5 great episodes of Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (with cake)

Review Matt Edwards 19 May 2014 - 06:57

To celebrate the release of the Mutagen Mayhem DVD, Matt picks the five best Turtles episodes to date - and eats too much cake...

This article contains spoilers for Nickeldeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, up to the episode Metalhead: Rewired, about halfway through the second season.

I got home one Friday after going to the supermarket to find a DVD had arrived in the post. It was the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles DVD, Mutagen Mayhem (the first 5 episodes of season 2). Good post, that. Particularly as I had this in my shopping bag.

It was no one’s birthday. I’m just the kind of rogue who will buy a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cake when he sees it, occasion be damned. And, on top of this, my wife was away visiting her parents. There was no barrier between me and shameful cake indulgence.

Still, I had a problem. Just doing a regular review of a DVD is boring. Particularly when it’s episodes of a TV series, where you can just find individual episode reviews online if you’re interested. I had to liven this privilege up if I was going to truly embrace the spirit of self-indulgence. So I took stock of what I had.

‘I’ve got this DVD to review. I’ve got all this cake to eat. I’ve got an idea.’

Here are five of my favourite episodes of Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from a heroic viewing session with updates from my attempt to eat an entire cake.

 

Rise of the Turtles

Notable Michelangelo line: “Okay, this guy’s in the clear. But the other guys were totally alien robots!”

The two part episode that launched the new series, Rise of the Turtles sees the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles celebrating their 15th mutation day. They convince Splinter to allow them to go up to the surface for the first time and spot April O’Neil and her father being kidnapped by the Kraang. They intervene but are unable to save them. They locate the Kraang base and set about putting together their first rescue mission, while also battling mutant plant monster Snakeweed.

Rise of the Turtles is just the best. I was so excited for the launch of this new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show and this two-parter really delivers. It’s so polished and well executed, clearly the result of much carefully considered hard work. Rise of the Turtles features a great balance between comedy and action, which, I’m pleased to say, the show has been able to maintain ongoing. A very strong start to the series, then, and one I’ve found myself revisiting frequently.

It feels like an original take on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. What’s funny is that the Nickelodeon team were able to come up with a new direction for this nearly 30 year old franchise simply by reading the name of the show very carefully. I’d argue that the teenage element of the title has previously been the most neglected, but here it’s used to great effect. The perfect starting point (what with it being the beginning) for those interested in trying this version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles out, perhaps with some cake.

Great Cakespectations:

The cake, which I bought from Sainsbury’s for £10, looks brilliant. It looks like Leonardo’s head, so obviously it looks brilliant.

I started out by cutting myself a normal sized slice because, while I had a lot of cake to get through, I had the whole weekend ahead of me. I would just pace myself. I was full of the kind of confidence you can only get from seeing the TV show Man Vs Food and failing to critically assess your own abilities as a food consumer.

The icing was delicious. The sponge was nice and soft. There was a single layer of filling, which was a cream and a jam. The filling tasted good, but there wasn’t enough of it, meaning the flavour got lost in the tall, lower half of the head section I had started in (it felt wrong to start by cutting the eyes). Now I’m not a man who asks for too much from his cake. From his cartoons? Absolutely. But not from his cake. More jam would have been nice but this would do nicely for my weekend binge.

The first slice went down easily during this double length episode. I was on my way.

 

I Think His Name is Baxter Stockman

Notable Michelangelo line: “…and then I threw hot cheese in his face and ran away!”

The Turtles are grounded for an indoor skateboarding related incident, but sneak out for a late night skate session, the mischief-makers! They spot high-tech trouble maker Baxter Stockman attempting to break into a building and step in to save the day. Unfortunately, Michelangelo leaves Donatello’s new MP3 player (the t-Pod, created using discarded military tech) behind, and Stockman uses it to upgrade his weapons to make himself a more formidable opponent. The Turtles are forced to turn to Splinter for help, and get advice that leads them to working out a strategy and utilising a beehive to take out Stockman.

This episode, an early one from the first season, doesn’t do a great deal to advance the overall season arc. It’s here to introduce us to Baxter Stockman, a villain who will come to have significance in later episodes, and to spin a fun yarn. Stockman originally featured in issue 2 of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics, and would become a prominent character in the popular cartoon as a mad-scientist-turned-fly-mutant-in-a-cold-blooded-execution-gone-wrong. As is typical of the Nickelodeon series, they take bits of each interpretation and mash them into their own excellent version.

I’ve included this one because it’s funny and particularly well-paced. It’s got a number of brilliant fight scenes, hilarious gags and snigger-inducing slapstick. It’s also here because it includes a standout Michelangelo showing and this version of Michelangelo is the business.

