Not having access to Netflix means I haven’t seen their new take on Carmen Sandiego, the master thief of the Broderbund Software video game series and other spin-offs. You may recall from the trailer that I had a few problems with the plot we were given, and I hear that the show may be fairly decent but just as poor an adaptation as I expected. The thing is not only can you do a proper translation of the games, they already did.
For those not in the know, the Carmen Sandiego game franchise, and every other medium it’s been translated to I’m aware of, has the player (or their stand-in) playing an agent for ACME Detective Agency (or “Crimenet” in the game shows). Your mission: track down Carmen Sandiego and her henchman in the organization V.I.L.E. (Villain’s International League of Evil). As a more comedic game, Carmen and her crew have managed to steal the Eiffel Tower, The Statue Of Liberty, “Brahms’s Lullaby”, and all sorts of weird items around the US, the World, and even time itself. While there are different reasons given in various series in just the video games alone, my favorite is that Carmen was a former ACME agent who deciding thievery was more challenging, and like Batman foe the Riddler would leave clues to make the “game” more fair. Her agents are a bit quirky with the names to show for it, possibly codenames tied to their skills or gimmick.
The new incarnation has Carmen stealing things to stop V.I.L.E. from getting to them first, with the ACME agents trying to stop both of them. Two of her partners in crimefighting-through-crime are Zack and Ivy, and that is the polar opposite of everything in the franchise. Zack and his big sister Ivy are supposed to be ACME agents, first introduced in Where On Earth Is Carmen Sandiego, a show that is much more faithful to the video game series and a great show on its own. It’s like they took a plot and slapped Carmen iconography on it. Although there is no licensed posting of the show available I want to show you how to do adapt this game properly, plus it’s just a really good show, airing on Fox Kids from 1994-1999, produced by DIC Entertainment (now owned by Media DHX when they took over Cookie Jar Entertainment, which bought DIC’s library). THIS is how you translate Carmen Sandiego.
I’m not sure why Carmen has a scarf over her face so often in the pilot. As the intro showed she doesn’t in the regular series. As for the introduction, that’s already been reviewed for My Favorite Intros but it’s perfect. You get a sense of the clues Carmen leaves, how Ivy and Zack manage to solve the clues and stop her crime, but Carmen escapes because unlike the game series having her break out of jail all the time wouldn’t look good for the good guys. This is also the only episode where the Player chooses the detectives like you would in a video game, except in the game the Player is supposed to be the one traveling the world, not just looking up info and sending them through the C5 corridor. While including the video game elements isn’t necessary it does give the show a unique flavor. There were also episodes where for whatever reason the regular Player was replaced by other boys and girls, but this is the Player that shows up the most often. (Does that make him Player 1? :D)
While the late Lynn Thigpen from the game shows (and some of the games) is probably the best of the Chief, the AI version in this show is still entertaining…most of the time. There are clearly a few glitches to work out in his programming but overall he isn’t too bad. A later episode flashes back to when he had an android body that didn’t always work, where he served as Carmen’s partner, and he often hopes she’ll give up crime and rejoin ACME, but is still just as determined to bring her and V.I.L.E. to justice.
Ivy and Zack also make a good team. Both are smart but Ivy is more action-oriented yet less likely to run right into the thick of it without a plan. Zack is later shown to speak multiple languages. Carmen in this version isn’t totally evil. She steals for the challenge, but will save the siblings if they get into danger and has even worked with them against less moral villains, including the first bad guy she and the Chief caught together when he comes back for revenge in a three-part episode. In other incarnations she’s a lot more nasty.
The show is available on home video and I always support the official release when I can. So should you because this is a great show to have on your shelves. I played a little of Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego on my cousin’s computer and I own the NES version of Where In Time Is Carmen Sandiego, so you should give the franchise a look as well. I hope the Netflix series remembers this franchise is about teaching geography, international culture, and history (some games also teach other subjects like math but I haven’t seen those) in a way that’s fun and interesting. This is the best way to get kids to learn and if the new show isn’t doing that then they failed on every important level unless the stories are good. Has anyone out there seen it? I’ve seen mixed reviews.