It had a good run, but with this past Saturday’s airing of “Wanted: Bebop and Rocksteady” the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series launched by Nickelodeon in 2012 has come to a close. In a somewhat refreshing manner, the show has come to an end largely because it’s told a story that was basically completed with the defeat of Shredder and the passing of Splinter to conclude season 4. Season 5, which came with a re-titling of the series as Tales of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, largely dealt with the fallout and the Turtles taking on the few stragglers remaining from Shredder’s empire. It was some-what directionless, but still solid entertainment. The finale though brought us another cross-over with the 1987 TMNT with a story centered around the comedic duo of Bebop and Rocksteady.
The series finale is composed of three episodes that Nickelodeon chose to air in succession as basically a little made-for-TV film. It starts off in the 2D 1987 world and Bebop and Rocksteady have just been driven back by the turtles. All of the classic voice actors are here with few exceptions (Kevin Michael Richardson stands in for the late James Avery as Shredder and is the most notable difference, though he does a really good job of sounding like Avery) for the 87 characters. The look and sound of that show is rendered well here, though the animation is obviously digital now and it’s kind of junky. Maybe that was in an attempt to mimic the less than stellar animation of the majority of that old series, or maybe it was just a limitation of the budget. Anyway, Shredder and Krang open a portal to the modern world and mistakenly leave Bebop and Rocksteady behind. Needing henchman, they place an ad and the current Bebop and Rocksteady answer it.
The plot of this episode, being a scheme cooked up by Shredder and Krang, is naturally quite 87-esque in its execution. Shredder and Krang simply desire world domination, which includes total destruction by Krang’s rock soldiers from Dimension X. The 87 turtles soon follow via their own portal gun, and will naturally encounter their current selves. This isn’t new for this show as there have been a few cross-overs already. It is a novelty naturally designed to take advantage of the nostalgia adults have for that show, but the show runners here have been able to maintain a special aura by making sure each successive cross-over is better than the one before.
The nature of the cross-over means a lot of the entertainment value is going to be derived from pointing out the differences between the two shows. The Turtles of this series are serious crime fighters who are kind of bored with all of their foes vanquished. The villains are dangerous and they fight dirty willing to use whatever is at their disposal. By contrast, the 87 Turtles don’t even use their weapons for anything more than intimidation. The villains are also hampered by a need to boast, gloat, and essentially delay actually killing their enemies. Shredder is also incapable of viewing Bebop and Rocksteady as anything other than brain-dead henchman incapable of even the simplest tasks, even as they’re proving themselves to be plenty capable at henching.
When the 87 Turtles meet the 2012 Bebop and Rocksteady, they find they’ve met their match. It’s a really amusing scene as the Turtles try to use silly cartoon cliches to take down Bebop and Rocksteady, which just don’t work. Their encounter occurs on an old playground and when Bebop hops on a merry-go-round Mikey tries spinning it to make him dizzy and he just gets kicked in the face. Raphael tries smashing a fire hydrant in an attempt to hose down his foes with his sai and finds breaking a fire hydrant is actually really hard. They’re easily taken out and their only saving grace is Raph’s ability to break the 4th wall and point out that this is a kid’s show and they can’t be executed. Bebop and Rocksteady are appropriately confused by this admission, but it works when they decide to just take them back to the Technodrome for Shredder and Krang to deal with.
The 2012 Turtles basically play the role of competent heroes to their incompetent counterparts. They manage to rescue them, due in small part to Shredder and Krang’s futility, but take notice of the fact that the 87 Turtles are really bad in a fight. They try to train them, and it’s funny when 87 Leonardo reacts with horror when its suggested he actually try cutting people with his swords. The 87 Turtles get to meet most of the main cast of this show, including April, Casey, and what’s left of the Mighty Mutanimals. Meanwhile, Bebop and Rocksteady get to command some surprisingly capable robot Foot Soldiers as they’re charged with stealing some special computer chip for Krang. That segment actually includes some amusing easter eggs as they have to enter a 1987 vault and the silhouettes of various properties from that era are visible, three of which stood out for me: Teddy Ruxpin, Robocop, and Freddy Krueger.
