We’re back for more of Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation, that short-lived live-action TMNT series you’ve only heard of from hushed whispers and dark mutterings in the small hours of the morning. To say its true name is to summon the beast.
In this batch of episodes, we learn about the dangers of internet chatrooms, encounter Bonesteel twice, watch a guy in an unconvincing ape suit straight out of Filmation’s 1970s The Ghost Busters show, and suffer the strangest recurring sub-plot of the series: Michelangelo’s pirate radio station.
Because Mikey needed something to do in this show other than slobber all over Venus. It may not be great, but it’s an improvement.
“Turtles’ Night Out” (written by Alan Swayze)
After yet another encounter with psycho poacher Simon Bonesteel, Michelangelo is inspired to throw an “Animal Rave” to raise money for wildlife foundations. He broadcasts the details over his pirate radio show, the Sewer Hour, which of course lets Bonesteel know exactly where to look for his next hunt.
Hey, remember at the end of TMNT II: The Secret of the Ooze, when the Turtles found their way into a dance club and started partying with Vanilla Ice? Well, try to imagine that entire sequence but with worse music, lower production values, shoddier camerawork and stretched out to fill twenty minutes.
They even do the thing where they beat the bad guy by slamming all four of their shells into him on the dance floor.
I know it’s hard to tell by the low quality of this screenshot, but this show kind of sucks.
Also, did I say twenty minutes? Because I meant sixteen. This episode is only sixteen minutes long. What happened? Did they run out of film or something?
As much as I like Scott McNeil as Bonesteel, the comedy relief villain of the series, most of this episode is pretty obnoxious. It starts out promising, with Bonesteel setting up a trap at a pizza parlor to catch Michelangelo. Mikey just straight up waltzes into the restaurant, no disguise or anything, and orders a pie like it was nothing. If anything, this felt like a scene straight out of the Fred Wolf cartoon but rendered in live-action and is pretty fun for how stupid it is. Bonesteel, dressed as an Italian chef and doing his best Super Mario accent, even tries to shove Mikey in a pizza oven. It’s the closest we ever got to getting toyline character Pizzaface on TV, at least until he showed up in the Nickelodeon cartoon 15 years later.
Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there. Yes, downhill from “villain dresses up as an Italian chef to try and ambush Michelangelo at a pizza parlor”. That was the highpoint of the episode.
The sequence at the rave is mostly annoying and the truncated length of the episode squanders much of the potential. They probably could have spent more time just having the Turtles mingle with the humans (who are all wearing animal costumes, so they don’t know the Turtles are mutants) before Bonesteel shows up and it might have been fun. Donatello and Leonardo actually flirt with a couple of girls while Raphael plays bouncer and Venus de Milo… uh… breathes oxygen. I dunno, it could’ve been more fun than it actually was and surely just having the Turtles dance with Canadian extras couldn’t have been so expensive as to cut this episode down by five minutes.
When Bonesteel shows up, he first tries to shoot the Turtles with weapons that appear to be made entirely out of PVC piping hot glued together and spray painted gunmetal grey.
When that endeavor fails, he enlists the help of a mid-90s multi-ethnic street gang with a Clockwork Orange theme to help him take the Turtles down. They all fail hilariously. Wait, I mean “hilariously”. Those quotation marks are important.
After all is said and done, Mikey gives a rousing speech about ending poaching and preserving wildlife, which of course elicits a righteous, fist-pumping response from the teen ravers. Conservation and ecology sounds fuckin AWESOME when you’re on ecstasy.
Scott McNeil’s Bonesteel is the highlight of the episode and gets all of the (whatever passes as) good lines. When he misses the Turtles with his net-blasting gun, he laments, “Close only counts in hand grenades and horseshoes! Darn, I knew I shoulda brought those grenades.” McNeil’s voice for Bonesteel is 100% perplexing, though. Sometimes it sounds like he’s going for a gravelly Yosemite Sam impression, and sometimes it sounds like he’s trying to do a nasally Pat Buttram impression. It’s entertaining, but you can’t get a bead on it.
Also, back in my first installment of these Next Mutation reviews, I remarked how I thought Matt Hill (who plays Raphael) would have been better suited to voice Michelangelo (played by Kirby Morrow). The episode opens with Mikey taking a call from a listener on his radio show. The caller is voiced by Matt Hill doing a surfer dude voice, and lo and behold, he sounds more like Michelangelo than Michelangelo does.
And lastly, have you ever wondered how the suit actors see?
Through those gigantic black holes cut into the center of the masks. Good luck ignoring those from now on.
“Mutant Reflections” (written by Barry Julien)
After collecting DNA samples from all the Turtles, Dr. Quease creates cybernetic clone duplicates as the first wave of a mutant army under the Dragon Lord’s control. His success lasts for about five minutes, then the real Ninja Turtles ruin everything.
