I wasn’t planning on doing a best/worst end of year list, which is partly why the episodes here are all relatively recent. I still feel strongly for them though, and I’ll definitely have a more “year summary” type of list for next year. For now though, you should completely avoid these episodes.
5. Turbo FAST – “Curse of the Cicadas”
Turbo FAST is one of the most underrated cartoons currently airing today. Breaking from its bland, dour, generic film source, Netflix’s animated series is fast, funny, and frenetic. It actually gives the various characters personalities and histories, and it’s a lot more loonier, goofy, and self-aware than you might expect. Even then, the slick animation and on-point sound design make it one of the most entertaining animated shows around, and the final six episodes are some of the funniest, energetic, and liveliest bits of pure “cartooning” I’ve seen in a while.
So it’s tough to admit that “Curse of the Cicadas” is a wild misstep for the show. The Turbo FAST crew discover a time capsule filled with wonders from the 90s – which is basically an excuse to make fun of the 90s. I’m fine with that. Things get uncomfortable when the sleeping cicadas within the capsule wake up and threaten to take over Turbo FAST’s makeshift snail city. Of all the various 90s-pop culture elements to ridicule, they chose mainly Steve Urkle from Family Matters, cliched “urban” hip-hop slang, and a Macarana knock-off (they tackled grunge but only in short, brief visuals). It’s not racist, but it’s lazy, and by being lazy, it kind of comes off as racist. The final sequence is actually a great animated montage, where by the snails use the Macarana knock-off dance to lure the cicadas back into the capsule, but the episode ends leaving a bad taste in the mouth. The show isn’t afraid to go overboard, so why they stuck with three basic gags is beyond me.
4. Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures – “A Hard Dazed Knight”
Not to praise this show too much, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventure has a premise that’s a hell of a lot more interesting than its execution. Granted, it’s really a knock-off of Harry Potter, but just the mere fact that a show built for seven year-olds possesses so many layers is fairly impressive. Pac-Man’s parents go missing; the yellow orbs are the only ones who can eat ghosts; the secrets behind the Tree of Life and the Repository; the intricate backstory and relationships between various characters; the introduction of “Pointy Heads” that threw in a new wrinkle to Pac’s missing parents — all of that plus other elements give the show a level of prestige that only a few writers can manage.
That’s the thing though: some writers can manage the surprising complexity while maintaining the mandated simplistic comedy, mostly around fart jokes and stupidity. “A Hard Dazed Knight” fails to even utilize the basic elements of the premise, with a contest between Sir Cumfurence and Dr. Buttocks (why would they have contest? They’re mortal enemies!), and it takes way too long to get to the real plot (ghost armor that Pac-Man can’t chew through). The worst though, is the forced King Arthur homage, where Lord Betrayus leads his armor-laden ghosts into battle and talk in terrible old-English dialects. Unnecessary, forced, and lame, “A Hard Dazed Knight” meanders in its randomness until it ends, with not even a modicum of the kind of fun needed for such a childish show.
3. Breadwinners – “A Thug Loaf”
Stop me if you heard this before: two silly, semi-irresponsible characters known to cause chaos; a female character known for her insane inventions; an owner of a diner monstrously known for his extreme love for money; a hoity-toity neighbor who bears the brunt of the main characters antics and abuse; a female authority figure who hates the main characters while trying to “teach” them; a large, scary being who commands a ship and often threatens the world. Yes: shift some details around, and Breadwinners is just a lazy knock-off of Spongebob Squarepants (and yes, I know I’ve been using knock-off a lot), compounded with that ugly, notebook-doodle design combined with mediocre 8/16-bit video game design, with none of the art direction to make it function.
“A Thug Loaf” not only is a lazy episode of a lame show, but it has the uncomfortable addition of portraying “the bad side of town” as an area of little-to-no value. Believe me, I don’t expect any type of social commentary whatsoever from such an inane program, but kids are watching this, and with all the current news stories that are misinterpreting “bad” neighborhoods as blights on society, it’s doubly important to at least have our animation writers explore such areas with at least SOME kind of nuance, even within a pure, comedic context. When Spongebob fell into the “bad neighborhood” in “Rock Bottom,” he may have found it creepy, but it was just due to his unfamiliarity with it, and in the end, it was an unfamiliar creature who helped him go home. “A Thug Loaf” makes no distinction, making a dumb show even more socially problematic.
2. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic – “Simple Ways”
My Little Pony has its fans and its detractors, of which I am both. For all of the good will it exudes with its six main characters — Applejack, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, and Twilight Sparkle are all fully fleshed out female ponies with distinct personalities and goals — the show overall seems to struggle with using those characters to explore and flesh out the other ponies within the world around them in a particular meaningful way. This recent season, at the very least, started out as an apology to last season’s rushed and character-broken storylines, and while it had a few flaws, they were minor, and the core characterizations were in tact.
Then “Simple Ways” arrived. Exuding My Little Pony’s worse qualities, the episode shoves Rarity — who was always comfortable pursuing her fashion trends on her own — with an out-of-character secret crush on some hillbilly pony. This leads to some extremely lazy and almost-offensive characterizations of rural folk AND urbanites, pitting Rarity and Applejack against each other as they spout off one stereotype after another. Reducing Rarity to a nonsensical stalker who’s secretly turned on by “Southern” chic is completely out of left field, but to then reduce all the characters involved to their simplest tropes without even commenting on how wrong it is to focus on their class and status make this episode an even crappier version of the already crappy “Over a Barrel.” My Little Pony seems troubled when it does anything beyond its main six (see also: “Leap of Faith,” where everyone in town just listens to Applejack), and “Simple Ways” is the epitome of that.
1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – “Pizza Face”
Nickelodeon’s CGI revamp of this classic comic series wasn’t amazing — particularly if you compared it to the 2002 2D animated version that ended only a few years earlier — but it was a solid first season, with a strong familial connection between the four reptilian brothers and their master rat. One of the coolest things to watch was the teenage ninjas gradually improve their fighting skills and their teamwork on an episode-by-episode basis, while also recognizing when they were out of their league. The show also purposely avoided the laziest of characterizations that often plagued these characters: Raph’s angry outbursts, Leo’s wishy-washy leadership concerns, Donny’s abject geekiness, Mikey’s unabashed stupidity — they were at least given some sibling-related context to make those one-note emotions work.
The second season destroyed all that almost immediately. The fighting is random and erratic, the plotting and logic is all over the place (I wrote about one particularly awful episode here), and the character decisions are both lazy AND irrational. Not one but TWO episodes were dedicated to Raph’s annoying anger issues, Casey Jones is completely unlikeable, Donny’s crush on April is wildly uncomfortable, and April possesses psychic powers and completely unreliable fighting abilities (although to be fair, the 2002 version of the show did the same thing with her). Yet even all those flaws don’t even come close to the absolute terribleness of “Pizza Face,” a complete failure and rejection of even the basic rules of writing. Stories where no one believes the protagonists claims are bad enough, but coupled with the bad comedy, the strained wackiness, the jarring tonal comedy/horror shifts, and by far the stupidest origin of the mutant pizzas conceivable (a chef finds a broken vial of mutagen and deliberately puts it on the pizza because he wanted to find a new topping [yes this is the explanation]), “Pizza Face” is abysmal on all counts. It’s also emblematic of everything wrong with the current season, which is now nothing but 80 horror movie references. To think this show once held promise.