smarter than toast as well then he’d be unstoppable. Admittedly, his design is still stupid-looking (sharing almost no resemblance with the action figure or his Archie comics counterpart), but it’s still nice to see a Slash we can take seriously.
Inevitably, he loses his intellect by the end of the episode so as to return everything to the status quo. It was expected, though the way he goes about getting stupefied is a little questionable. He falls off the roof of the tallest building in New York and hits the asphalt with his head. This doesn’t kill him. I mean, I know this is a cartoon and all, but usually TMNT didn’t resort to Wile E. Coyote physics and a 100-story plunge is supposed to build life-or-death tension.
The animation looks to be by the uncredited Japanese studio and it’s some pretty competent stuff. At least from what we’ve seen so far this season (which has ranged from listless to incoherent). Donatello’s initial confrontation with Slash at the department store is actually really well animated, particularly the numerous explosions, and has a lot of kinetic energy.
“Donatello Trashes Slash” is my favorite episode of season 6, even if it’s a pretty weak season overall. Next time, though, there won’t be a whole lot to look forward to as we end the season. Agatha Marbles comes back, even though nobody asked her to. Pinky McFingers makes his final appearance. And… uh… I can’t think off hand of anything else special about these upcoming episodes. We won’t even get a proper season finale.