There are few media phenomenons as perplexing as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It started as a violent spoof of 1980s comic books, but was transformed into a kid-friendly Saturday morning cartoon and toy line that dominated the minds of young viewers well into the 90s. And the multimedia behemoth didn’t stop there; there have been major motion pictures, video games, touring concerts and inescapable merchandising for the last three decades.
But what caused the cultural impact of the Ninja Turtles? Was it the absurdist concept appealing to a childlike appeal to nonsense? Was it the structure of a well-balanced team that allowed for every viewer to self-identify with at least one of the members? Was it the inescapable earworm of a theme song? The only way to uncover the strange alchemy is Ninja Turtles is to document and study every corner of this bizarre, seemingly endless pop culture phenomenon. May God have mercy on our souls as we dive deep into this odd vision quest.
A quick structural note for this blog: while the first season of Ninja Turtles was intentionally serialized so that all five episodes created a continuous storyline, the show becomes much more self-contained at this point. Sort of. This first episode of this season establishes the new status quo, and is immediately followed by a sort of loose 4-part story arc. After that point however, save for season finales, the structure of the show remains relatively intact. Which is perfectly normal for cartoons of this era; the idea of long-term storylines that unfold across multiple episodes is largely unheard of in children’s programming from this era, though it will become more normalized in the early 1990s.
All of this is a long way to say that the recap section that has headed the last few reviews will be less relevant; when covering past episodes is useful, I will do so, but more likely in the context of the review itself. And significant changes to the status quo will also be addressed as they occur. With all of that out the way, let’s get started with this first episode of season 2, in which the Shredder apparently returns! Even though he just left!
The episodes starts with Michelangelo and Leonardo out shopping for toppings for their disgusting monstrosity pizzas. Michelangelo is still eating peanut butter and jelly ‘za, while Leonardo suggests “desiccated liver and wheat germ” as a healthy alternative. All of this is happening out in the open while the turtles are wearing their barely passable flasher “disguises”, and is more or less an opportunity to remind the audience the turtles claim to enjoy pizza and yet regularly degrade the very concept of what a pizza can and should be.
All of this food crime is broken up by actual crime when two muggers attempt to rob the register at the grocery. Suspiciously one of the robbers sounds exactly like Donatello because this show apparently has five voice actors working on it. The turtles toss off their costumes and attack the robbers, which at least gives the writers the challenge of giving Leonardo something to do that isn’t “cut menacing robot in half”. Their answer is to have him attack some eggs.
The turtles quickly take care of the robbers, but flee the scene when the police arrive. Luckily the police are able to arrest the muggers, and April actually does her job for once by reporting on actual news. And luckily for her, it is news that makes her friends look good! Win-win!
Meanwhile, in Dimension X, the Technodrome is still sitting on a nondescript pile of rocks. You’ll recall that the Technodrome was banished there at the end of Season 1, which would seem like a real bummer for our villains if not for the fact that we know they have a transdimensional portal. Shredder, who is clearly subservient to Krang at this point, begs for his boss-who-is-also-a-brain-in-a-robot-body to send him back to Earth so that he can defeat the Ninja Turtles once and for all.
Krang agrees, less because he especially cares and more to stop Shredder’s bitching. Bebop and Rocksteady attempt to run after Shredder, but Krang denies them access to the portal. His rationale seems to be that he enjoys “watching both humans and animals suffer,” and the Goon Squad are both. Which…sure, Bebop and Rocksteady suck so more suffering for them please, but how is making them stay behind really suffering exactly? Or is he basically putting them through a torture routine while Shredder is trying to enact revenge? Either way, this firmly establishes that Krang is still kind of a dick, even to his so-called colleagues.
Back at Channel 6 news, April O’Neil reports in and we get to meet her friend and seeming Channel 6 receptionist Irma. To be blunt, Irma is kind of the worst. She embodies every weirdly mean-spirited, misogynist trope this show can get away with on the margins, she functions as a damsel in distress an alarming amount, her voice is gratingly annoying and she serves little function than to be misplaced comic relief and sadness. She is like if Sadness from Inside Out was stripped of any pathos or likability. I hate Irma.
Unfortunately, she becomes a pretty regular character on this show from now on, and in her opening salvo we get the full Irma experience: she informs April that there is an emergency, to which April shows the appropriate level of moderate freak out and professional curiosity. Irma then reveals that her emergency is that she chipped a nail, which honestly if April was really Irma’s friend she should have known from the get-go that her “emergency” was likely bullshit.
Irma’s nonsense aside, the scene then turns to April’s other co-workers also being shitbirds. Namely Berne Thompson, April’s boss (who you might remember April physically threatened with fake explosives and come to think of it she should totally be fired) who wants to expose the Ninja Turtles to be a menace in a very thinly veiled and shameless whole-cloth lift of J. Jonah Jameson, and Vernon, a fellow reporter who is so clearly coded as being gay that I almost forgot he started out as April’s cameraman.
