Time for another batch of Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation, that live-action TMNT TV series made by the people behind Power Rangers. There’s a good chance you’ve heard of it, but a negligible chance you’ve actually seen it.
I’ll watch it for you. Like some sort of sineater. It’s what I’m here for.
In the previous batch of episodes, we said goodbye to the Shredder and hello to the new main villain, the Dragon Lord. But a show can’t have just ONE villain, right? For the whole series? No, that would get really boring.
So in this batch of episodes, we’re going to meet some of the other recurring villains. The ones that aren’t cool enough to be the “main” villains, but just sort of kill time between Dragon Lord episodes. Essentially, they’re just sort of there to make Dragon Lord look better.
I hope you like monkeys.
“The Staff of Bu-Ki” (written by Ramon Pirouzian)
Reaching through time, Dragon Lord steals the mystical staff of Bu-Ki, a weapon that can turn a shinobi’s chi against them. He plans to use the staff to destroy Venus de Milo before she can master the shinobi arts and become an even greater threat.
Something I’ve noticed while watching this show is that you sort of grow a callus to how crappy much of it is. Like, you stop being distracted by the fact that nobody moves their lips when they talk, but instead nod their head up and down like they’re at a metal concert. Same with the fighting; I don’t really care anymore that everyone sort of flails around like children on a playground rather than, I dunno, punching or kicking in a remotely convincing fashion.
So perhaps that will provide you with some confidence if you’ve been thinking about watching the show but need a push. It’s like Power Rangers or Ultraman; you acclimate to the garbage faster than you’d think and eventually you won’t notice it anymore.
What I DO notice is that there’s no sense of pacing or time. I mentioned in the last review that in order to fill out 20 minutes (BARELY), the show looks for any excuse to use stock footage of the Turtles on their vehicles. But when they resort to it, there’s no logic with the flow of the story. Hell, sometimes the vehicle scenes actively interfere with what the plot the dialogue is setting up.
Okay, so at the start of the episode, Venus uses her shinobi illusion powers to beat Raphael in a fight. Butthurt, he goes storming off into the sewers and Splinter follows him so he can talk sense into his hotheaded pupil. Then some stuff with the Dragon Lord happens and when we cut back to Raph, he’s driving his motorcycle (stock footage) back to the lair. We never saw him leave the lair, but okay. Then it cuts to him in the sewer tunnels being stopped by Splinter, who wants to have a word with him about his behavior. It could’ve just gone straight from Raph storming off with Splinter following him to Splinter catching him in the tunnels. That motorcycle stock footage scene just confuses everything.
Likewise, there’s another bit where the Donatello, Michelangelo and Leonardo are trying to learn about chi from Venus. It cuts to some shit with the Dragon Lord. When it cuts back to the Turtles, they’re suddenly cruising around New York in their custom Hummer while screaming catchphrases at very confused bystanders. Then there’s a transition and now they’re back in the lair, talking about using model airplanes as chi weapons. Again, could’ve cut that whole vehicle stock footage segment out and the episode would’ve been more coherent, but nah. Then it would’ve ended at 16 minutes again and that’s getting dangerously close to a half hour time slot having more commercials than TV show.
Alright, well, about the episode. It’s so hard to follow. Dragon Lord steals the staff of Bu-Ki and gives it to the Rank Lieutenant to attack the Turtles in the sewer and make Venus explode (seriously). But then the episode just devolves into their weird shtick about model airplanes being loaded with chi bombs. Combined with all the stock footage of the vehicles, I was wondering if we were ever going to get back to the plot setup in the first 30 seconds (Dragon Lord steals the staff in less time than it takes for the opening credits to roll).
Dragon Lord eventually challenges Venus to a showdown with the staff, an artifact specifically forged to do nothing other than turn a shinobi’s chi powers against them. So how is he defeated? Venus just blasts it with bad early ‘90s TV-budget CG special effects and then teleports the Rank back to their hideout. No clever way to outsmart the Dragon Lord or disarm the staff’s powers or anything like that. She just blasts it with energy until it goes away.
