We need to talk about how bad Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is right now.
I watch a lot of cartoons. I watch a lot of TV in general, but cartoons tend to be the easiest for writers to bypass and push aside under the mistaken belief that, since their work is for kids, they don’t actively have to try. They can skirt by with an abundance of action scenes, physical comedy, and fart jokes. And I’ve certainly seen my share of cartoon episodes that just embarrassed me to watch, terrible episodes of an already mediocre animated show. When it comes to bad TV, there’s usually two kinds – it can be bad at a narrative level, and it can be bad at a technical level. It rarely is both, but for the most part, TV is usually competent technically. Narratives tend to be hit or miss. But bad TV is bad TV, and when an episode sucks, it sucks. At the very least, you can simply say, “That sucked.”
“The Kraang Conspiracy,” TMNT’s latest episode didn’t just suck though. It was bottom of the barrel terrible, an embarrassment to every single person involved. It’s the kind of episode that anyone else would have shelved immediately, hiding from the public. It’s just pure trash, with awful quips and horrendous timing and pathetic plotting and piss-poor pacing. The characters are suddenly extra dickish and shit kinda happens in this episode with NO explanation and then they gave April psychic powers, because what?
“The Kraang Conspiracy” is the epitome of a season that has been sliding downhill ever since the first episode, “The Mutation Situation.” In the first season, what made TMNT a delight was its sense of discovery and growth. It had a keen focus. It emphasized the turtles’ brotherly connection while maintaining each brother’s difference, all while they sought to understand the world around them and their growing list of enemies. Things were happening, and the turtles themselves were training, struggling, and working their way to face each new problem. It was amazing to actually see the turtles become better fighters over the course of the season, and yet fail miserably at taking on The Shredder. They smartly toned down Raph, who has always been portrayed as an emotional wrecking ball – in fact, they completely shut down his attitude in one single episode. They dealt with Leo’s leadership issues and Mikey’s silliness as an extension of wanting to make a real connection, and while Donny’s crush on April is not exactly narrative gold, it at least gave him something outside of his nerdiness to follow. The entire endeavor built to a pretty great (if not memorable) season one finale.
Then season two came.
Season two, frankly, is a mess. We were already in dangerous territory when it began as a tedious slog of mutagen canister fetch-quests, but then this plot goes away. Then Shredder leaves for Japan for unknown reasons. Karai’s in charge and she fucks up everything. This plot then goes away. Then the Foot is replace by robot-Foot, who’s abilities lie in the fact that they can immediately learn your moves and adapt. This should have made for truly intriguing, complicated enemies. It doesn’t, to the incredulous point that Casey Jones, who is only a half-assed hockey player, can take them out. This gets worse when somehow he can hold his own in a fight against Raph – you know, the turtle who has been training in martial arts since birth. Oh, the difficult robot-Foot plot? Completely irrelevant now. (Made so when, upon finding the turtles’ lair, only one robot-Foot soldier analyzed the location and ran off to report it.) Worst of all, they did two episodes in a row about emo Raph being a complaining baby, the very thing the first season actively worked to avoid (seriously, like, you can tell the first season went out of their way to make Raph likeable). Season two is random, jumbled, unfocused, out-of-character, and just not congealing at all.
Then came “The Kraang Conspiracy,” an episode so awful that it made me physically ill and forced me to move on from the show.
What makes this particularly problematic is that the second season represents the worse writer mentality. It misinterprets the first season, pooling together a group of writers who missed out that tight focus and saw nothing but a bunch of talking turtles that fought bad guys. Thinking that such a show could be and would be easy to write, they went off and just tossed the turtles into any situation they could think of and literally made up the crap as they went along. So why, for example, Casey Jones can fight off the learning robot-Foot Clan with ease? Because it would be cool, of course, barring all logic or reason. Bringing back emo Raph is just lazy, since you can’t think of anything better. Why is Shredder gone? Don’t bother to break it down. Just make it vague and useless, so Karai can be bratty on her own. And after you do all this stupid stuff, make “The Kraang Conspiracy.”
There is just so much awfulness here. I mean, we begin with the turtles running across the rooftops with ease, only to find a slow, inept April behind them. Why is she patrolling the rooftops with them? There is no reason. Like, they even say this. They literally are like, April, we trained years for this. But April is there, trying to keep up, and failing. They want to bring April along because the experience will help her learn faster. But this is just straight up reckless. Not even April should be down with this kind of danger (why isn’t she still training with Splinter?! Hell, why isn’t she at school?)
So they find out someone is talking pictures of them on the roofs (because of April’s psychic powers – more on this later) and they chase him down, and this makes no visual sense. There’s absolutely no sense of space, so the chase is muddled and confusing. They approach a gap between the roofs, and they pull out grappling hooks. Grappling hooks! When did they get grappling hooks? Oh, and April has one? Okay, fine. I suppose Donny (who I assumed made them) would have created a spare. So everyone crosses the gap except April, who is just sucking at grappling hook. Donny comes back and goes, “April, you can use my grappling hook!” Which is clearly a handjob joke. But the flaw is that the tension of the chase is complete gone, now that we’re spending a minute with Donny and his sad attempt to feel up April. It fails, of course, because Donny will perpetually have green blue balls and it’s important to run this gag into the ground.
