Cowabloga Part 24: Cowabunga Shredhead

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

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For a good portion of the last two seasons, I have been thinking a lot about Shredder and what his role on this show has evolved into. He is included as part of the opening theme song, and thus far Shredder has appeared in every episode that has aired, so it is fair to say that he is integral to the DNA of this show. But his presentation fluctuates wildly, from criminal mastermind stymied by incompetent help, to cowardly nemesis who balks at the first sign of failure, all the way to a tantrum prone child who constantly demands to get his way and in the process thwarts his own plans.

More concerning, his ever present menace had become something of an albatross for this show at this point already. The last few episodes barely had a place for him, but he is shuttled in largely because that’s who the Ninja Turtles fight every time. The theme song demands it. They fight Shredder, and the show seems convinced that even if they fight another battle or solve another problem, Shredder is lurking behind all plots.

This isn’t uncommon for your action-cartoon fodder; all of GI Joe is about the Joe battle with Cobra, and the Autobot/Decepticon war serves as the overarching plot throughout pretty much all of Transformers history. But the Ninja Turtles are an especially strange case because the comics they were based on rarely used Shredder; he is the first enemy the Turtles faced, and would reappear occasionally, but there was a whole other rogues gallery they could be fighting.

Some of these characters will and do show up soon enough, but Shredder’s constant annoyance can sadly cause this show to feel stuck in a rut. The plot of every episode is the Shredder and Krang are hatching a plan, the Turtles stop it and the baddies escape one way or another. These kinds of cycles can be fun as you change the details on the margins, but the last two episodes have proven that there is almost a freeing sense that occurs when those restraints seem forgotten or are added arbitrarily. Shredder would be better served if he was a potential threat among many and not the all-the-time adversary.

Today’s episode, by contrast to the last two, is heavily Shredder-centric. He is necessary for the plot. But the plot also necessitates that for the vast majority of it, Shredder is literally not himself. He fulfills the role of another character entirely, which is played as a comical juxtaposition throughout. The effect is one of the better episodes about Shredder in a while, and it is barely about him but more directly about what he isn’t.

We start off in the sewers as we often due, with the Turtles complaining that their latest wave of pizza crimes are taking too long to heat up. They go to investigate, only to make a startling discovery: their pizzas are missing! Raphael is the first to make the only rational conclusion: Michelangelo is a terrible glutton, ate all of the pizza and then to hide his shame stowed away in the cupboard.

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This transgression simply cannot stand, so Splinter begins the process of applying the mysterious and vaguely cultural insensitive process call kung pao. While kung pao traditional refers to a spicy stir fry, in this regard it apparently refers to behavioral modification hypnosis, where Michelangelo is given a subconscious instruction to refuse to crave pizza. The process takes a while, but eventually Michelangelo’s idiot brain takes the hint.

In the Earth’s core, we go to check in on Krang and Shredder, and Krang sounds wrong. This is because his usual voice actor Pat Fraley is out and his alternate, the awesomely named Townsend Coleman, takes his place. Coleman is a very talented voice actor, most famous for also being the voice of Michelangelo and most beloved to me personally perhaps for doing great work as that cartoon voice of the Tick. But his Krang is all wrong. It is too high-pitched and float, busy trying to sound “wet” rather than sticky if that makes any sense. He adds way too much warble to the part and it just get obnoxious very quickly.

Either way, Krang is sending Shredder off with a very 80s looking floppy disk to the topside, their plan for this episode left intentionally vague for now. Shredder is of course exhibiting his worse characteristics: whining about having to do all the work, while also being singularly focused on attacking the Turtles. He has increasingly become a boring villain because his motivation is purely to continue to be a villain. Honestly world domination is a more compelling motivation than that.

There is actually a bit of Shredder comedy that works here though: on the surface, Rocksteady and Bebop are playing maid by cleaning up the latest abandoned warehouse they are occupying, only for Shredder to drill to the surface, create a giant mess and then yell at them for it being a pig sty. It is nice way to drive home that Shredder is honestly the worst boss, and over time this show seems to have more and more sympathy for the Goons.