This show is senseless. I can’t tell if it’s halfassed or just insane. It feels like someone wrote a script, and maybe it was mildly coherent, sure. But then someone at Saban looked over it and determined that they only had the budget to film a third of it. So they filmed whatever scenes they could and then tried to paste what they had together in the editing room, using stock footage and rapid transitions to fill in the gaps.
It works about as well as you’d expect.
“Silver and Gold” (written by Todd Swift)
As a heatwave plagues New York, the Turtles are more interested in the crimewave that’s bringing inquisitive cops into the sewers. As they investigate a bank robbery, they learn that the mastermind of the crimewave is none other than Silver, a Yeti-turned-mob-boss who has been using the sewers to escape between heists.
The things that bother me about Next Mutation don’t seem to be the things that bother other people. Mobster Yeti? Hell, I’m down with that. Reusing the same stock footage of Raph deploying his motorcycle where the muffler falls off as he scrapes the pavement? Fuck *that* noise.
I don’t have a problem with Silver. A Yeti mob boss is just the kind of ridiculous bullshit that makes this show watchable. Saban could have easily made their generic mobster bad guy a normal actor in a Godfather getup, and probably would’ve saved money, too. Instead, they decided to make him a Yeti. It’s the little things.
Silver is voiced by Gary Chalk and I know you’ll recognize him when you hear him. If it’s a cartoon that’s got Canadian voice actors, it always, ALWAYS includes Gary Chalk. I don’t think he sleeps.
The bit of voice actor recognizability lends Silver some affection he might not otherwise have deserved. He sounds like King Hippo from Captain N: The Game Master or Guts Man from Mega Man. Gary Chalk’s “bad guy voice”. He doesn’t try to pep it up with anything too obvious, like an Italian accent or Marlon Brando-isms. There are lots of monkey/ape puns and jokes throughout the episode, but that’s to be expected.
What’s weirder is Silver’s origin, rattled off in the dialogue so nonchalantly. He grew up in “the Himalayan ghettos” and worked his way up “the Bigfoot rackets” until he became a crime kingpin in New York. Try as I might, I can’t seem to connect those dots on my own.
Silver’s gang consists of extras (with badly dubbed voices) dressed in brightly colored Prohibition-era gangster suits. The visual effect actually looks something like the 1989 Dick Tracy movie, albeit with a fraction of the effort and knowhow. They don’t put up a very good fight against the Turtles and are mostly played for laughs; those Hanna Barbera sound effects I mentioned last review come back with a VENGEANCE in this episode.
The episode is stupid and barely has a plot, though I’ll confess that it uses the least amount of stock footage so far. The vehicle deployment bit where Raph’s muffler falls off appears only once in the episode and is used in a coherent fashion (when the Turtles go to investigate the bank heists). So at the very least, the episode doesn’t proceed like my DVD player got drunk.
“Meet Dr. Quease” (written by Michael Mayhew)
Dr. Quease, renegade scientist and idol of Donatello, is kidnapped by the Dragon Lord. Donnie rushes to rescue him, only to learn that Dr. Quease is more than happy to work with the Rank if it means he can dissect a real live mutant.
You know, it seems like I’ve been bitching about the vehicle stock footage a LOT in this review, but I can’t help it. Every episode they do something terrible with it but in a brand new way!
So in this one, Donnie gets kidnapped. And so the Turtles deploy their Humvee to go to the Rank fortress and rescue him. No big deal; that makes sense. But they do it via stock footage. That means Donatello is seen in the Humvee on the way to go rescue himself. And it’s not subtle or accidental, like they failed to edit the footage properly to clip out any close-ups of the Turtles in the Hummer so you can’t see Donnie. No, he’s right there pumping his fist in the air, totally psyched about the concept of being rescued by his brothers.
It’s like watching the Fred Wolf cartoon, with all its bizarre animation errors that routinely put four Michelangelos in the same frame. Except this is a live action TV series. It shouldn’t have animation errors.
We meet another of the show’s additional villains in Dr. Cornelius Quease, the requisite mad scientist character. Back when I reviewed the Fred Wolf cartoon, I noted how frequently the show would introduce mob boss and mad scientist villains; well, it looks like the Next Mutation isn’t any better.
