Let’s talk about the black sheep of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, though that’s a loaded statement because depending on who you talk to the culprit might be any number of things. Someone deeply enamored with the original Mirage series might claim that the original cartoon is a bastardization of the characters, while others might cite the 2012 series for reasons I certainly couldn’t comprehend. Some people don’t like the 2003 series for hewing too closely to the source material, and others don’t like the source material itself for being too dark. Other still think the Archie comics got too goofy, while others dislike the current Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon for its radical departures from the norm. Then there’s the movies: the original trilogy, the CGI follow-up, and the two Michael Bay movies all have their fans and detractors. When speaking of black sheep, one can even point to the last season of the original cartoon or the two Japanese OVAs which were made to sell toys. The point here is that each and every one of these opinions is wrong: the black sheep of the Ninja Turtles family is none of these things. No, the black sheep has a name, and that name is Venus de Milo.
I know, I know. Now that you’ve been reminded of her (and by extension her debut show) you’re probably nodding slowly because no one likes The Next Mutation and there’s plenty of reasons for that. Created by Saban, the company behind the cultural juggernaut that was Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, the show had its fair share of issues. First and foremost was its identity crisis: it was billed as a continuation of the cartoon but was really a follow-up to the movies, though neither connection was apt because of the liberties the show took which ultimately rendered any attempt at connecting it to anything else moot for while the characters are there, virtually nothing else is present.
For what it’s worth, the central team of Turtles and their master, Splinter, are here. Their weapons are odd but it hardly matters since they’re mainly used for props during slapstick-filled fights with one of three villains, all created for this series, save for two episodes where they fight the Shredder and defeat him in such a way that he goes insane and has to be saved from thugs later on in the series. The Turtles live underground in something reminiscent of the movies but much more cramped and lower-budget with costumes to match. So while it has familiar bones, the muscles and skin are all wrong. For one, Ninja Turtles mainstays April O’Neil and Casey Jones are nowhere to be seen.
While Venus de Milo is the poster child of this show’s bad choices, the honest truth is that she doesn’t deserve all the ire she’s gotten. She does deserve some of it, though, since her presence undoes the brotherhood of the rest of the Turtles (who all want to have sex with her to various degrees plus she has boobs which is weird for something mutated from a reptile to have) and while the concept of a mystic female Ninja Turtle is intriguing Venus herself is annoying. She had a habit of constantly spouting common Ninja Turtle phrases (well, common for this show) but slightly wrong. It’s a schick that gets old fast. She also bears the mark of being exceedingly competent when she first appears and then becoming extremely weak every time after that. She could have been a good character, and IDW has introduced a female Turtle which people seem to be all right with, but she just wasn’t handled well.
The ire doesn’t even belong to the rest of the show’s new characters. The new antagonist is the Dragonlord, who wants to eat the Turtles and gain their powers. He has a sidekick named Wick who shares similar goals and is a literal puppet. They head up a group of Dragon Ninja called the Rank, and on paper this all sounds neat but in practice fails to impress. Dragonlord has Doctor Quease in his employ, who is a cut-rate Baxter Stockman and fulfills the show’s mad science quotient. Elsewhere, there’s Silver, the last of the Yeti, who is inexplicably heading up a gang in New York City. Finally, there’s Simon Bonesteel, played by Scott McNeil. McNeil does the best he aan with the character, who is a big game hunter/poacher/monster hunter who eventually teams up with a vampire. Dragonlord is mainly here to give Venus a reason to be here, while the others show up because there’s twenty-six episodes of this dreck and they needed to fill them up somehow.
The humor of this show is absolutely atrocious and I’m not saying that as a thirty-five year-old man watching a show meant for children. Even the sole episode I watched as a child made me feel dirty, and the worst part is that the “humor” is relentless. Someone is either making a lame joke, doling out another utterance of the many new catch-phrases the show decided to use, or the already lackluster action is being sped up with wacky music which isn’t all that wacky. Even when there’s nothing humorous going on, they pipe in wacky sound effects and music cues and you’d think they’d just lose power after a while but each and every time it’s a fresh wound, a death by a thousand annoyances.
Contrast this to the original Ninja Turtles cartoon, or the movies, or even the first season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Each of those had their share of humor and sure, there were some groan-worthy elements here and there, but on the whole they knew how to properly balance humor, action, and pathos. The original Ninja Turtles cartoon, for example, put the Turtles and their friends into actual life-threatening situations and one of their major goals was to return Splinter to his human form. The movie allowed Raphael to almost get beaten to death and Splinter was kidnapped by the Shredder. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers had all the business with Tommy Oliver and his powers plus constant life-threatening monsters, and while it had its share of humor most of the broader stuff was relegated to Bulk and Skull. Next Mutation is as if the aesthetics of those early Bulk and Skull bits was stretched out over an entire series.
There’s a universe where someone could make a good version of this show but we’re certainly not in it. This was actually kind of proven by an early episode of Power Rangers in Space which featured a crossover between the Rangers and the Next Mutation Ninja Turtles. The fighting of the Ninja Turtles was decent, especially freed from the slo-mo slapstick of its origin series, and the jokes the Turtles would make had no wacky audio cues which made the entire endeavor that much better. I don’t know why they opted to do things that way, but it hurt a show that could have at least been watchable.