I found myself getting oddly defensive about how inept the 87 Turtles are presented. There’s a training sequence in which modern Leo throws a bunch of balls at 87 Mikey and he’s supposed to deflect them with his nunchaku, but can’t. He did that in the opening credits of every 87 episode! And seeing Shredder be such a push-over some-what bothered me. I always viewed 87 Shredder as a very strong fighter who always made the 80’s villain mistake of delegating everything to inferior henchmen. Still, this is mostly a failing on my part as I shouldn’t be hurt by this depiction. It was definitely amusing to see Leonardo actually wield his katana like actual weapons, and get a crazy look in his eyes as he revels in the violence!
The story is sort of secondary to the gimmick of the episode. It basically is just the eight turtles and their allies coming to repeated blows with the enemies. Krang is eventually able to open a portal to Dimension X, bringing in the 2012 version of the rock soldiers. He also goes “super” and in his giant robot body he is able to wreak a lot of havoc on New York. The Technodrome also rises to the surface for some destruction, and the Dimension X tank seldom seen in the old show also makes an appearance and it’s pretty cool. I don’t want to spoil anything, but you kind of no where this is going, don’t you? The destruction of the planet is avoided and everyone is sent home, all thanks to Bebop and Rocksteady. Wait! What?
Bebop and Rocksteady are the unexpected core to this story. They’re in the title, so obviously they play a role, but I guess I didn’t expect them to be this central to the plot. Bebop and Rocksteady are an oddly sweet pairing. They’re an odd couple with Rocksteady being some sort of Russian soldier and Bebop a street-wise punk. Ignoring the fact that they are kind of just racial stereotypes, it’s strangely endearing to see Rocksteady try to adopt some of Bebop’s vernacular as a way of bonding with him and Bebop even accepts a hug from his giant partner at one point, just because. They’re basically just a pair in search of acceptance and purpose. They’re directionless when we first encounter them and find a new Shredder to serve, but they hate how poorly he treats them. They even best Shredder in combat, rather easily, when he tests them out and yet they still are willing to serve beneath him even as he makes them do the laundry and wax the floor. When they find out towards the end of the story that Shredder and Krang aim to destroy the world they have a bit of an internal crisis. Rocksteady, motivated by the thought that his precious mama will be killed if the world is destroyed, decides he’s had enough and the pair thwart Shredder and Krang’s plans. By the end, they seem to have found their calling as they no longer wish to serve under anyone and even have designs on becoming super heroes (because that’s pretty bankable right now).
As entertaining as the story was, it’s a little disappointing to see the 2012 Turtles take a backseat to anyone in what is their series finale. The show even ends in the 87 universe with a joke featuring classic Bebop and Rocksteady. I would have preferred some sort of goodbye from the current TMNT instead. It felt like they were forced out by a brand that people have more nostalgia for, kind of like how retired WWE wrestlers seem to find themselves in the main event of modern Wrestlemanias. It’s pretty cool to end the show in a spectacular manner such as a cross-over, it just wasn’t quite the perfect end it deserved.
The 2012 version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may not have lasted long enough to leave as big of a mark as the original cartoon did. And yet, this version of the TMNT is arguably one of the greatest iterations of the turtles to ever be. I think it’s easily the best television show based on the property, and even though I didn’t post blog entries on every season here I still kept up with the show when I could. The show-runners did a great job of mixing nostalgia with new stories and new takes on classic characters. It was a show I was really skeptical of when it first showed up, but it won me over as a 30-something when it had no reason to appeal to me. I’m a bit sad to see it go, especially as its rumored to be replaced with something more kid-friendly, and I wonder if we’ll ever see a better TMNT show. It has proven though that this franchise can’t be killed. It’s never going away. What should have been a fad has become a cultural institution and future generations can probably count on receiving their own version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and that’s a pretty wonderful thing.