TV Review: Carmen Sandiego (Spoilers!)

During my formative years when I was a child, my mother made sure that most of what I consumed was very kid-friendly, and this also included a lot of edutainment shows that were big in the early ’90s. This trend also translated to my younger siblings, and to computer games as well. Because of this, I grew up watching the game show “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”, and later on, I ended up playing other games in the franchise such as “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”, “Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?”, and my favorite, “Carmen Sandiego: Word Detective”. I was also aware of the animated show “Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?”

So, when Netflix announced that they would be putting their spin on the iconic and legendary thief, I was excited, but cautiously optimistic about it at the same time. Now that the first season has come and gone, I have to admit that I had a great time watching the show, despite the different take on Carmen and other characters in the series, but it is still very educational, and banks on the right amount of nostalgia as well. It isn’t a perfect show, but as a fan, I was intrigued and happy with this version that they gave us, and for most kids, this will be their first real introduction to the character.

Image Source: Carmen Sandiego Facebook Page

The Netflix animated show serves as a prequel to the the games as it deals a lot with her past, something that had only been explored in “Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego”, and follows her and her sidekicks’ exploits all over the world. Here, we are given a much different backstory from before, as this time around, she is more of an anti-hero than a villain. Along for the ride are her sidekicks Player (Finn Wolfhard), and the brother and sister duo of Zack and Ivy. Together, they present kids with educational facts of the places they visit, while being chased by various shady organizations, and a very enthusiastic Interpol Detective named Chase Devenaux. The entire first season is episodic in nature, complete with the same wonderful puns and exclamations reminiscent of the games, but is tied together by an overarching storyline.

As a long time fan of this iconic character, I can safely say that I was satisfied with what they gave us in the show, and I’m pretty sure that they are nowhere near finished telling Carmen’s whole story. I’m actually pretty excited to see whether or not they’ll transition her into a full blown villain, but for now, given today’s day and age, I do believe that having Carmen as an anti-hero is more palatable for children nowadays.

Carmen Sandiego, everyone’s favorite globe trotting thief.
Image Source: Carmen Sandiego Facebook Page

The episodes didn’t cram too much information and facts into the episodes, as compared as before, but I think that they  put in the right amount of information that would suit children’s attention spans today, and did it in a way that it would be seamless and not too jarring.

The animation was great, and sometimes, there were brief moments in which I felt that the animation was reminiscent of the computer games, and there plenty of fun action sequences to be had as well.

There was plenty of nostalgia in the show, but it was done in a way that it was organic to the show, and presented us with interesting twists to familiar characters and organizations, ranging from VILE, to the ACME Detective Agency, the punny villain names, Chase Devenaux, Carmen’s car, Chief, her sidekicks, and even the ACME computer sound effects.

Story wise, I liked that we were able to get to know more about Carmen, and there is definitely plenty of time for her to become a full blown villain, as she is relatively young in this series.

My only gripe with the show is that I did expect to see Chase Devenaux as a more handsome, and more intelligent man that the bumbling French detective we got here, but that was what I did expect as I’m used to seeing the “Word Detective” of Chase.

Gina Rodriguez IS Carmen Sandiego
Image Source: Carmen Sandiego Facebook Page

Gina Rodriguez was perfect for the role of Carmen, and I can’t wait to see how she evolves this character further down the line. Finn Wolfhard was great as Player, a hacker who helps Carmen out during her missions and does a lot of intel gathering.

“Carmen Sandiego” is an enjoyable remake of the popular edutainment franchise, and is definitely a great introduction to the kids of today to this iconic character. However, older fans of Carmen will also enjoy the show, and this new twist on the beloved character, while recognizing all the Easter Eggs they managed to put in this show without it being detrimental to the main story line. As for me, I cannot wait for the second season to come around, and this show has made me want to go back and actually play the games again.

Now, you know the drill! From here on out, there will be spoilers!

 One thing that I found interesting in this series was how they were able to incorporate a lot of elements from the past TV shows and the games into the series, and give it a twist that would make it feel very organic to this version of the Carmen Sandiego canon, even if I am not fond of all of the changes that they did.

Wolfhard’s Player definitely represents the audience, the ones who actually play the game, and in also harkens back to the “Where on Earth” series, as there is quite literally a boy in a chair who is playing the game and is addressed as “Player”. So, this new spin on that role made sense.

(L-R) New VILE rogues Tigress and Crackle, Carmen, and a whole new version of Zack & Ivy
Image Source: Carmen Sandiego Facebook Page

Here, Zack and Ivy are still siblings, but this time around, they are thieves instead of ACME detectives, and both have red hair, unlike the tv show version of them. I found this to be another interesting twist, as I didn’t expect to see them like this in this show. I honestly thought that I would really see them as ACME agents already.

The twist on the Chief was great as well, as this time around, as the Chief is a woman again, and interestingly enough, only shown here as a hologram.

I did have issues with this version of Chase, although he does grow on you. I do hope, however, that he does get better as the series goes along, and I really do hope that they give him opportunities to work with Carmen as well, whether he likes it or not.

The biggest change in this series is Carmen’s backstory. In the “Where on Earth” series, she grew up at the ACME Detective Agency, and was their best agent, until she got bored of it all and founded VILE.

The VILE Rogue’s Gallery, featuring the esteemed faculty of VILE Academy.
Image Source: Carmen Sandiego Facebook Page

Here, it’s the other way around. Still an orphan, this time, Carmen was adopted and grew up on VILE Island, and went to school there as well, which explains why she has all the skills that she has now. Making this be her backstory not only gave a good explanation to that, but it also helped drive the overarching storyline, and it also paved the way for her to become an anti-hero instead of full blown villain.

I did enjoy the main storyline, and I do want to know what will happen next to Carmen, and especially with what will happen to  Shadow-san, the VILE member who found her is somehow working from within, I think, to destroy VILE by playing the long game. That revelation was well played and I can’t wait to delve deeper into his backstory as well in Season 2.

Although I still prefer Carmen as a villain, I am alright with this new twist, and if they do think that their target audience will be alright with it, there is still a lot of time left to turn her into the Carmen we all know and love from the games and old TV show.

Regardless of everything, this new version of Carmen is very apt for a new generation of fans to discover not only this iconic character, but learn new things about the world as well, as, in the end, that is the main true goal of the character and her franchise.

Have you seen the Netflix remake of Carmen Sandiego? What did you think of it? What do you think of the upcoming live action version which will also star Gina Rodriguez? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Image Source: Carmen Sandiego Facebook Page

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