Being a child of the late ’80s and ’90s, I’m very well acquainted with the Carmen Sandiego franchise. I grew up playing many different variations of the computer game, watching the game shows, and of course the 90’s cartoon. I wanted the jacket from the game show and wished the internet worked the way the 90’s cartoon made it seem. It’s no hyperbole to say this franchise was a big help in my understanding of geography in my elementary days. So when I heard Netflix was doing a brand new series, I was very interested. But is it worth watching? Does it live up to my expectations?
Wait? Carmen’s the Good Guy?
Right off the bat, this takes a different route story-wise. Whereas traditionally “The Player” is attempting to track down Carmen Sandiego to bring her thieving ways to justice, in this series Carmen is actually the good guy – kind of. Carmen is an orphan raised by the V.I.L.E. organization to become a master thief. But after discovering the extent they would go to get what they wanted, she decided to be a thief who stole from other thieves. She is assisted by “Player,” a White-Hat hacker, and her two friends Ivy and Zack (throwback names of ACME Agents from 90’s cartoon). Differences aside, there are plenty of other callbacks to previous versions of the franchise. From Chief of ACME to Chase Devineaux.
The animation style was off-putting to me in its initial announcements. Yet once I sat down to watch it and was willing to set aside my love for 90’s style animation, I found it really quite lovely. The character designs are sharp, but because of the painted/Crayola style coloring, feel full and round. On top of that, they found a great way to give Carmen an updated feel while holding true to her traditional roots. I am a fan of the minimalist art style, and this series has an interesting way of balancing it with finer details at the same time. There are even moments where the scenes feel very “Noir”-like, which enhances the detective/capper theme of the show.
Still as Educational?
Carmen Sandiego is one of the few educational franchises that were actually entertaining in my opinion. In case you were not aware, back in the 90’s the FCC forced network TV to have a certain amount of their programming be educational. This started the slow decline and death of the traditional Saturday Morning cartoon. In response, they began to make their morning’s shows do just that. The 90’s cartoon did a great job of balancing entertainment with education. So how does this one compare? While there is certainly a lot of fact bombs dropped in each episode, I feel the absorption of information is more passive. Whereas commercial breaks were bookended with question and answer slides, this one just throws information out. So yes, it’s educational-ish.
Is it worth watching?
At the end of the day, this 10 episode series isn’t bad. It’s a fun series for kids to watch and get some neat information out of. At the same time, it’s a good show for parents to sit down and watch with their kids, as well as enjoy some nostalgic memories. It’s win-win.
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As a similar child of the 80’s and having seen a lot of the game show and cartoon growing up, as well as playing the games, I was eager for this reboot. The educational value is thinner and definitely more passive, and I thoroughly enjoyed the animation style, new direction of the story, and some of the call backs. But the one thing that kept dampening my enjoyment of the show was how all the male characters seemed dumber and less skilled than their female counterparts. The most glaring example being between Julia Argent and Chase Devineaux. Julia is smart, observant, and tech savvy while Chase is narrow minded, overbearing, dismissive, and not tech savvy at all (although he gets a little bit of redemption in the final episode). I feel like the series would have be better (which even with this flaw it’s still a great series) if all the characters were portrayed as competent at their jobs. But maybe I am just expecting too much from a kids show.