Mecakeical Failure:

“The first rule of being a ninja is ‘do no harm’. Unless you mean to do harm. Then do lots of harm.” Splinter tells his students in this episode. Is there a way to adapt this to assist with my cake quest? Not really. You can replace ‘do harm’ with ‘eat cake’, but it’s still not particularly helpful.

What was helpful was my pot of coffee. I suspected I wasn’t eating enough cake (because if you mean to eat cake, eat lots of cake) to keep me on course to finish it, so I went three sheets to the wind and had a slab of cake for breakfast which I washed down with my previously mentioned coffee. It would be fair to say that I destroyed like it was a Kraang bot. I felt ready for anything, so long as the anything was either fighting Baxter Stockman or, preferably, eating more cake. Certainly eating more cake felt more likely, but you can’t undersell the importance of being prepared for evil scientist robot attacks.

 

Operation Break Out

Notable Michelangelo line: “The heart’s a soft muscle, man.”

After decoding a Kraang message that appears to identify the location of kidnapped Kirby O’Neil (April’s father), Donatello decides to embark on a solo rescue mission in hope of impressing his crush, April. It’s a set-up, of course, and he soon finds himself in the middle of a monster mash-up, as he unwittingly unleashes mutant commando Newtralizer, who rampages against his Kraang captors and ruins their Turtle trap. Luckily for Donatello, his brothers are on his trial, although they’re struggling to replicate his technological know-how in his absence.

So what makes this episode stand out? The Newtralizer does.

He’s a bit like a Kraang-eating Predator, all technology, beastly cries and laser guns. Pew pew! He causes carnage as he tears the Kraang base to pieces, with the alien brain things clearly terrified of him. The scenes in this episode serve as a great example of how expertly the team behind Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles create action sequences without compromising the shows personality or characters. They’re exciting and entertaining.

This is a Donacentric episode. Can I get away with Donacentric? Probably not. It’s a Donatello centred episode, which is great because the Nickelodeon team have come up with a great take on the character. He’s part lonely genius, part frustrated martial artist (Raphael shows him up during training repeatedly), part love-struck teenager. Donatello’s desperate and misguided attempts to impress April are a great source of comedy in the show, and it’s a source that’s well mined by the writing staff. They’ve actually really nailed depicting teen crushes. It makes sense when you see it; maybe it takes a cartoon to depict how silly we are when we’re so young and our body chemicals are all over the place and we’re in love and we’re confused and we’re mutant ninjas. It’s really sweet.

Operation Cake Out:

“I feel a bit sick.”

Speaking of body chemicals being out of balance, I had become 15% cake. That can’t be healthy. It was late Saturday afternoon and there was no denying that had eaten too much of the stuff. Still, in a move that I think Donatello would have appreciated, I pushed on with another slice in the name of science. This most delicious of experiments was bound to prove something, although I wasn’t entirely sure what or to whom.

I was beginning to feel uncomfortable, though, and the taste of sugar started to feel like it was taunting me. At this point, I did have to concede that I was no longer in a position to ninja fight anyone, much less heavily armed merciless mutant macho men. I had only been taught the basics of being a ninja and, given that I now felt like I might be sick every time I moved, I was unlikely to be able to apply even that. I chewed on and hoped that my flat would not be besieged by Netwralizers.

Sadly, I still had most of the cake left to eat and only Sunday left to eat it. Things were going to get worse before they got better.

 

Invasion of the Squirrelanoids

Notable Michelangelo line: “Game over, man! Game over!”

There are adorable squirrels loose in the Turtles’ lair! So, not the most troubling of afternoons, you might think. But these adorable squirrels have come into contact with mutagen and are diving down throats and incubating in stomachs before emerging with an identical twin. Oh, and then they turn into giant Giger-esque alienalikes. Using Michelangelo’s prophetic horror comic book as a guide, the Turtles must track down the Squirrelanoids and take them out.

I’ve picked this episode to represent one of the ‘5 great’ for three reasons. One is that it’s an absolute blast. Such a different, fun and inventive episode, filled with character moments (Michelangelo’s reluctance to explain why he’s taken to wearing underpants is delightful), jokes and tension.

Two, it’s the best example of how the team pay homages to science fiction and horror throughout the series. It’s something we’ve touched on before when talking to the team behind the show. This episode is a loving tribute to both Alien and, to a lesser extent, Aliens. It’s also worth noting that it could well be a nod to the old cartoon, too, which featured Alien-like monsters in the episode Attack of the Killer Pizzas. Now, it may be the case that you can pitch me a more exciting idea than Alien recreated with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and squirrel monsters, but it seems incredibly unlikely. Certainly, though, the care that goes into the details of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, from its homages to its background designs, is highly commendable.

