By 1989, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was an unavoidable pop phenomenon. Originally an attempt to raise awareness for the Playmates toy line, the show had taken on a life and fan base of its own. Merchandising became omnipresent, as well as hugely successful arcade game and a major motion motion picture.
As we enter the third season of TMNT, we continue to explore what strange alchemy was in this show that captured the imagination of the youth of the world. How were characters expanded and differentiated over time? Did an increased production schedule significantly impact the quality of individual episodes? Would the world accept a Michelangelo without nunchucks? The only way to answer all these questions and more is to document and study every corner of this bizarre, seemingly endless well of pizza-centric martial arts excitement. I hope you will join me. It is scary out here alone
We begin Season 3 of Cowabloga with a slight correction and an explanation. Please understand.
Last entry, I mentioned that the showed entered five-day syndication with exclusive episodes produced for CBS’ Saturday morning block. And while the first half of that is still true, the second part isn’t until Season 4. Still, there is a noticeable impact on production schedule. What is referred to as Season 3 of this show has 47 episodes total, compared to the 13 that made up last season, and the 5-part mini-series that was the original “season”.
Because the production was done so aggressively to meet the demands of a daily show (with reruns slotted in where necessary), the production schedule and the airing schedule sometimes were out of sync, with episodes that started production at one point didn’t come out until months later. This isn’t atypical for shows from this era, as the status quo was rarely severely impacted by individual episodes, but in our contemporary age of all television being strictly serialized, the ideas of episodes being aired out of order can be nerve-wracking. Ask Firefly fans.
This leads to having to make a decision: do I cover the episodes in their original production order, or do I cover them based on chronological release. There are benefits to both, but based on the format and purpose of the blog I default towards doing the chronological release rather than the technical episode-ordering. It helps in the decision that no plot specific introductions seemed to have been mishandled in the re-arranging, though there are a handful of episodes that premiered after the season finale which I believe may have some impact, so we’ll consider those “lost episodes” we’ll cover later.
One final note: we are going somewhat into uncharted territories. Certain episodes of this season are familiar to me as a viewer, especially the front half, but as we get deeper into it, the less confident I am if I have actually seen these episodes ever before. I don’t know if the novelty of that will help or hurt my criticism of those episodes, but I am excited to see some TMNT content I am unfamiliar with.
Long preamble aside, let’s get into today’s episode, the dramatically named “Beneath These Streets” from your friend and mine, Michael Reaves.
We open on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles heavily leaning into the “Teenage” part of their moniker as they are slacking around. Raphael is watching robots punch each other on TV, Leonardo is reading while Donatello fixes a turtle robot toy (nerds), while Michelangelo walks in with his latest food crime, “granola licorice pizza”. Splinter walks on all this and raises reasonable concerns that the Turtles aren’t keeping up with their training. When Leonardo argues that they deserve a vacation, Splinter flips out and unapologetically kicks the trash out of everybody.
The Turtles respond by arguing that they already defeated Krang and Shredder by banishing them to the Earth’s core, which absolutely should have killed them, or as Mikey puts it, “those dudes are totally dusted”. Splinter is having none of it, not only because he knows how this all goes and Splinter and Krang are absolutely not dead, but more importantly the Turtles are still crime-fighters and so even if they have defeated their arch-nemeses for good, there is still work to be done in the hellscape New York they live in. The Turtles decide Splinter is right and get to practicing.
Elsewhere, we learn that, hey, Splinter was right, Shredder and Krang and all the rest are just fine in the center of the earth! Shredder is ready to go top-side again, but Krang informs him that the Technodrome has significant damages that need to be repaired before they can do that. There are some tools that could help repair the Technodrom, but they are on the surface. But how can they get up there.
Oh yeah these things. So any fan of the 1989 Ninja Turtles Beat-Em-Up will tell you, when the Technodrome is deep underground, the preferred method of traveling to the surface are giant transport modules that function as pneumatic tubes that rocket the riders top-side. This episodes tries to sell that experience as unpleasant, but stuff that noise, drilling to the surface from the center of the Earth in giant bank canisters sounds rad.
Back in the city, we see the Turtles doing their nightly route to look for signs of crime they can bust up. Things are quiet though, so they decide to take a break and go see a movie at the “all night movie theater”. I would argue that is absolutely a dive for nudie flicks, but the marquee reads…
Yeah that could still go either way actually. Regardless, the Turtles convince Leonardo to just take it easy for the rest of the night. Donatello even convinces him to turn off his Turtlecom, to which Leonardo attempts to object but is overruled because people who need their cell phones on at the movies might be the literal worst. This is sold as selfish and careless, only because this cartoon was made over a decade before these things were common courtesy. Yeah, seeing some weird kung-fu sex movie is a bit overindulgent when you’re on duty, but if you’re going to do that anyway, you better turn off your cell phone Leonardo, you lunatic.
Because of course they are bad time managers, the Turtles stay out past their typical patrol time so Splinter, being the concerned father that he is, tries to call them up only to get no response. Thus he does what all concerned parents do when they don’t know where their teenagers are: he calls their friends to figure out where they might be. In this case, he calls April O’Neil, who up to this point is still the Turtles only friend. She says she hasn’t heard anything and will check back in once she’s done covering her current story.
