Fast & Furious: Spy Racers takes the franchise to where it’s been heading for the past four installments. It’s finally become what the movies so desperately wish they could be but can’t. It’s the ultimate culmination of Dom hurtling from the top of one skyscraper to another, Roman shouting, “EJECTO SEAT-O, CUZ!” and Hobbs catching and redirecting a missile from a submarine
It’s a cartoon.
These movies have been operating on cartoon logic for years and that’s made them “love ‘em” or “can’t understand why people love them”. You either get what makes these movies fun or they’re not for you. There’s very little middle ground with the Fast & Furious franchise but Spy Racers may be able to bridge that gap thanks to its focus on the secret weapon of the films.
In between the outlandish action the Fast & Furious movies have a lot of heart. Fans love the action but it’s the characters they keep coming back for. “Fam-a-lee” may be a joke but it still resonates. That heart, the connection between the characters is what’s made the series worthy of both fan love and critical discussion.
Spy Racers brilliantly brings that heart and focus on the characters to the forefront. It still has the bonkers action but it smartly realizes that doing a TV show means you can’t get away with giant set pieces one after the other. You need to love these characters. As you grow to love them over the course of the season it just makes you more and more invested in the action. It makes you accept how ludicrous it is and while you may be yelling, “that’s so dumb!” you’ll still be enjoying it all the way. The action in the show is a perfect combination of what we’ve seen in the movies and the wild car action of Speed Racer. Yeah it’s a little more goofy but come on, the movies would have a car with buzz saws coming out of it if they could
The main story of the show focuses on Tony Toretto and his teenage friends being tasked by the government to infiltrate SH1FT3R, an elite racing league serving as a front for an organization with deeper plans.
Tony wears his connection to the legendary Dom with pride, always going out of his way to make references that’ll have longtime F&F fans clapping. Frostee is the team’s young tech genius who may be a bit annoying but his excitement ends up infectious. Echo’s a master artist who sadly gets the least to do throughout the first season but her spunk makes her stand out in spite of it. Cisco is the muscle of the team but also a huge sweetheart. He falls into the typical “big guy” tropes but the writing affords him enough fun quips that he still works.
Rounding out the main cast are Layla and Shashi, both working for SH1FT3R. Layla is a lone-wolf type who can’t seem to stop herself from falling into the orbit of Tony’s family. Shashi is SH1FT3R’s leader and he forms the backbone of both the main plot and ethical questions the series raises.
Yes, Fast & Furious: Spy Racers gets deep. Deeper than even the movies have… but that isn’t to the series benefit. The way the series handles Shashi’s motivation and ultimate end goal painfully blow out the tires on a series that was racing toward a perfect score.
The Fast & Furious franchise has never had a streamlined philosophy besides the focus on family but it’s always leaned more progressive. These characters came from nothing and fought for every victory they ever had. Even when committing crimes they’ve been portrayed in a positive light.
Spy Racers brushes up against an incredibly radical progressive ideology but it’s sadly reduced to an “evil” plan that must be stopped by Tony and the others. This more than likely wasn’t intended by the writers but they made Shashi’s ultimate plan so sympathetic that by painting him as the bad guy they made it seem as if the base of his progressive ideology is wrong. Instead the show seems to enforce the status quo of “work with the government and don’t cause too much trouble” as the ultimate victor. Although much like the cartoonish action, this is where the franchise has ultimately been heading.
While the films began with Brian slowly learning to sympathize and work with outlaws, the more recent entries in the series have had the family working with the government with little question. The franchise, as much as it has roots in backyard barbeques and stealing combination VCR/DVD players, has become less and less concerned with those who would benefit most from Shashi’s ultimate plan.
Now this is only the series’ first eight episodes. Perhaps in future seasons we can get a deeper exploration of the ideas presented but as it stands Spy Racers bit off way more than it could chew. That doesn’t mean everything else around it is rendered moot though.
Spy Racers continues the franchise’s tradition of having an extremely diverse cast, with only one main character being white. The rest are people of color and one of them even has two moms that appear multiple times! It’s great to have a series aimed at children with this level of diversity.
Fast & Furious: Spy Racers compliments its parent films well and will satisfy hardcore fans, casuals fans, and may even draw in a whole new audience. The characters are a delight, filled with humor and heart. It’s a shame that radically progressive ideas are painted as “evil” with no examination because Spy Racers came very close to tackling an extremely relevant idea in a way no other animated series ever has.
As it stands, the show is still a fun ride but it couldn’t quite make it past the finish line.