The third reason I’ve included this episode is that this is meant to be a DVD review, and this one is included on the Mutagen Mayhem (Season 2 Volume 1) DVD. For me, it’s the best of a strong collection of episodes. Other standouts include season opener The Mutation Situation, which sees the Turtles fight a Kraang monkey-bot I’ve taken to calling Kraang Kong, and Follow the Leader, which introduces robot Foot Soldiers for the Turtles to blow up.

While I have no complaints about the quality of the episodes on the disc (with perhaps my only complaint that the episode Mikey Gets Shellacne features some uncomfortably gross droopy eyelid zits), I will voice frustrations with the release. It’s missing some bonus content that was featured on the US release, which is a shame but not any great loss (the features are available with an iTunes season pass and are all very samey). It’s an episode short of its US equivalent, though, collecting up only the first five episodes of the run instead of six, which I do think is a real let down for UK fans. So, not a perfect release then, although it’s a very fun collection of episodes.

Cake Ache:

I’ve made a huge mistake.

 

Metalhead Rewired

Notable Michelangelo line: “Dude, I knew something didn’t feel right when he grabbed my face.”

Donatello has improved the artificial intelligence in his robot turtle Metalhead. This will make him a better training tool, and although it would be dangerous if Donatello were to lose control, he’s not going to, so don’t even worry about it. Soon, Donatello loses control of Metalhead and the Turtles end up chasing him through a portaloo-portal into a conflict in a Kraang lair. Has Metalhead turned on them or is he trying to protect them?

This episode is excellent. It’s so well written. I’m going to discuss the theme of loss, which continues to feature in this series. In this episode, Donatello has to accept the loss of Metalhead, who dies giving a Terminator 2 referencing thumbs up (one of a few Terminator references in this episode), as he sacrifices himself to allow the heroes to escape. While Donatello accepts that he can rebuild Metalhead, it wouldn’t be the same. A lost ally is something the societal outsider Turtles can’t easily replace; it leaves a hole. The heroes in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sometimes have to win at a cost. This show is not afraid to be a bit sad sometimes, as it was when Raphael lost beloved pet Spike to mutation (something acknowledged in this episode). The subject of loss is treated with sensitivity, maturity and is genuinely affecting, which is particularly impressive in the context of a Saturday morning cartoon. It’s a theme we’ll no doubt see touched on again, as the ongoing plot of Splinter’s lost daughter Miwa progresses.

Metalhead Rewired allows me to highlight another strength in the writing of this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In this episode, the Turtles find that the Kraang have captured all of the mutants from previous episodes. Not only does it allow them to bring back other characters, but it explains their absence from the episodes in-between. They’re incorporating consequences and providing solid explanations for events following their stories. These high standards are present throughout all aspects of the production.

Nickelodeon are doing a job that absolutely deserves to be celebrated in an article. With cake. Ahem.

I’ve also noticed that this has ended up a Kraang heavy list, perhaps because the plots of Kraang episodes tend to allow more time for the heroes. If there were to be a follow up list, 5 More Great Episodes, probably when the Season 2 Volume 2 DVD is released, I’d likely include a lot of Shredder and Karai, because the Foot Clan in this show are awesome. There’d probably be some more cake, too. Maybe a different, smaller cake, but cake none the less.

Caketastrophe:

Ladies and gentlemen; I overcaked.

I didn’t feel good at all, partly due to my sponge intake and partly because of the heroic quantities of coffee I’d washed it down with. In my head, I was like Morgan Spurlock making the fast-food documentary Super Size Me, but in truth I was just a 30 year old man who was not taking care of himself in his wife’s absence, watching too many cartoons and playing chicken with his own digestive system.

When she got home, she found me sprawled out across the sofa, my face covered in jam and sponge, my gut testing the stitching on my Leonardo onesie, cartoons blaring in the background. Directly confronted by the devastation caused by an earthcuake, she jumped into action. She hosed me down and berated me, which many of you will know is a significant part of any marriage. Then she put me to bed, where I experienced the coffee shakes and shrieks of fury from my colon. Eventually, I fell asleep, not waking for more than 24 hours. When I finally woke up, I was so hungry.

‘I wonder if there’s any cake left,’ I thought.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Mutagen Mayhem DVD is out now! New episodes are currently showing on Saturday mornings at 9.30am on Nicktoons. Cake is available from all good retailers.

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