Review: Netflix’s “Carmen Sandiego” (Season 1)

I made it! Every episode of the show in record time! 

Fans of the original Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?  will uh—OK, I don’t remember that show. At. All. People told me about it, and actually, I don’t believe I ever saw one episode of the original. Nothing wrong with that. Having never been spoiled, my heart doesn’t know if I should dislike the Netflix remake, therefore, I really enjoyed this time around. 

My big complaint with the Netflix version is they had a chance to make this season really pop for new fans like myself and didn’t. Why? These episodes deserve a full hour each. Some Netflix animated series can’t go past the half hour mark. I’m looking at you, Boss Baby . They know how to leave you wanting more. Too much would be overkill. Netflix’s Carmen Sandiego  has richness, funny characters, great villains, a beautiful 2D aesthetic, wonderful acting from Gina Rodriguez, and the criteria for a hit one hour per episode series.

When we see Carmen going to Sydney later in the oddly short 9-episode first season, my heart melted with joy as a music lover when the plot worked in the Bizet opera Carmen . We could’ve seen her dipping into an Indiana Jones style adventure from Sydney’s museum undergrounds into the Outback. All we had was a quick take of her shutting off a rocket. The plot bounces around too quickly like we are animating action sequences. For something where the pace goes quickly like Netflix’s Puss In Boots , it works.

Not to knock Puss in Boots  as I love that show, Carmen Sandiego goes more for a “let’s learn stuff!” intellectualism for young people or, people like myself who partially never grow up and never will. The show’s producers could have taken this a step further in a 007 direction, with someone at headquarters teaching Carmen the ins and outs of new tech secret weapons and plans. We get a bit of Carmen and not enough. 

The show feels rushed like an audience test sample. “Could audiences really like a show about a female thief?” Absolutely. We do. I with all the extra wishes loved this show and demand more of it. 

Because everyone brings up this point in a time when diversity is pushed by social media fans of shows and films, yes, Carmen Sandiego is from South America. The nice thing about this show, and I speak as someone of assorted backgrounds tossed into a blender where I don’t have a specific look as in I could look like I’m from anywhere, is how Carmen does like real people I know from other countries and/or assorted backgrounds.  She goes on about her life doing spy stuff because being from someplace else, or her exotic look of a natural tan with red hair and other features, is normal to her. She doesn’t make things weirdly out there because accepting that we are normal and, as someone I know puts it, “chemistry experiments” with different elements mixed into compounds, makes us normal like everyone else. In fact, plenty of characters on this show look like they are of blended backgrounds where you can’t place them, or are people of color from other backgrounds. Have to talk about this because it’s the first sentence on every article pulling up as I researched the show.

Carmen’s friends are fun, and as I must talk about the other point people are talking about with this show in diversity, not alays nice women. Some start as pals and then turn on her. Some have been villains the whole show. Real women aren’t all nice buddies sitting together like chick flicks. They’re best friends, back stabbers, and, yes, like the show, fictional criminal masterminds stealing art.

The show has its funny moments you only catch if you watch every episode back to back. Were it longer, we could dwell more on them. It does a lovely job switching gears from serious to humorous. As a young adult, I would have loved the program.  Carmen here is a good girl with bad to her, like a Captain Jack Sparrow. She makes mistakes now and then and fixed them. Carmen gets weak for a guy, or wonders why she messed up on an important test at thief school to where it haunts her. She is human, a trait little seen in female animated characters.

And, thank goodness, she is wearing clothes, as in dresses, casual wear, and sophisticated trench coats, that make her attractive without making her look like she would feel out of control with her image. Cartoon character girls and women tend to be given loinclothes throughout films. Carmen’s figure here is thin and curvy like a normal human person you might meet. Her attire plays up her curvy frame, sure. Not once does it feel like she couldn’t do thievery in the outfits. Her sexuality is done with brains and a beautiful face, never her body. That in itself is beautiful!

Thanks to Netflix, we have cartoons again readily accessible for young people who don’t want another same old teen drama, another teen dating comedy about making over the girl because she can only be attractive were she to rid herself of her personality and physical appearance. There’s something for everyone on the streaming platform. Like dragons? Strong willed brainy heroines?  Here you go. Horses? Here! I can’t remember a time period when animation was given a spotlight since possibly the mid 90’s during the big days of The WB, Cartoon Network, ABC mornings, and TNT. Anyone remember TNT’s Johnny Quest  revival, a big deal as it was “four years in the making” on the promos, all CGI?

Please networks, and home streaming providers, take note of this. I, and surely others, want an equal number of new animated series to all the standard stuff you’re putting out like The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina .