Total Drama Island is indeed a show on Cartoon Network. Why? A review.
I’m not sure what a viewer, kid or adult, is supposed to get out of Total Drama Island: Revenge of the Island. Are we supposed to like or relate to the characters? Are we supposed to laugh at their comic situations? Are we supposed to find hilarity in the (non)subversion of reality TV tropes? Are we supposed to watch it because we’re bored?
Total Drama Island is a hit series on Cartoon Network by creators Tom McGillis and Jennifer Pertsch, mostly known for preschool TV and various Canadian animated productions. Jacob Two-Two? Stoked? 6Teen? I vaguely remembered them, in the age of weak Flash and weaker stereotypes masquerading as kids and teenagers, lacking the rich heart and depth of Paul Germain and Joe Ansolabehere, awash with the kind of mild angst and humor that would fit perfectly on Disney in the 90s or maybe ABC Family. There were USA shows for kids, uncomfortable with their animated format and satisfied with their lack of stakes or character. No one’s putting them on their nostalgia lists.
Total Drama Island is no different. It’s a show about going through the motions. Of creating stock characters with the very real reason of their eventual removal via vote, as typical any reality show. It ambles through the tropes – talking head interviews, ridiculous challenges, a charming but crazy host – without saying much about anyone or anything. It’s not even funny, or fun, save for a couple of mild chuckles. It’s wholly forgettable, in writing and animation. The slicked, aggressively angled character models are boringly grotesque, a design that requires visual pizzazz or wit to overcome (Batman: TAS, Dexter’s Laboratory, PowerPuff Girls, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends); Total Drama Island has none of that.
But it doesn’t bother to try, which is the real issue. It’s content with cliches of its fat nerd character creepily hitting on the high-class, attention-minded blonde; the military guy with the silly, embarrassing secret; the football jock calling everyone else a loser. The challenges are silly but uninteresting to watch, a piss-poor back-and-forth attempt for visual gags that’s mostly storyboarded from straight on in medium shots. There’s no new or interesting (or even old and cliche!) view of reality TV, something that even Drawn Together had (along with some pretty astutely hilarious observations of the cartoon trope they utilized). I don’t know anyone’s name. I don’t care to find out.
Johnny Test, for all its faults, at least had energy and gumption (at times too much); here, we’re literally watching CN fulfill a contract to release a whole bunch of Canadian toss-offs, allowing them to essentially pay for marketing and reap advertising revenue. Hell, you can’t even sell toys of this show. There’s nothing here, which is where the depression part of the title comes from: it’s sad to witness so much nothing going on. Someone needs to throw a pie or something, preferably with an anvil in it.