Ahh, evil duplicates. Is there a lazier premise for an action show?
Well, regardless of how many times we’ve seen this sort of story play out, it makes for one of the tighter and more focused episodes of Next Mutation we’ve gotten so far. And at least it doesn’t decide to quit at 16 minutes.
Most of the episode involves Quease sending a tiny rover down into the sewers to collect DNA samples from the Turtles (a hanky, floss, chewed gum, etc.). It’s mostly just to kill time until the big fight at the climax, but Quease’s commentary as he remotely controls the rover makes it fairly amusing (thanks to Simon Webb’s performance). It presents a problem, however, as the rover follows the Turtles into the lair to find more DNA samples. So the Rank knows where the Turtles live? And they don’t just go down there and slaughter them all?
There’s a gruesome element to the rover, too, and it took me kind of by surprise. Quease actually removes his own eyeball to serve as the lens for the rover’s camera. He clones himself a new eyeball early in the episode, but it’s such a weird thing to include. Why did the camera need to have a human eyeball attached to it? Cameras operate just fine without dismembered body parts serving as mechanisms. The eyeball is played for laughs, like most of the darker elements in this show, but it’s still a surreal sight.
The fight at the end is both bad and good. Since it’s Ninja Turtles fighting Clone Turtles, you get to see a LOT of what the suit actors are capable of. No human extras in the way to hog the shots. Considering how cumbersome the Turtle costumes are, the acrobatics are impressive. The fighting is still done with a goofy Jackie Chan “let’s use the environment instead of weapons” gimmick and it isn’t as cool as it ought to be.
The clones are sometimes referred to as biological creations (hence the DNA) and sometimes described as robots (they have cords in their necks that the Turtles yank out to defeat them). This would have been the perfect opportunity to let the Turtles use their weapons in battle, which they have hardly used at ALL since the show began. The TMNT can’t hack and slash human beings on a kids show, but robots are fair game, right? Or at least they should be.
Ultimately, the highlight of the episode is the very end, as Dr. Quease makes his escape on a pair of rocket boots.
It wasn’t necessary in the slightest, but I’m glad Saban went for it.
“Truce or Consequences” (written by Ken Hotz and Spencer Rice)
After tuning into the Sewer Hour, Wick and the Rank concoct a scheme to capture Michelangelo. Posing as his show’s #1 Fanclub, they lure him into a trap. The rest of the Turtles will have to feign a truce with the Rank in order to rescue Mikey before the Dragon Lord eats him.
There’s that radio show thing again. I mentioned at the top of the article that it gave Mikey something to do for a couple of episodes besides hit on Venus, but that also made me notice something; he hasn’t hit on Venus for a while, and that was pretty much all he did when the show began. In fact, he even refers to her as “family” in this episode.
So what happened? Is Venus a love interest, family or both? Oh god, I hope it isn’t “both”.
Overall, this episode’s kinda bad. Wick has been annoying since the series started and an episode centered around him as the main villain is something no one asked for. And he is just the shittiest looking puppet, isn’t he? He reminds me of those Land Before Time hand puppets you could get at Pizza Hut for 99 cents. I had the Ducky one. It was more convincing than Wick.
There’s a strange subplot in the episode about the virtue of lying. Donnie invents a foolproof lie-detector, but Splinter warns him that lies are often too subtle to quantify on a “yes” or “no” scale. He uses the detector on Wick when he calls in to tell Mikey how much he loves the Sewer Hour and the machine reads “truth”. Of course, just because Wick sincerely enjoys Mikey’s radio show doesn’t also mean that he isn’t going to feed him to the Dragon Lord. And he does.
So then Splinter gives another lesson to his pupils, informing them that the only way to combat lying is with MORE lying. Ultimately, the Turtles infiltrate the Rank HQ by lying about wanting to form a truce with the Dragon Lord.
I think the moral of the episode is that “lying is bad except when it isn’t”. Actually, that’s a pretty practical moral. I can totally get behind that.
“Sewer Crash” (written by Rhonda Smiley)
Silver sends a hypnotic message to Donatello through an internet chatroom causing the Turtle to become his larcenous slave whenever he hears the word “banana”. Donatello starts spending his nights stealing jewelry until Raphael catches on.
I think this is the last appearance of Silver, isn’t it? While three episodes may not sound like much, keep in mind that the 26 episodes that comprise the entirety of The Next Mutation weren’t intended to be the complete series. This was just supposed to be the first of many seasons. So three episodes in one season is plenty. We just never got more.