Rather than being an additional faction, Quease works for the Dragon Lord, so I guess he isn’t an “extra” villain, but now part of the main antagonist’s entourage. That’s fine, as he helps round out the Rank’s forces a bit. Up until now, the only identifiable faces under Dragon Lord’s command were Wick (the comedy relief puppet) and the Rank Lieutenant (such a multilayered character, he doesn’t even warrant a real name). Quease at least makes the bad guy forces more colorful and adds a techno aspect to their otherwise mystical trappings.
Quease is played by Simon Webb, a character actor and sometimes voice actor whom I can’t seem to find many notable roles for. I mean, he gets a lot of work, but nothing I recognize. He plays a pretty solid mad scientist and since his actor and voice actor aren’t credited as separate people, I guess he was one of the few people who got to play himself AND voice himself (that sweet Union dough). Quease as a villain is typical, but Saban jazzes him up by making him absolutely hideous. It’s weird, too, because no one seems to notice that he looks like a cross between the Wicked Witch of the West and Ivan Ooze. Is this just what some people look like in the Next Mutation universe? Is this normal?
In a world that can produce Yeti mob bosses, I wouldn’t be surprised.
“All in the Family” (written by Eric Weinthal)
The Turtles meet Simon Bonesteel, a poacher currently in the business of selling endangered turtles on the black market. They save the turtles, but wind up on Bonesteel’s radar. Now the Ninja Turtles will have to deal with the crazed hunter who thinks they’ll make the ultimate sport.
This was an almost entirely plot-less episode; the thinnest premise stretched out to barely cover 20 minutes. The episode consists entirely of the Turtles and Bonesteel running back and forth around the sewers, stealing the endangered turtle from one another. But you know what? It kinda works.
After a few minutes, you catch on that this whole episode is being played as a parody of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd cartoons. You’ve got an inept hunter whom the Turtles keep outwitting, but he otherwise doesn’t give up. Bonesteel uses a bunch of weird gadgets, now intimating Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, and the Turtles tend to make his weapons backfire on him. It’s one big, live-action Looney Tunes episode.
What REALLY makes it work is Scott McNeil, who plays Bonesteel. Yes, Scott McNeil: Canada’s favorite voice actor and North America’s favorite convention guest. You’ll recognize his voice the instant you hear it; he played Dinobot and Rattrap on Beast Wars, Piccolo on Dragon Ball Z, Dr. Wiley on Mega Man, and god, like a bunch of shitty anime characters. This, however, is the only time I’ve seen him make an on-screen performance.
And McNeil just hams it the fuck up; someone had to have told him that they were going for the Looney Tunes thing because he goes full-on cartoon character. Or maybe they didn’t. McNeil’s kinda like Gary Busey; I think he has brain problems. He might not have even known cameras were present and this is just how he spends his Saturdays. (There’s a reason why he’s so popular at conventions.)
Even though McNeil plays the part on-screen, his lines are looped in over the footage. I mentioned this last review, but the animatronics were so loud that it was impossible to record audio onset, which is why everyone is dubbed in this show. While most actors had different people dub them, McNeil both played the part and voiced the part, so his looped in dialogue actually syncs better than most. He gets some great lines, too. Like when he first encounters the Turtles: “Greenpeace? How did you find me, you meddlesome hippies!?”
Hey, you know, that’s another thing. This series is REALLY loose with cultural references. They mention brand names and movie stars and TV shows and all sorts of stuff, never resorting to lame legally approximated substitutions. They make a crack about the Discovery Channel in this episode; not the “Discovering” Channel or the “Recovery” Channel, but the Discovery Channel. I know that doesn’t sound impressive, but look at how rare it’s become now n’ days for kid’s shows to make direct references to anything trademarked. I’m enjoying the sincerity of all this.
