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.
We open this episode on the Technodrome in Dimension X, which is mostly a signal that while we have only seen Krang as a passing character in the last crystal arc, he is about to become a much more present and visible character going forward. We also see two other familiar faces that have been missing lately.
Yes, Bebop and Rocksteady were absent for the entirety of the Crystal Epic, replaced by Baxter. They don’t do much this episode, but seeing them is weirdly refreshing. Weird because last time we saw them, they were still kind of a pair of ineffectual screw ups. Granted, so is Baxter most of the time, but he has a laser gun that can produce giants legs. Refreshing because…well they’re the old standard. The latest run of Baxter episodes in some ways feel like another attempt at this show, especially given just how ubiquitous the B&R team will become in short order. The first seven episodes of this season could be packaged as the Baxter Era, before he is relegated to minor support character. But more on that next time.
After spending several episodes wanting to see Shredder support himself, Krang finally has given up and decides to give him a leg up. Namely, he offers a set of small alien eggs which will be helpful in defeating the Turtles for undisclosed reasons. Rocksteady goes out of his way to point out that they look like meatballs but they’re not, before Bebop send them across the portal with a tennis racket. Yeah, they’re idiots, but they are my kinda idiots.
Shredder being Shredder still needs to come up with an overly complicated plan to get the Turtles involved, and thus decides to hijack a “pizza bake-off”, an event I am not entirely sure has ever actually occurred. Stealing a stack of flyers, he flushes them down the sewer to make sure that they get to the right, green hands. Utilizing the Turtles’ own addiction to pizza against them, Shredder is showing more ingenuity than usual.
In the sewer, we are shown some typical high jinks. Namely, Donatello has remodeled a washing machine to house a sparring dummy, which Michelangelo attempts to spar with. I say attempt because as soon as he draws near, the dummy starts to wallop him pretty good. Luckily, Raphael was there with a solution: using his sai the unplug the washing machine.
Note: this whole sequence was cut from the UK airing of this episode to give you any idea how relevant any of it turns out to be later.
Before any more hilarity can ensue, the Turtles lair is flooded and the pizza flyers that Shredder sent down are discovered. The Turtles are predictably jazzed about a pizza-based event, Splinter however is more cautious; he note the claw marks in the flyer, a telltale sign of the Shredder’s handiwork. Properly warned to be careful, the Turtles embark to the party.
Speaking of, April is also attending the pizza bake-off alongside her friend Irma. Up to this point Irma has been graciously a rather minor supporting character, but this episode she takes a much more central position. April and Irma are actually gossiping about dudes (because ladies amirite), namely Irma mustachioed accordion-player ex-boyfriend.
An accordion player named Alfredo who we immediately meet and learn is a gross Italian stereotype. In addition, as a mustache-wearer, I am also generally insulted. Irma’s solution to this awkward situation is to literally flee, while April attempts to find some way to convince Alfredo not to pursue her friend. Her solution is to introduce the Turtles (who she saw earlier), as Irma’s family. Alfredo, concerned if he had any children with Irma they would be giant turtles (getting ahead of yourself a few steps there buddy), also flees the situation. This is all a bit of comedic padding with cultural stereotyping thrown in, for free!
As a repayment for helping her ditch the accordion-moustache-man, April agrees to submit the Turtles names for a pizza prize. They then attempt to keep an eye open for Shredder and form a turtle-pyramid. Again, this is them being inconspicuous/stealthy.
Meanwhile, Baxter comes up on the prizes for the raffle: free pizzas! Which as far as raffles go, is a pretty lame prize even for a pizza-centric event unless you have a deep-seeded addiction for the ‘za. But no, this pizza-crazed crowd seems totally into the idea of winning free “deluxe” pizzas. Baxter sneaks one “meatball” onto each of the pizza prizes before taking his place on the stage to pull names for the drawing. Not in a disguise mind you, simply as Baxter Stockman, known inventor who last we saw him was threatening New York with a magical alien crystal. That kind of thing I imagine would at least warrant a police interview.
