Mar 15, 2012

[TV] Transformers Prime: Season 1

I've been a Transformers fan for most of my life, however my fandom has never been the type to make me blindly love anything with a Transformer stamp on it. I think I learned to be a bit more discerning about my Transformers selections after realizing just how ridiculous the Action Masters line of toys was.

In recent years, the Michael Bay influenced movie franchised has really been a sore spot for me. Initially I was happy that they finally created a live-action movie. But once the euphoria passed, we fans were left with a very weird movie story line that just got increasingly worse as additional sequels were released. And in this post Michael Bay era of Transformers, one can't help but notice the influence the movies have had on the aesthetic of the various spin-offs shows and comic books even.

Now I'm not exactly a G1 purist, but I'll admit that I'll always favor that aspect of the franchise given it's the one I grew up with. Later incarnations of the Transformers have been a mixed bag for me such as how I enjoyed the Beast Wars timeline but found the whole Armada arc a bit too weird for me. And for one reason or another, I never bothered to get into Transformers Animated. I should probably try it out sometime.

But let's get back to this latest show, shall we?

Transformers: Prime is a CGI-animation series and the first Transformers cartoon to debut on The Hub, the joint venture between Discovery Kids and Hasbro (the folks behind the Transformers toys, duh).

For purposes of clarity, this review factors in the initial Darkness Rising mini-series as part of the first season. It has been three years since the Decepticons last attacked the Autobots on Earth and no news of their whereabouts has been heard since. They eventually hear from the Decepticons in the most tragic way - through the death of one of their own. As the Autobots rally their limited forces, they also meet three human youths who discover their secret and eventually get a bit more involved in the conflict than expected. But considering Megatron's (Frank Welker) plans of utilizing a substance known as Dark Energon to revive dead Transformers to do his bidding, they might need all the help that they can get.

When Megatron's plan fails (by the end of the mini-series). Starscream (Steven Blum) steps up to the plate and takes command of the Decepticons. His mission centers around securing additional sources of energy, locating the Autobot's secret facility and basically just staying alive despite everything the Autobots have to throw at them. And of course there's the question of Megatron's continued survival after his defeat at the end of the initial mini-series to consider, but that is addressed during the show as a whole.

Optimus Prime
Image via Wikipedia
Now a lot of credit has to go to the quality of the voice talent attached to this project. As much as I'll always respect their abilities as voice actors, the fan in me can't help but appreciate the decision to have Peter Cullen and Frank Welker to reprise their G1 roles as Optimus Prime and Megatron respectively. The show also includes the awesomeness that is Gina Torress as the crafty Airachnid, Adam Baldwin as Breakdown and the campiness of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as Cliffjumper. So they definitely made some good decisions in this department, especially for the Firefly fans out there.

The writers also seem to be making sure to have a lot of G1 flair added to various stories in the form of references to established pieces of Transformer lore. Naturally we have their home planet of Cybertron, but we also have mentions of "famous" cities like Iacon or even the inclusion of G1 characters like Wheeljack (James Horan) as part of the series. And yes, Optimus and Megatron retain a lot of the characters of their G1 characters along with a non-speaking Soundwave to boot. In that sense it sort of feels like how Beast Wars tried to incorporate G1 elements into the narrative.

On the whole, the animation quality is better than Beast Wars (and similar too) and worlds apart from the style used in the Armada trilogy of shows. My only annoyance is how they've chosen to animate the mouths of the various Transformers in the form of a single line that makes them feel a bit too organic for my taste. I can only wonder what the final flavor would be like. Oh dear.

The stories do get a bit weird to me though, and maybe it's because of my dislike for the involvement of children in an interstellar war of sorts. I know they're there to make the show more accessible to younger audiences, but this trio seems a lot more annoying that Spike and his friends ever were in the G1 cartoon. And the weird back and forth of the Deceptions essentially doing nothing substantial until Megatron arrives back on the scene made for odd storytelling.

And the big finale for the season just felt a bit weird for me - then again, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised given how the whole Armada-Energon arc went.

And don't get me started on the Dark Energon zombies. That simply did NOT make sense to me.

Still, Transformers Prime does its part in trying to be a darker, gritter despite the fact that we have a kid and two teenagers running alongside the Autobots plus the fact that Bumble still can't talk just like in the movies. Pretty stupid really. Still, the show still deserves a respectable 3.5 cases of Decepticon Vehicons acting like idiots out of a possible 5.

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