Transformers Animated (Cartoon Network, Saturdays, 10:30 am)
Even before you see the new Cartoon Network series, you get a sense of who the new Transformers is aimed at. Transformers Animated, as the show is called, suggests that its target demographic ain’t people who grew up watching the original Saturday morning series or Transformers: Generation 2 or Beast Wars: Transformers or Beast Machines: Transformers (which were all, you know, animated). No, the producers are clearly after kids whose first whiff of Autobot came with last summer’s live-action feature.
That’s bound to be bittersweet for people who grew up on the original series (me), especially if they have kids of Transformers age (definitely not me). Some really annoying liberties have been taken with the characters. Optimus Prime is no longer the wizened old commander of all Autobots (the good guys), he’s a young hotshot who’s been busted down in the military to the point where he’s commanding a mere demolition crew. There’s nothing Optimus or Prime about him. He’s actually kind of a douche.
On the upside, the new series is much more focused than the old, which strained under the glut of dozens of characters each representing a branch of the Hasbro toy line. Remember the Aerialbots, Stunticons, Constructicons, and Protectobots? Me either. The first series was among the earliest and most ham-handed examples of cross-marketing, absolutely rife with references to and commercials for the toys. What’s instantly notable — and admirable — about the new show is that there’re no obvious product tie-ins (there’ll be toys, of course, but they aren’t out yet).
Transformers, it seems, has gone from being a lucrative Hasbro toy line to being a lucrative, all-encompassing brand. A sign of our times. And — oh, God! — what an occasionally funny and frequently cloying brand it is! “So … this is what it feels like … to be a hero?!” declares/asks an incredulous Optimus Prime at one point. Dreck.
All in all, Transformers Animated is probably about as good as the thing we all grew up with, but for different reasons. The most endearing reason: The new series doesn’t give me the urge to beg my mom for action figures, then whine and kick and scream when she says no, then get my ass sent to timeout. Of course, back in the ’80s, “getting sent to timeout” was code for, “getting whipped with a belt.” •
Miss America: Reality Check When CMT stopped airing the Miss America pageant in 2006, people thought the humiliation, degradation, and objectification of women would end. Then TLC snagged it, forced the contestants into this reality show, and now it’s probably worse. (TLC, Fridays, 10 pm)
60 Minutes The writers’ strike has led to a profusion of crappy reality TV and exactly zero new news programs. One unforseen effect: 60 Minutes is all of a sudden cracking the ratings top 10. (CBS, Sundays, 7 pm)
American Gladiators It was a dark day in our nation’s history when American Gladiators left syndication. Now they’re back. (NBC, Sundays, 9 pm)