Anyway, the Turtles immediately suspect that Shredder is nearby because Baxter is basically attached to his hip. And hey, they’re right, as they chase Shredder into a pizza parlor. Thus leading to a comedy-fight sequence where the Turtles more or less use every pizza-related prop you could think of to battle their nemesis. In the end he is defeated by a face full of tomato sauce and then an anchovy pizza. It is a bit of goofy fun, which ends with the Turtles more or less abandoning Shredder after properly shaming him.
There is also a short but important plot bit: two deluxe pizzas are ordered for delivery, but the parlor is out of deluxe pizzas! Thankfully the ones made for the drawing are still there, so two of those are swiped for the order. This suggests a few misunderstandings on how the pizza ordering system works, or maybe I just have higher expectation from my pizzeria to make my pizza when I order, not before. But for the plot to progress, I suppose I will let this pass.
Back at the pizza celebration, Baxter finally reads off the names of the winners of the pizza contest, and hey, it is three of our four Turtles! What a coincidence. Except, of course Baxter just says their name rather than the name on the cards. And our Turtles, high off of humiliating Shredder, are just stoked and don’t question the odds of them winning all of the prized deluxe pizzas when the henchmen of their arch-nemesis is involved. Truly they are blinded by their insatiable desire for pizza.
More complication ensue as the Turtles give one of their three won pizzas to April, taking the other two back to the sewer. April, being a good friend, takes the pizza to share with her sadsack friend Irma. While reheating the pizza in the microwave (is this something people do for fresh pizza?), the meatball egg hatches and it looks fairly familiar.
Yeah, so this is where we can talk about how this is basically an episode where the Ninja Turtles fight some Xenomorphs. Yes, they are different in some key ways. Most notably they don’t burst out of anyone’s chest. They also don’t have a little mini-mouth down their throat. They don’t spit or bleed acid, but they are able to burn through walls. Those differences aside: they’re Alien aliens. Or Aliens aliens. Or Alien3 aliens.
This revelation causes Irma to faint us off to our first commercial break.
As we return from commercial, April is calling her friends the turtles about the monster that came out of their pizza box. They of course run to the rescue, only to comically not be able to catch the tiny beast. When the pizzamorph gets away, the Turtles realize the original pizzas they were supposed to receive were delivered to someone else; April actually explains this, but how or why she knows about the inner workings of the pizza parlor are a little unclear. She calls up and finds out where the other two pizzas were delivered and the Turtles go investigate.
The pizza delivery boy is only not getting to his destination, which seems to really be delayed delivery, especially when they rushed to grab the other pies from a public contest. Maybe this is why everyone in this episode reheats their pizza. The Turtles in their blimp from high above, and then April and skeptical Vernon in a “mobile unit” on the ground. Unfortunately none of our heroes are able to get stop the delivery, which was made to two spoiled children.
More than once now this show has incorporated children, likely to raise the stakes of the show to endanger people similar to the nominal target audience. But almost without fault, when there are children on this show so far they are presented as spoiled or otherwise unpleasant. First there were the con-man pair from the carnival a few episodes ago, and now this bratty pair snatch pizza out of their butlers hand and talking with the most aggravating, grating voices imaginable. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a children’s television program that seems to actively resent children.
Anyway, the kids don’t listen to the turtles because they rank “lower than a babysitter”, and are attacked by mini-pizzmorphs, which the turtles once again attempt to capture and once again fail. All the while April is trying to file a story from a glass elevator. Vernon chickens out, and everyone gives chase into the sewer. Luckily that is home court advantage for the Turtles so things are likely looking up.