Because of all this, the turtles should have lost track of this guy because of April. Yet somehow they catch up to him with easily. The logistics of this chase sequence is baffling. But they follow him into his creepy apartment and find out he’s a reporter who’s been tracking the Kraang for years. They’ve been around for millennia doing stuff with human DNA apparently, but failing. This development makes little sense. It makes less sense when the reporter mentioned they finally broke human genetics or something through April’s father, making April “Kraang special”.
Then the Kraang arrive. The reporter yells out, “They found me. I don’t know how they did it but they found me!” Well, this is a good question. How DID they find you? The show doesn’t answer this. The Kraang just ARRIVE because network notes demanded an action scene at this point. And it’s sloppy. Somehow the apartment changes sizes and the Kraang are really terrible shots at close range. Everyone escapes and because they need to cut to commercial on a tense moment, a Kraang arrives suddenly with a gattling laser gun! They manage to escape it because – randomly – they drive over it with their Turtles’ Van! Where the fuck did they get access to their van? This whole scene was just random and awful and pointless.
Oh, but here’s the best part.
The reporter goes, “We gotta check out TCRI.” And April goes, “Didn’t you guys blow that up?” Because they did. CUT TO the turtles staring at a BRAND NEW TCRI BUILDING. Not even in the middle of re-construction. Just fucking there! Raph yells out, “They rebuilt it? That fast?” The implication being, “Are the writers this fucking lazy?” You mean to tell me no one noticed that the home base of their fucking enemy got rebuilt? In maybe a month, tops? This fucking tower is HUGE and no one noticed it? And you mean to tell me you couldn’t just render another nondescript building to act as the Kraang’s new home base? Go the fuck home.
Oh, and now April is acting like a bitch. With both April and Raph being assholes this season, you’d think one of the writers is having issues at home. Leo tells April to wait outside because SHE’S UNTRAINED AND INEXPERIENCED and she’s pouts because she doesn’t want to wait on the sidelines anymore. What? Do you realize how insane and dangerous this is? This season is just filled with way too much stupidity, in particularly by doing that thing where kids do dangerous shit because they’re bored or because it would be cool, a thing that ruins so many fucking kids shows that it’s sickening. So of course, inept-ass April follows along, because what could she possibly add to their advantage?
No, she’s there because she needs to be able to LINK PSYCHICALLY TO THE KRAANG. Which is a whole different thing than simply having psychic fucking powers. Listen, if April could indeed connect to the Kraang because of the experiments done to her in the past, I can buy that. If she’s mentally noticing stalkers from afar and blowing up entire rooms of Kraang robots, that’s a whole different (ridiculous) ball game. See, in the first season, they kinda implied April could detect Kraang tech if she could concentrate and focus. That’s fine. But if she’s just going to be an adolescent Jean Grey, then just be a fucking different show. Because there’s no way this will end well.
Okay, so then the Kraang finds them and there’s a whole bunch of fighting, and they do too much standing around/talking in the middle of the fight because they need to get some jokes in there. They then find a whole bunch of April clones, because the Kraang wants to extract her DNA, but they can’t do it through the April clones (so why bother with them at all?) so they almost take it from April when they captured her, but Raph saves her. Oh, and when April sees Raph coming to rescue her, she goes, “Oh, great, Raph. He’s never gonna let me live this down.” Holy flying fuck of aces, what the hell are you talking about? Are you seriously being passive-aggressive with the guy who is about to save you? And since when has Raph given you shit about needing rescuing? How did you have the wherewithal to being snarky while you WERE ABOUT TO DIE? Oh, goddammit.
So Raph rescues her and they’re all about to escape, but the Kraang releases all of the April clones – but why? They’re not exactly fighters or useful. But then in an incredible bit of hilarity, the clones grab April and pull her into their masses. The turtles LITERALLY watch her get taken and, somehow, they get confused on which one is the real April! Like, they weren’t distracted or busy or blinded. They lose track of the real April without losing visual contact with her in SECONDS. I couldn’t believe that happened. How did no one on staff watch a screener of this episode, point to this moment of abject stupidity, and yell out, “What the fuck is this shit?” You couldn’t even spend three seconds to alter the turtles attention to make this moment comprehensible?
Don’t worry, they all escape and then Donny looks at April’s DNA and goes, “You’re a human/Kraang mutant, April. That’s why you’re acting like an annoying prat.” He didn’t say that last part, but I wish he did. But who cares, the episode from top to bottom was just an embarrassment, a shitty story told terribly and everyone – writers, storyboarders, animators, producers – should be ashamed of themselves to allow this to air. Just a lazy, lazy nonsensical episode that made the TMNT look pathetically inept. And if this is the direction the show is going, there’s no way I can continue to watch this without going insane.