Unlike other episodes that lack substance to the point of having to finish five minutes early, “Sewer Crash” doesn’t have enough space to accommodate all of its ideas. Donnie spends most of the episode stealing jewels for Silver (while wearing a burglar mask over his robber mask) until Raph catches on and goes to Silver’s hideout to save his brother. There’s a fight, Donnie snaps out of it and they escape. It ends right THERE, though, without any sort of epilogue to tie things up. Which leaves behind a bunch of problems.
First is that the Turtles run out the fuckin door seconds before the end credits. Donnie is never cured of the hypnotic suggestion; Raph even mutters that they need to leave before Silver has the chance to say “banana” again. We can assume that Donnie, being a genius, found a cure for his hypnotism problem, but still. “Narrative cohesion”. Don’t leave a resolution to the viewer’s assumption, at least not on a Ninja Turtles show made for babies.
The bigger issue is that, um, doesn’t Silver win? The Turtles don’t grab all the stuff Donnie stole on their way out the door, they just book it and leave. Silver got to keep all of that loot. So hey, maybe THAT’S why we never saw Silver again. He cashed in all the jewels Donnie stole and retired to Hawaii or wherever Yeti mobsters retire to (I haven’t researched this).
Silver’s hideout has gone through something of a makeover since it last appeared, and a disappointing one at that. The jungle vines and rock climbing walls have been removed and it’s now just a living room. And I don’t mean like the living room of a mansion, I mean just some dude’s living room in the suburbs. It looks like the set of a family sitcom.
Part of the episode revolves around chatrooms and that newfangled thing called an “internet” that was taking the world by storm in 1997. They wring some alright jokes out of it, with Silver hunting and pecking on his keyboard while trying to send the hypnotic message to Donnie, and Donnie cyber-sexing it up in a chatroom full of “internet babes”.
I guess the moral of the story is supposed to be that you never know who you’re REALLY talking to in one of those America Online chatrooms. “HotnBothered109” might claim to be an ex super model, but there’s a better than average chance she’s really a Yeti.
“Going Ape” (written by Dan Clark)
Bonesteel pursues Raphael to an abandoned house. And also there’s a gorilla! The Rank Lieutenant and his Rank Soldiers show up to capture Raph and take him back to the Dragon Lord while disposing of any witnesses. And also there’s a gorilla! Raph and Bonesteel will have to reluctantly work together to escape with their lives. And also there’s a gorilla!
Hey, what’s your favorite borough of New York City? Manhattan? Brooklyn? Personally, I’m rather fond of Ontario.
So this entire episode consists of Raph, Bonesteel and the Rank getting chased around a dusty, cobwebbed mansion, in fast-motion I might add, by a gorilla. What the fuck kind of Abbot and Costello, Keystone Cops bullshit is this!? They even do that bit where they run in and out of hallway doors with hilarious results. I mean “hilarious” results. Goddamn those quotation marks.
But I guess if there’s anything Next Mutation excels at, it’s that it can be so stupid it curves back around and become entertaining again. Not in a million years did I think I was going to be watching Raphael run around the Scooby-Doo Estate, being chased by the worst gorilla costume this side of Congo. It’s like Benny Hill with less Yakity Sax and more ninjas.
Scott McNeil’s Bonesteel continues to be a hoot, unashamedly aiming for a live-action Elmer Fudd/Yosemite Sam/Wile E. Coyote thing. Hell, there’s even a bit at the start where Raph avoids Bonesteel by holding a newspaper over his face and doing the “He went thataway” bit. This show was written BY the brain damaged, FOR the brain damaged.
Interspersed throughout the episode are cutaways back to the lair where Leonardo and Donatello whine about what a jerk Raphael is. If they’d cut those sequences out, this might have been another 16-minute episode and that would have been enough. I don’t think I’ll complain anymore when these episodes end early.
Oddly, Michelangelo and Venus are absent from the lair sequences. Probably to save money. In fact, most of this one reeks of being a “bottle episode”. The location is almost entirely restricted to one set and there’s little actual content; I can’t help but think they pinched a few pennies.
“Hey, we’ve got one more episode to film, but we’re really low on funds. Any ideas?”
“Well, we could rent a gorilla suit from Party City and have Joe chase the kid in the Raphael costume around one of our leftover sets from Goosebumps.”
“Yeah, sure, that oughta kill twenty minutes.”
And this won’t even be the cheapest, laziest episode of the series, either. I’m pretty sure I’ve got a clip show or two on the horizon.
So that concludes this Next Mutation review. I make fun of it a lot, but the novelty value of the series is legitimately worthwhile. This show is so fucking stupid, but it KNOWS it’s stupid and just seems to roll with it.
And for everybody out there who hates Venus de Milo, I think I mentioned her two or three times in this whole article and never in any significant capacity. That’s because she doesn’t do a damn thing in this series; she just stands around and takes up space. For the life of me, I don’t know why she musters up so much hatred. It’d be like holding a grudge against wallpaper or a fern or something.