Back in Irma’s apartment, Irma is much more upright as the first creature makes itself known again. This leads to Irma’s hilarious joke, “What is this, Creature 2: The Sequel?” I would bust on Irma’s lack of creativity in naming her joke sequel name (everyone knows the go-to would be Creature 2: Electric Boogaloo), but then I remember maybe the funniest thing about Sharknado series of films is the title “Sharknado 2: The Second One”. So yeah. Irma is just ahead of her time. Also the Creature melts its way through the back of a laundry machine, which apparently leads to the sewers, and Irma follows. All our plotlines are converging together! What tight plotting!
Irma’s creature immediately jumps into the water, which is when we learn that this form of pizzamorph grows when exposed to water. Soon all three of the creatures are wet and their similarities to aliens-from-other-franchises become even more apparent. Fully grown, the not-Alien aliens emerge from the water and start to track down their prey. Which takes us to our second commercial.
And because there aren’t enough character running around, when we return Michelangelo discovers that Baxter and Shredder are also wandering around the sewers, in search of their pet monsters. Baxter has a device that should summon and provide basic control of the pizzamorphs, This leads to an old-but-faithful gag of Raphael talking shit about the creatures, not realizing they have evolved to their final form. Yeah, this one is pretty mothballed, but it always gets a smile out of me.
The Turtles then open battle with the pizzamorphs, who in turn are very gross and menacing but not especially dangerous. This is another core difference between being a horrific monster in an R-rated film franchise, and the dilemma-of-the-week on a kid’s cartoon. Much less stakes for the monsters to actually endanger anyone, but instead just seem like they could be very deadly. Still, very scary, and when Irma sees the fully grown versions she faints agian.
In a moment of brilliance, Donatello knocks the monster control out of the hand of Baxter. So good new, the bad guys don’t have control of the pizzamorphs anymore! Bad news? No one else does either, meaning they are free agents to wreak whatever chaos they see fit. So cue lots of running away from monsters. This is more like Alien than I thought.
Or maybe not.
In their mad dash, Baxter discovers a plan to save them all: if the pizzamorphs are exposed to a “larger burst of energy”, they will revert back to eggs. I recognize we’re dealing with cross-dimensional alien creatures, but it is worth noting that isn’t how any living thing works ever, but it is literally what the instruction manual says so better go with it.
The Turtles run into April, who in turn tells them monsters are on the loose, and oops here it is! Michelangelo dives into the water to retrieve the controller Donatello batted away, while Leonardo suggests they team up with Shredder because hey no one wants to be…eaten by these things? Is that what they want to do? Again, we never really get a sense of what the pizzamorphs want to do other than flail their arms wildly and display their total lack of genitalia.
The Turtles and Shredder team up to aggravate the pizzamorph further, which mainly consists of flipping out of the way. Eventually Michelangelo is able to fetch the McGuffin, blasts the monsters but then has wet batteries. But learning that electricity seem to hurt them, Leonardo decides to cut electrical power lines, using the active current to electrify the water and then blast the pizzamorphs back to eggs. Oh also, the bad guys get away because duh.
All of this rather swiftly leads to our finale, where we get the typical “what did we learn today” conversation before the final scare/joke. This time, the eggs which look like meatballs are mixed up with meatballs that look like eggs, so Michelangelo almost feeds extra-dimensional monsters in their infantile state to his brothers and only friend. And we fade out to credits.
So yeah, this episode has a lot of promise but not a whole lot going on. The idea of “the Turtles fight xenomorphs” is ready made fanfic territory, but the nature of the show means that neither side can really do what makes them coolest. Plus there is a whole tease of the Turtles and Shredder teaming up, but that mainly turns into a backflip contest. Plus there was all that gross Italian stereotyping stuff, and a significant ramp up of the Irma-based content.
All in all not a terrible episode, and certainly one that has a premise that has promise. But the version that plays out in your own head is likely better than what is one the screen. So a whiff, but one memorable enough that the pizzamorphs made an appearance in the 1992 arcade beat-em-up Turtles in Time.
But they’re still just orange xenomorphs.
Next Time: An episode where something in the status quo actually changes! And this show shamelessly rips off ideas from other classic sci-fi sources!