We then learn that Thompson’s anti-turtle agenda is fueled by our second example of blatant sexism, his airhead blonde girlfriend who hates turtles. April is of course outraged by this gross journalistic bias, but knows she has to play it safe because Vernon is right there to scoop her spot. April then makes a crack about how she could interview Big Foot, to which Irma makes a joke about wanting to fuck Big Foot. April them storms off because her work environment is the literal worst.
Back in the turtle’s secret underground lair, the Turtles are scarfing down pizzas while they talk about their complicated relationship to the Shredder, as both adversary and originator of their mutated forms. This scene seems to serve the function of establishing background for newcomers, primarily in regards to basic Shredder facts and re-establishing the whole pizza thing. Also this scene has some of the most egregious coloring mistakes of the show thus far. This is a close-up of Leonardo talking.
Oops. Anyway, the turtles are relieved that Shredder and Krang are clearly gone forever and could never possibly come back when Splinter informs them all that they are such stupids and of course the Shredder is coming back. It is suggested that Splinter is able to tell thanks to his deep meditation, but I like to think that Splinter is on that self-aware-of-cartoon-existence tip. The turtles attempt to console their sensei, but he is likely too distracted by the fact that Donatello’s gums are apparently bleeding all over his turtle teeth. Granted I am pretty sure that turtles don’t have teeth, but this is the stuff of nightmares.
Elsewhere, Shredder makes his way through the Transdimensional portal only to fall right in front of a pair of muggers who are having a slow day at a lovely park. Shredder initially tries to call his forces to take care of the muggers, only to realize he has to dispatch of them himself which turns out to be zero trouble, raising the question of why he asked for help in the first place. Still, he wants his tools and forces, but when he contacts Krang he is refused help. So Shredder is running solo and shaking fists as we cut to commercial.
Fade back in on the Shredder going to the “Slash for Cash” dojo, proving his mission objective of doing things by himself is immediately ignored. Shredder quickly takes over the dojo from Smash, who runs the Slash for Cash dojo because apparently Dr. Seuss wrote this episode. Also, Shredder cuts up a sandbag, which seems fairly unnecessary but by the standards of this episode of maybe the most exciting thing that has happened yet.
April returns to work after cooling down, just in time to find her boss still flirting with his girlfriend on the job. She tries to explain that the turtles aren’t a threat, but Thompson isn’t hearing it because of trying to keep up with all the hot cartoon sex he is implied to be having. This episode is horny, and this scene is unnecessary as April storms off again.
Cutting back to the dojo, Shredder has apparently spent the afternoon whipping the entire dojo of losers into shape. At this point the Shredder’s brilliant plan is unveiled: the Slash for Cash dojo members are now the “Crooked Ninja Turtle” gang, which includes doing crimes in turtle themed t-shirts and “masks”. I recognize as a show for children they have to easily communicate when disguises and ruses are being used, but as an older observer, between the turtles’ “human” outfits and these turtle costumes, everyone in this New York is apparently easily confused and near sighted as hell. Except for April O’Neil, who apparently only recognizes that the gang isn’t actual giant turtles because she is friends with the real giant turtles and also not an idiot.
Anyway, the Crooked Ninja Turtle gang get a nice little montage of causing chaos and generally being dicks, which the police seem helpless to stop because oh right ninjas are the most dangerous thing in the world in this universe; I am only now remembering that this whole show started with a “ninja crime wave” that completely stymied law enforcement because those kicks are too sweet.
The Shredder calls Krang to brag about his plan of baiting the Ninja Turtles by trying to spread the word of a bad turtle gang, only for Krang to immediately point out this is a super stupid plan because it requires waiting for a reaction from the turtles. Demanding results, Shredder decides he has only one person to turn to.
Mad inventor and certified white dude, Baxter Stockman! Quick refresher: Stockman last appeared in Episode 3, where he had created dangerous pest control robots that hunted rats and confusingly named them Mousers. The turtles basically bullied Baxter into giving up the Shredder’s location, destroyed all his robots and then proceeded to steal all of Baxter’s equipment. Meanwhile, Baxter apparently was committed to the “Sunny Dale Home for the Bewildered”, an asylum where he is housed with a walking cliche of another patient who thinks he is Napoleon.
A quick animation aside: the proportions in this scene are crazy. Look at Baxter and his roommate. They are looney tunes, with grotesque proportions and massive hands. Shredder, by comparison, is drawn with more realistic proportions, but is also meant to be larger than Baxter. So you have a weird art-style clash that immediately undercuts how menacing your big bad guy is while also throwing into question was species Baxter is supposed to be. This is just all wrong and I hate looking at it, so I am sorry that I made you have to as well but we have to be in this together.
