16 June 2013

Teen Titans Gone Bad

Every so often I’ve peeked in on Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans Go, and I’ve been increasingly disappointed. After watching the recent episode about Beast Boy turning into a gorilla and challenging Robin for alpha-male status, I’ve decided to give up on the series entirely.

There is, as far as I can tell, almost no heroism in Teen Titans Go. The plots are built around the boys’ gluttony, laziness, or egoism. (The female characters react but have rarely driven the action.) The cartoons end with few valuable lessons about life, particularly by the standards of children’s television, and no development from one episode to the next.

Every so often the cartoons show us a villain from the old Teen Titans cartoon. Usually that character has no lines, thus saving on voice-actor costs. (Most of the episodes have been performed solely by the regular cast. Scott Menville as Robin once did double-duty as that character’s rival Speedy.) But we rarely see the team defeat those villains. In some cases, they don’t even notice their old enemies. And in the gorilla episode, Beast Boy actually refuses to stop the bad guy.

There’s a lot of action in Teen Titans Go, to be sure, but these Titans rarely use their powers for anyone else’s benefit. Instead, they’re usually trying to get more stuff—especially food—for themselves. So far I’ve seen the team’s activity help Jump City only once as they defeated some sort of slime monster, and the story that followed was all about Robin trying to sneak out of doing the laundry.

And that’s just wrong. That’s not what Robin, or any other hero, would do. Those characters aren’t defined by their powers and abilities—they’re defined by what they do with those powers and abilities. A Robin or ex-Robin has usually led the Teen Titans not because his ego demanded it but because he’s devoted to justice and helping people, and ultimately more badass-effective than anyone else.

Of course it’s possible to create Teen Titans drama around leadership conflicts, insecurity, wish for recognition, and other foibles. But the best stories show that drama playing out within a plot of actual heroics—i.e., helping other people. The producers have presented Teen Titans Go as what the old team does in their off-hours, but their stories depict those characters as petty and foolish and ultimately unheroic.

All that said, the network just ordered new episodes, so the series is apparently working on a commercial basis. I suppose all those stories based around eating might do a good job selling fast-food and candy commercials.


Icon_UK said...

In fairness to the series, which I confess I've hardly seen any of, the stated intent of the creatores was that these stories would be happening between the heroic episodes (eg the main series) and would focus more about what the Titans do in their off time, so I suppose things like "eating" and "doing laundry" fall into that category.

Whether that's an intent that SHOULD have been pursued is another matter.

J. L. Bell said...

I'd read that, and it didn't answer my concerns. We occasionally see Jump City villains, and members of the team usually don't recognize them or, in the last episode I saw, actually refuse to stop them. I haven't seen the team benefit Jump City in any way, and if I have to go back to the first series to do so, I might as well just stick with those shows.

Another problem is that in their off-hours all the boys turn out to be selfish and lazy. Well, Robin has the hardest time being lazy since he's so hyped up about being team leader, but he tries to sneak out of the chores he doesn't like.

A third problem, for some types of viewers, is that none of this matters. One episode ends with the whole team dead. In the next episode they're back where they began, being selfish and lazy. Kind of hard to build up life-and-death stakes after that.