Thoughts on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987)

When I first bought the entire set of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and started briefly watching it, I was disappointed in it. This time, when I started watching it, I wasn’t disappointed … and couldn’t remember or figure out what had disappointed me the first time. I was even actually enjoying. So what changed?

I think that this time it really hit me that this was not a standard action cartoon. This was definitely far more of a parody or even comedy cartoon than an action-adventure cartoon with some humour thrown in, which was made especially evident by how often and how easily the show broke the fourth wall, making references to things like episodes — and often doing that to lampshade some of the goofier elements — and even directly addressing the audience at times (and even lampshading that). In general, it seems to me that the show was not really meant to be taken seriously, and so the viewer should spend more time following the jokes and less time worrying about the plot, villain plots, or action.

What this meant is that the show was at its best when it was goofy, but not stupid, and those tended to be the seasons and episodes that I enjoyed the most. In season 4, however, it seems to me that far too many of the episodes were just plain stupid, which meant that I didn’t enjoy that season at all. Unfortunately, it was one of the longer seasons, which really started to sour me on the series. Season five seemed to be better, but then it ran into the problem that the sort of goofy humour that made the show so enjoyable for the first few seasons really ended up getting repetitive. They often made the exact same fourth wall breaking humour and goofy jokes, and so they weren’t as funny anymore. Thus, while the series was more fun it was also more repetitive, and so a little boring.

So it’s no wonder that seasons 8 – 10 — also known as the “Red Sky” seasons — decided to try something different, and so be more serious, more dark, and so more arcs instead of one-shot episodes. Unfortunately, if they were going to do that it would have been better to do it in a longer season — like season 4 — when they had the time to do arcs and add some serious elements while leaving room for one-shot goofy episodes and humour so that the shift wouldn’t be so pronounced. I mean, they even stopped joking about pizza in those last seasons, and added so many arcs that in general they couldn’t properly develop or resolve them, like the new mutations of the turtles that kinda came out of nowhere, lingered for a few episodes (mostly as a way of getting them out of trouble), and then was resolved except for a minor subplot with Leonardo being mutated into a mindless monster, which was resolved within two episodes. Eight episode seasons were not enough to make this sort of switch and carry through on all the issues that they raised. If you combine all three, you had 23 episodes which would be enough, but the seasons weren’t written that way and so really do come across as three linked but distinct seasons of about eight episodes each, which meant rushed plotlines and arcs, which weren’t all that great.

It also lost some of the characters that made the first few seasons fun, like Irma. I didn’t realize before how important a character Irma was to the show until I watched it this time. She provided someone for April to talk to — especially once Irma found out about the turtles –, added some comic relief, and provided the view of the ordinary person (since April was too focused on getting a story to do that). And, eventually, April was mostly sidelined as well, in favour of Carter, who was annoying and pretty much did the same sort of things that Donatello did, unlike April who had skills they lacked. I didn’t really miss Burne and Vernon, especially since Vernon worked really badly as a foil for April because while he was ambitious he was too cowardly to really want to seek out the big stories that April was constantly chasing, and so was mostly just annoying, and Burne didn’t really have any sort of character whatsoever, and just became more unreasonable as the series went on.

It was also too late to introduce the turtles being met with such suspicion and distrust. At least when Dregg was introduced their opposition to him could have raised some hackles, but still the humans hating them so much and Raphael hating them back — while in character for him — developed too quickly to make sense and really work. And they didn’t have time to develop that while developing everything else and adding new characters on top of that.

What this meant was that in the last seasons I just wanted to get through them so that I could finish it all off and be done with it. That’s not the sort of experience I was hoping for. While I enjoyed the first three seasons, from season four onwards I didn’t enjoy the series that much, and ended up actively disliking it at the end. Thus, while it’s possible that I’ll rewatch this series, it won’t be until I’ve rewatched almost everything else I own.

3 Responses to “Thoughts on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987)”

  1. Thoughts on ReBoot … | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I think being in the right mindset is important here. This is not a standard action cartoon about […]

  2. Thoughts on “The Real Ghostbusters” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] but overall it really lost the magic that it had had in the earlier seasons. By the end, like with “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, I just wanted to get through the rest and move on to something […]

  3. Thoughts on “She-Ra: Princess of Power” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] the entire series (I was also almost certainly distracted by something else, too). However, unlike “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Reboot”, when I watched She-Ra this time I remembered why it had disappointed […]

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