Baxter then turns total Igor, referring to Shredder as Master and profoundly apologizing for disappointing him. This is a weird turn for Baxter; in the previous episode he was a hapless and somewhat misguided inventor, but did seem genuinely invested in his pest control plans and completely clueless to the Shredder’s more sinister intentions. Yes, he initially refused to give up where the Shredder was to the Turtles, but he also rolled over pretty fast. Here at their reunion, Stockman has gone complete sycophant and more or less begs forgiveness. It is a weird shift for the character, but as we’ll see going forward, Baxter is not the most consistently written villain. Either way, Baxter pledges to use construction equipment to build a bigger, more dangerous
April tries to warn the turtles that there is footage of the Crooked Ninja Turtle Gang that her horned up boss is going to run to appease his bimbo girlfriend. Studying those sweet ninja kicks, Leonardo reaches the conclusion that the Crooked Ninja Turtles could only have been taught by Shredder. Before they can come up with a plan, Thompson and his girlfriend (who we learn is named Tiffany because of course she is) discover the turtles and they run off before they can be screeched at. We are again given the impression that Thompson and Tiffany are doing it. This episode is super horny y’all.
Back at the turtle lair, Baxter Stockman unveils the “ultimate rat catching machine” and uses it to catch Splinter…ultimately. Ultimate Rat Catching Machine is a much less marketable, but also more honest name for a Baxter Stockman device. Oh, and that means it is time for another commercial break.
After our break, the turtles come home to discover Splinter is missing and there are giant holes in their home. Going to investigate, they soon run into Smash and the rest of the Crooked Ninja Turtle Gang. The turtles then fight the Shredder’s minions in a junkyard, proving to be master improvisers when it comes to fighting non-robots.
Smash is soon cornered and forced to show them a message that Shredder already wrote on the wall to meet him at the Smash for Cash dojo. At the Dojo Shredder has Splinter tied up in the most needlessly and unapologetically sexual way I can imagine you could tie a giant rat to a wall. Y’all. This episode. Is. Horny.
The Turtles attempt to attack Shredder, only for it revealed that the Shredder has actually attached a giant battering ram with a comically shaped fist to threaten to crush Splinter if they draw too close. But before Splinter can be smashed against the wall, good old Baxter Stockman rushes in with the ultimate rat catcher, despite the fact that the rat has in fact already been ultimately caught.
Baxter continues to be needlessly manic as he uses his giant machine to attack the turtles. The implication seems to be that his initial encounter with them has driven him made with obsession. Except his ramblings about “big green talking turtles” is justified because he got attacked by a group of big green talking turtles. It would be more valid for him to just be pissed that they stole all his stuff.
So that’s the scene: the turtles do battle with the Ultimate Rat Catcher which they easily dismantle, causing Baxter to go groveling to Shredde. This hilariously leads to Shredder complaining about having to do everything by himself, which was Krang’s whole point in the first place. Anyway, he finally stops pontificating and threatening Splinter long enough to actually cut the dang rope and release the dang battering ram, which proceeds to smash the dang Ultimate Rat Catcher instead of Splinter. I am going to count this as a robo-death.
Shredder of course flees with Baxter to safety, with the Turtles not far behind when the police start to arrive. A few short moments later, April and a film crew arrive to report on the scene, which she refers to as “World War Eleven”. Either April needs to work on her use of hyperbole, learn how many World Wars there have been or learn how to count.
Shredder calls back to Krang to whine some more, and hilariously does this in a seemingly very public point in a park. Krang continues to deny help to Shredder until he is able to take care of his turtle problem. Also he shows off his new body’s sassy stance.
The Crooked Ninja Turtle Gang is exposed as frauds. Tiffany, distraught that the Ninja Turtles are in fact not a menace, blames Thompson. Thompson uncharacteristically insists that he has to actually report on the truth (tell it to Trump, buddy), which offers her no solace. Then Irma walks in with the punchline, revealing that Thompson has ordered some “mock turtle soup”. This convinces Tiffany that Berne is in fact a turtle lover; why precisely is up to interpretation but she proceeds to dump the soup on his head. Irma chimes in with a catty “I guess she’s not a soup lover either”. Irma might be okay.
The episode ends with the turtles back in their lair (giant wall holes apparently fixed), watching their favorite thing: their good friend April O’Neil reporting about them. At the end of the report, April gives a wink to the camera, and the turtles argue about who the wink was intended for. She reveals through magic TV conversation, she reveals she was winking at Splinter, who gets the final line: “Age has its privleges.”
This. Episode.Of. Teenage. Mutant. Ninja. Turtles. Is. So. Horny. It is also over, which gives me time to actually unpack everything here. In some ways, this is the second-first episode of the show. It establishes a tone (other than the horniness), introduces an important cast of characters in April’s co-workers (who all suck but hey it’s a living) and it further establishes that the crux of this show is Turtles vs. Shredder’s Dumb Plans. Tonally it is all over the place, which is also par for the course, and it does try to cram a lot into its slim 22 minute run time. But it has a lot of leg work to do and generally does it with efficiency, save for a few of the April-at-work scenes. Still riding high off the wave of the end of Season 1.