 

That bit of necessary character building aside, the baddies get to work on their plan. After inserting the floppy disk into yet another super computer, it is revealed that Shredder is able to create hard-light holograms of whomever he has characteristic data on; his example is of course having full physical and emotional data on Michelangelo. Thus the plan is to have fake Michelangelo infiltrate the Turtle’s lair, and somehow that leads to the Turtles being defeated. It is a sketchly hashed out plan, but luckily for us it is all a feint anyway.

That is because Shredder ejects the disc for reasons that are unexplained, then for additional unexplained reasons passes the disc back to Bebop to put it in but for real this time. Bebop proceeds to jam the disc in backwards, which for a third unexplained reason causes the hologram machine to zap Shredder in the head. Dazed, Shredder wanders off while the Goons are just baffled by the recent set of events.

We return to the Turtle Lair as Splinter is wrapping up his brainwashing, and there is something about the animation in this and a few other scenes in this episode that rub me the wrong way.

As I mentioned a while back, the show went from a weekly to five-times-a-week schedule, but of the episodes we have covered so far don’t have a significant drop in quality in the animation. This episode, which is far later in the production schedule, is the first time that something seems “off” in the way this show looks. This whole sequence is a good example of this, as the number of frames of animations appears to be lower. The easiest way to spot this is actually in the art itself; with fewer frames to work with, the art itself has to carry the dynamic of movement. The end effect is very broadly drawn features, the Turtles looking more like comic strip characters than ever before. It is the “Toon” effect that later toys would market as a feature not a glitch, but up until this episode it hasn’t really been as prominent or noticeable.



Anyway, just Michelangelo proves to be over his pizza addiction, Shredder invades the Turtle Lair! Only, something is off about Shredder. Namely, he appears convinced that he is in fact Michelangelo. You see, because the disc was jammed in backwards, Shredder’s mind has been warped to think he is the subject of the data on the disc, namely Mikey. Because the opposite of holograms is brainwashing.

Splinter investigates, quickly putting Shredder into a trance to discover he truly does believe himself to be Michelangelo. A quick aside: I am not sure why this episode decided to make a central characteristic of Splinter’s that he knows multiple forms of hypnosis. This episode is written by one-time TMNT scribes Duane Capizzi and Steve Roberts, who seem bought in on the idea of Splinter as a mystic mind-controller.

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Splinter is able to uncover Shredder’s dominant personality, which leads to him attempting to attack the Turtles. After reverting him back to Michelangelo, Splinter instructs the turtles to not say the name Shredder because it would cause him to revert to villainous self. Instead, they are meant to use the phrase “you know who”. This leads to an episode of the Turtles talking about “Shred-I mean you know who”.

Everyone is a little weirded out by all of this, but Michelangelo most off all for obvious reason. He choose to dip out rather than stick around, but has a tussle with Shred-er I mean that one guy on the way out, and in the process the floppy disk falls out. This proves a useful clue in figuring out exactly what happened to Shred–Mister Tin Dome.

Michelangelo stalks off, puts on one of the Turtle’s nightmare masks and attempts to order some pizza to help comfort himself through this distress. Unfortunately for him, Rocksteady and Bebop are conveniently nearby, with laser guns no less! They decide to stop their search for shred–I mean, their boss, and decide to just beat up Michelangelo instead, which takes us to our first commercial break.

Back from commercial, we visit the Channel Six offices with the Turtles and Shredangelo, who all wear their nightmare masks to get around unnoticed. They use April’s computer to read the disk, and discover that it contains the Michelangelo data. This could mean that Michelangelo is in grave danger. Luckily, they have Shredangelo, who can inform them that the first place Michelangelo would go to sulk would be Vinnie’s Pizza.

Cut to Vinnie’s, where Michelangelo struggles as he reaches out to the one and only emotional staple he has, only to be stopped by the internal conflict of hypnotically suggested suppression of desire for said thing. Outside of the context of this being a children’s cartoon about talking turtles who know martial arts and their love of pizza, pretty sure this would qualify as a form of torture. And his father figure is the one who did it to him. Ninja Turtles is truly a dark reflection of our fractured lives.

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The Fester-masked face of anguish


This emotionally distraught scene is broken up when Rocksteady and Bebop come into the pizza parlor to bust up Michelangelo. He proceeds to bind them the fizzed up soda and then bolts. He backs around to take care of the dummies, but in the scuffle drops his censored weapon of choice and is taken captive by the goons.

The Turtles (and Shredangelo) arrive just after, only to discover the place deserted. They decide to investigate the kitchen of the parlor, which turns out to be a looney tunes vision of what a kitchen looks like. Shredangelo randomly comments that a pizza parlor has a cheese shredder, and OOPS HE SAID THE MAGIC WORD.

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Next thing you know, Shredder is back to his old self and starts to take out the Turtles. He knocks them into the goofy pizza conveyer belt and soon Raphael and Leonardo find themselves mixed in a cheesy pizza pie. This is maybe the most menacing thing Shredder has done in a while, but also is maybe the silliest.

Confident that his plan for once in his life will go off without a hitch, Shredder returns to the hide-out to discover Rocksteady and Bebop celebrating over capturing one turtle, which was mostly a fluke anyway but again, let them have this one. Checking in with wet-mouthed Krang, Shredder is given the go-ahead to begin phase two, “the Master Plan”. Which certainly sounds ominous!

Back at Channel 6, Donatello and April still attempt to get more information out of the data disk Shredder dropped. He is able the data for “The Master Plan”, which means that they are going to create a hologram/clone of this guy!

Which, I will admit, before they even say it officially, I kind of assumed was the President? Anyway, it’s the President, Shredder and Krang are going to replace the President with a replicant they control, which in days like these might be an upgrade? Donatello attempts to inform Leonardo and Raphael but they are too busy being knocked out and baked into a pizza, which takes us to our final commercial break.

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Shredder attempts to create their holo-clone President, only to realize he at some point dropped his disk. But oops, he left them in the pizza. So he rushes back, stops the Turtle Boys from being baked, and then demands they give over the data disk. But before he can get rough, Raphael says Michelangelo, which snaps Shredder back to Shredangelo.

Just as Leonardo and Raphael are freed, Donatello finally arrives to warn them about the Master Plan. Realizing that the disk can only be fully realized with a “high tech holographic synthesizer”, but have no idea where it is, the Turtles hatch a plan.

Returning the pizza parlor, the Turtles quickly make it appear as if they caught in the pizza just as before. Once the trap is set, they remind Shredder who he is and act as if they never had him switch in the first place. Leonardo and Raphael have Shredder play keep-away with the cartoon-hands of the pizza machine, while they sneak away with Donatello. Shredder eventually gets frustrated enough to remember he has a laser gun and then gets the disk back.

Shredder returns to his hideout, with the three free Turtles trailing him. Shredder inserts the disc, finally able to create his Michelangelo hologram. And then another. And another. And another and another and another until the baddies are completely surrounded by ninja-dancing Mikeys. Rocksteady and Bebop, being idiots, attempt to shoot the holograms and generally start destroying their own equipment.

As chaos reigns, the Turtles are able to free Mikey from his bounds, why they explain that Donatello set the disc to infinite multiplication. Shredder fixes the scenario by simply ejecting the disc and calling the goons mean names. He also uses the synthesizer to disintegrate one of Raphael’s sai and then catches all four turtles in a force energy bubble. Which begs the question why he didn’t do that from the start, but hey, not my evil plan bro.

The Turtles appear trapped and unable to escape, only for Michelangelo to find the obvious tool at their disposal: by calling out his own name, Shredder rockets back to his party loving alternate and then is coaxed into destroying the synthesizer. Shredder gets zapped in the head again, but by the point Rocksteady and Bebop (still idiots) decide that Shredder must be in league with the Turtles. All of this leads to the synthesizer exploding and everyone getting out to the respective hideaways.

After the explosion, the Turtles, April and Splinter all celebrate the only way they know how: a pizza party! This is of course an act of vile cruelty as Michelangelo still can’t desire pizza, so Splinter lifts the suggestion from his mind, firmly reestablishing the status quo as we fade to black.

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This is a goofy episode. Besides the elastic, sometimes lazy animation and the not-quite-right voice acting for Krang, the whole thing just feels weirdly campy and broad. James Avery is having a blast as Michelangelo-as-Shredder though, so that is a bit infectious. This episode just has the problem of those familiar rhythms of most Shredder episodes, broken up by him having an injury that scrambles up his personality.

So this episode doesn’t do much to fix the Shredder Problem, but it does find a role for him that sidesteps it. Finding the balance between being menacing threat and comedic foil will still take some work.

Next Time: You remember Cousin Oliver? Yeah. It is kinda like that.

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