Anyway, a good actor aside, Bonesteel is not portrayed as a genuine threat. He’s the comedy relief villain of the series, more so than any of the other bad guys (who were already being played with an edge of humor to them). He’s incompetent and bumbling (the Turtles beat him with a variation of the Bugs Bunny wordplay mind trick), but I think what’s supposed to make him dangerous is his tenacity. Just like Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam, no matter how many times he loses he keeps on trying. He’s maybe more of a nuisance than an arch foe, but it at least gives the rogues gallery of the series some variety. Thus far we’ve gotten the sinister overlord, the mob boss, the mad scientist, and now the fumbling goofball. Pretty robust.
“Trusting Dr. Quease” (written by Rhonda Smiley)
Donatello still thinks there’s some good in his former idol, Dr. Quease. The Turtles aren’t so sure, and when Quease offers Donnie the opportunity to work with him on a teleporter to send Dragon Lord back to the enchanted mirror prison, the Turtles figure it must be a trap. And hey, guess what?
While the previous episode felt like 20 minutes of improv comedy, this one follows a fairly strict formula which makes it much less interesting. I think we’ve all seen this episode in one cartoon or another and it always turns out the same way. A bad guy pretends to go good so he can trick the heroes into falling into a trap, near the end the bad has a slight change of heart and momentarily reconsiders their moral trajectory, but then the bad guy ultimately returns to form and the heroes end the episode with a “not everyone can be turned good but at least you gave them the benefit of the doubt” lesson.
C’mon, you know you’ve seen this episode before.
What makes this installment especially hard to watch is how overloaded it is with those sound effects. They’ve been bad in the past, but this episode is almost unintelligible because of them. I mean, it’s bad enough that every gesture, every footstep, is enhanced with a chicken clucking sound or a bicycle horn honk, but then they dub in the sound effects to make it look like the characters are making them.
There’s a scene where Quease is feeling around on an upper shelf for a CD-ROM containing the work he and Donatello completed and they loop in these OOH OOH AH AH chimpanzee noises. But it looks like Quease is the one making those noises so you’re left wondering why Quease is impersonating a monkey. At least until you remember, “Oh yeah, that’s right. This show is stupid. How could I forget?”
There’s some other weird stuff in the episode. I think they’re trying to neuter some of the violence. When the Turtles fight the Rank Soldiers in Quease’s lab in the third act, many of their punches and kicks are hidden by bright white flashes the moment they’re about to connect. That way you never actually see the fist hit the bad guy. It’s hard to see anything when you’re having a seizure.
“Windfall” (written by Barry Julien)
While trying to steal a winning lottery ticket from an old man, Silver accidentally loses it in the sewers. Michelangelo finds it, but he’ll have to get through Silver and his mob goons if he wants to cash it in.
This was the kind of plot that could have easily fit in with the Fred Wolf TMNT cartoon. Just sub out Silver with, I dunno, Don Turtelli or Big Louie or one of them, and BAM. You wouldn’t even know the difference.
Like the last episode, there isn’t much to this one. Just the Turtles and Silver playing keepaway with a lotto ticket. The Turtles get it, Silver steals it, the Turtles steal it back, the end. They inevitably return it to the old man whom Silver ripped it off from in the first place, but I’m sure you came to that conclusion a paragraph ago.
There’s some questionable logic and technology in this episode, and I mean questionable even by the standards of Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation. So after Silver steals the ticket and the Turtles need to get it back, they ask Donnie to find a way to locate Silver’s hideout. He uses a satellite to track heat signatures in Central Park. When he finds a cluster of five or six people, he determines that must be Silver’s joint. I don’t understand how any of that made sense, but this IS an episode about a mobster Yeti stealing a lottery ticket from radical ninja reptiles, so maybe I wasn’t supposed to.
What we do get to see in this episode is more of Silver’s hideout, which we only saw glimpses of in his previous appearance. While it still looks like an obvious set, there’s some neat trimmings to it. The walls are made of gymnasium rock climbing walls and there are swinging Tarzan vines hanging down from the ceiling. Mingled with all that is lavish Mafioso finery; it creates a pretty memorable location.
Well, that’s another six episodes down. I think I’m supposed to hate this show, but so far it’s entertaining in how fuckin’ whacko it is. Maybe Scott McNeil’s not the one with brain problems. Maybe it’s me.