Monday, May 20, 2024

Carmen Sandiego Finds a Family in Season 2

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The first season of Carmen Sandiego was a real treat to watch. Gorgeously animated, with fun concepts and heists to take up its episodes and interesting characters, while also retaining the educational aspect of the original Carmen Sandiego games and show. Carmen herself proved to be a fascinating protagonist. Her split from the villainous organization VILE was reminiscent of Adora on She-Ra, another wonderful member of Netflix’s animated stable.

The first season worked very much how you’d expect a first season to work. Carmen Sandiego tried to establish its style, establish its characters, and get kids to watch it. Season 2 doesn’t really differ too much. I wouldn’t call it much of an improvement over season 1. And that’s not a bad thing. Carmen Sandiego has its style and it’s a good style.

One thing it most definitely did improve, though, was its cast. Season 2 gave us more about the people surrounding its titular hero thief, and in the process gave Carmen the family she wanted.

New Dads and Old

Following Shadowsan’s defection from VILE, and the revelation that he found Carmen as a child and brought her to the organization, season 2 focuses heavily on their new father/daughter dynamic and the secrets Shadowsan knows about both VILE and Carmen’s past. It’s an endlessly fun bit, and Shadowsan quickly becomes one of the better characters on the show.

We only really saw Shadowsan as a bad guy in season 1, so season 2 is our first real view of who exactly he is. Carmen Sandiego does not shy away from the bad decisions he has made. It does not excuse him under some umbrella of “but he actually had good intentions all along.” No, Shadowsan was a bad person who went down a bad path. He can’t be forgiven for all of it. Carmen Sandiego doesn’t ask you to. They have Shadowsan explicitly say he can’t ask forgiveness for one of his crimes, involving his brother.

I admit I’m a sucker for the grumpy dad who is only soft for his adopted daughter. It’s an old dynamic and one I’ve always loved. I can’t say there’s anything particularly special about Shadowsan and Carmen, but they work so well individually that their combined powers make for something compelling to watch. Their personalities mesh very well and they support each other through the conflicts of the season in some appreciatively fresh ways.

Shadowsan’s secrets create some exciting tension between them that strikes at Carmen’s fears, Most of this involves Carmen’s past and her fears of him abandoning her. Through Shadowsan we find out the biggest revelations of the season, involving Carmen’s parents and the circumstances that led her Shadowsan taking her to VILE. I love how they handle these revelations, as well as the conflict which forces them out. I like the idea of kids watching how they communicate and taking a lesson from it. Carmen Sandiego teaches the right lessons in much the same way She-Ra or Steven Universe do, and the world is better for shows like this teaching these kinds of lessons.

While I expected more characterization for the cast, and Shadowsan especially, I did not expect Zack and Ivy to get so much focus this season. Season 2 explains how they met Carmen and generally gives them a greater motivation for being on her side to begin with. They even get a test of their loyalty that sees them side with Carmen for good. Or at least for as long as she needs them.

In the process, season 2 includes more episodes focused on them, rather than Carmen. They bumble and quip their way through things and it’s enjoyable, but they also show genuine capableness.

I can’t say that I know how Zack and Ivy are generally received. Not everyone will like the bumbling sidekicks and the Boston accents may wear on some after a while. But they’re fun characters who become far more interesting to me in season 2 and every show is better for fleshing out their cast. I imagine most of the kids watching this show love these two. They make Carmen Sandiego more fun to watch.

Together, Shadowsan, Zack, Ivy, and Player give Carmen the family she wanted. Season 2’s character themes focus on family, and the show’s quite effective at developing this new dynamic between everyone. One of the more harrowing episodes of the season sees Carmen suffer injuries that put her out of action for a bit, and it’s sweet to see how everyone both cares for her and continues her mission without her.

The season ends with a huge revelation promising a continued familial focus in season 3. Considering how well season 2 handled all these relationships and communication issues, I’m excited to see how they handle the cliffhanger.

V is for Villains Who Do Stuff Together

While the personal side of the season focuses on Carmen and her families new and old, the plot focuses on VILE’s attempts to replace Shadowsan and deal with the damage Carmen has done to their organization, while ACME tries to catch both. ACME especially features much more. Turns out the Chief has a connection to Carmen’s past, too. Julia Argent tries her best to convince ACME of Carmen’s good intentions, though she doesn’t get as much to do this season as in the first.

I suppose that’s because if everyone just listened to Julia Argent, the show would be over in 5 episodes.

The various VILE operations continue the undercurrent of criticizing rampant capitalism seen throughout season 1. Their operations include the exploitation of local resources in third-world countries, the fashion industry, smart devices, culture and history, and such. These operations typically revolve around auditioning candidates to replace Shadowsan on the VILE Faculty board. These new villains vary significantly. Some are just silly, others are a lot of fun, some mix both. None of them distract from my enjoyment level, and that matters most.

Some connections are ultimately drawn between VILE and ACME that should be interesting to explore moving forward. The lines of good and evil have blurred, and I’m curious to see where Julia Argent and Chase Devineaux ultimately side in this three-way conflict.

Speaking of Chase Devineaux, he features much less this season and I think Carmen Sandiego made the right decision to scale him back a bit. He’s still the obsessed goof who won’t stop chasing Carmen, but with fewer scenes, he comes across more lovable doofus than overbearing idiot. He has a redeeming investigative moment as well, even if it comes just a bit too late.

Fashion Icons

Carmen Sandiego also remains a supremely fun show to watch simply because of how well its creators understand and execute the show’s style. There are some seriously standout sequences in season 2.

One episode has Carmen’s friend and former VILE member Graham help her break into a VILE hideout under the guise of running the production of the ballet Swan Lake, since he has no memory and Carmen doesn’t want to risk him remembering his criminal past. This includes getting past a series of laser fields that can only be lowered one by one. They accomplish this deception by syncing the lowering of the fields to “Dance of the Little Swans,” with a fake ballet synced to Carmen’s movements past the lasers.

It’s a well-animated sequence perfectly exemplifying the show’s grasp on its style. They always do a great job capturing the visual aesthetic of each episode’s location. Whether they’re walking a Milan runway, navigating Rio’s favelas, or surviving icy hell in Sweden, Carmen Sandiego effortlessly pulls off its style, including a batch of really fantastic outfits for Carmen to suit each location.

This is just a really well-made show. The animation and style are almost effortlessly gorgeous.

The educational segments remain intact, and to varying effects. I can’t say if season 2 has more or fewer inaccuracies than season 1 did in these segments. There are certainly moments where I know enough to feel like Carmen Sandiego took a naive or inaccurate view of a place. I can forgive it because this is a kids’ show and these educational segments are there to help kids learn. You give them some basic facts to interest them and let the kids find out more on their own.

In that regard, Carmen Sandiego does just fine. As a kid who grew up with the original Carmen Sandiego, I’m glad to have something like this available for kids today.

Netflix’s animation stable has become quite strong, and season 2 of Carmen Sandiego just continues to build its reputation. You always wonder how the second season of any show will go. Carmen Sandiego is no big improvement, but it didn’t need to be. Season 1 was a fun, gorgeous, educational show and season 2 remains the same. I greatly enjoy watching it. I hope the target audience it aims for enjoys the show just as much.

We saw She-Ra make a major leap in quality in its third season. Could Carmen Sandiego do the same? The potential is there. But so long as it remains this fun to watch, I’m perfectly happy.

Images Courtesy of Netflix

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