Her current story being that someone has created the Team Fortress 2 medic gun. Chalk this up with “fully sentient robots” in terms of sci-fi technology on this show that is treated as in the non-mindblowing revelation category. But before the demonstration can begin, Shredder and his goons bust in and declare their intentions of stealing it. He also declares they intend to use it to fix the protein-silicon computer aboard the Technodrome, which opens questions on if the Technodrome is a bio-technical ship and oh god is that giant eyeball an actual eyeball? Anyway, the goons bully the inventor and run off with the medi-laser.
The Turtles’ movie comes to an end and they ruminate on what it would be like to have a movie made about them, which is likely a reference to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie that would definitely be in production at this point. Leonardo says they should probably get going home, but hey look a pizza place and you know what that means. Meanwhile Splinter and April, aka the responsible ones, attempt to track down Shredder.
Thanks to a radio news report by April’s voice actress Renae Jacobs, they are able to pinpoint their location. Splinter rushes in to attempt to retrieve the medi-laser. He quickly dispenses of the goons, but Shredder is able to “reverse the polarity” of the medi-laser which makes it basically a hurty-laser and lays out Splinter. Hurt, Splinter throws his walking stick, knocks an important looking widget off the laser and then promptly passes out. Luckily April runs in to find him laying there, as we go to our first commercial break.
We return from commercial break just in time for the Turtles to get back home, discovering their master laid out by Shredder. Donatello immediately works out that of course the only thing that will heal Splinter is another blast from the laser, while Leonardo immediately jumps to guilting everyone else for having fun ever. “There will be plenty of time to blame ourselves later” is my new textbook example of Leonardo dialogue.
Back at the Technodrome, Krang attempts to use the medi-laser but just ends up blasting everywhere. Turns out the device that Splinter knocked off the “directional control module”, which is a necessary piece of hardware as it allows the user of the laser to actually aim the laser. The absurdity of this necessary piece of hardware is somewhat comically exaggerated by Krang not even really trying to hit anything in particular. So the goon squad all load back up in the tube and got back to the surface.
There is a short, inexplicable scene where the Turtles chase down a man in a purple cape. They reasonably assume this is Shredder, but nope, just a dude in a cape. Anyway, moving on…Splinter’s still hurt, but it is revealed that April picked up the directional doo-hickey that broke off. Of course Donatello immediately recognizes what it is (again, nerd), and realizes that means they have leverage.
Realizing that he does indeed need to draw the Turtles out, Shredder send Rocksteady and Bebop off to performs acts of mindless violence. Our heroes rush to the scene and we get our requisite “Turtles beat up R&B sequence”. Eventually the Turtles head back to their lair, and Shredder trails behind them in hopes of scoping out their hideout and also getting his module back. Also he has a gas grenade; the reveal warrants a commercial break for some reason.
Down in the sewer, Leonardo almost immediately sniffs out that they are being trailed. Being spotted, Shredder decides to just throw his super-dangerous gas grenade which Donatello bats away and so much for that plan. The Turtles and Shredder battle over the medi-laser, and eventually the Turtles are able to recover it, but only after Shredder made off with the directional module. Which basically leaves us back where we started. The difference being that Leonardo comes up with the Plan B of “Hey why not just create a replacement directional module?” This is followed directly by, “That is if you aren’t too busy being a lazy bum who got our sensei stuck in a coma,” but he may have only said that in my head.
Shredder wants to make a final assault on the Turtles, and requests a dozen Foot Soldiers. Krang, being Krang, sends two. But before they go to track down the Turtles, the evening edition of Plot Line Gazette washes down the sewer and announces that a second Medi-Laser was created and he decides to just steal that instead. News reports conveying important plot information is one of my favorite tropes on shows like this, but rarely is done with random trash newspapers.
The old standard of local TV news fulfills the same purpose for the Turtles who A) realize that Shredder will likely steal that one too and B) can’t fix their laser so might as well steal this one?
This leads to fight number three in the last five minutes between the Turtles and the Foot. Shredder’s brilliant plan this time? Sic the Goon Squad and his foot soldiers on the Turtles. He then acts shocked when this doesn’t work, despite the fact that this has never worked ever. I am starting to wonder if Shredder is insane, dumb or has incredibly short term memory. Oh also mark one on the robo-murder counter.
Shredder eventually remembers he has a laser gun, shoots at the turtles, misses and washes himself further down the sewer. Honestly, I honestly can’t remember the last time Shredder et al. went from feeling like such a danger (nearly killing Splinter) to looking so ineffectual. Either way, the Turtles return home to try to heal Splinter with one of the two stolen medi-lasers they possess. Turns out he will be okay, April will return the lasers, Leonardo is still moralizing and Michelangelo insinuates he’s had to shit all day.
The final comedy stinger is aboard the Technodrome and actually reasonably funny. Essentially Krang is chewing out Shredder (typical), and Shredder having heard enough get a piece of loose paneling from the wall and stuffs it in Krang’s face. It is barely a joke persay, but it is a bit of villain-slapstick that is a nice reversal from the usual misdirect-joke that we get at the end of these things.
And thus we finish our first step in our Season 3 journey. The general structural outline for this episode is strong, and definitely has good character moments where the Turtles justly learn that goofing off will eventually get your dad killed, but it isn’t quite as tightly paced as some of Reaves other scripts. Between the bit with the stranger in a cape, a short scene where Mikey tests out other trademarked catchphrases and generally Shredders plans being half-baked at best, this feels like a good idea that is stretched for time.