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Ninja Turtles: The Next (And No Longer The Worst) Mutation

Bob Chipman | 11 Aug 2014 12:05
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Good news for Michael Bay: The geek-o-sphere finally has a nostalgia reboot it hates more than his Transformers movies!

Bad news for Michael Bay: It's his new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, this past weekend's number one movie and thus far an easy contender for the worst piece of crap I've had to sit through all year -- though since the year has a'ways to go yet I expect that could easily change. Not likely to change as soon, though? This is easily the new low water mark for this oft-retooled franchise.

With that in mind, I figured it was about time to look back at the mostly-forgotten single-season television series that previously held the "Worst Version of TMNT Ever" distinction: Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation.

But first, some background...

As we've discussed to the point of redundancy in previous installments, live-action genre series aping a B-movie aesthetic was the big non-daytime story of TV in the mid-1990s as one-by-one the budget-conscious junkfood fare that dominated drive-ins in the 60s, grindhouses in the 70s and direct-to-video in the 80s made their way to TV. Hercules, Xena and their legions of imitators dragged Swords n' Sorcery schlock to the small screen. Red Shoe Diaries, Silk Stalkings and the mighty Baywatch did the same for sleazy softcore. Second-tier superheroes? Nightman and The Flash say hi. Hell, one could even argue that the head-scratching megapopularity of Jerry Springer and the like represented the migration to the tube of dubiously-authentic weirdness-of-humanity "documentaries" like Mondo Cane (NSFW).

Straight-up action movies, though? The appeal of that genre was increasingly how much expensive stuff you could blow up (by contrast, action of the "tough guy, a gun and a catchphrase" brand flourished in the 80s) which kept it off TV as far as grownups were concerned. But action aimed at kids? Pitched to a lower-budget deliberately to allow for maximum combat but very little "violence?" Well, this was the era of Power Rangers...

...which is a story for another time. Or another guy on The Internet.

In any case, the popularity of Power Rangers essentially decimated huge swaths of the kiddie-action market, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles -- just moments ago (in TV time) the most powerful children's-entertainment juggernaut on the planet -- was the first trophy The Rangers mounted on their wall. Michelangelo, Leonardo, Donatello and Raphael had seen their most-recent movie bomb, sales of their action figures dwindle and their animated series (criticized for violence in its heyday but practically Rainbow Brite compared to the Rangers' Japanese-imported live-action slugfests) limp to the finish.

But no sooner had Haim Saban -- the Israeli musician turned billionaire media mogul who brought Power Rangers to the U.S. -- finished mounting the TMNT trophy-head to his wall than was his company getting a Big Idea: Why not revive the Turtles themselves as a live-action series a'la The Rangers?

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