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Cowabungaloo. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:
The Very First Episode!

Matt - 12.30.01

To those who've been waiting for a full-length it is! But first, a few points I wanted to make. Number one - there's really no need to take down your Christmas decorations till mid-April, because they add a sense of warmth to the home and my X-Mas tree is doing great doubling as a sock hanger. Number two - it was brought to my attention that some of you still haven't quite grasped the concept of the Quickies on the main page, and are avoiding them thinking they're some weird downloads or something. They're not. They're articles. Just like the ones here, just generally a tad shorter and a tad weirder. Some of my recent favorites - Clamato, G.I. Joe Survival Juice, and Wigglytuff Meets The Cows. You're cheating yourself if you're coming here only to check if the headlines are updated - I update the Quickies far more often.

Thirdly, there's a new section to the site added to the upper-right corner, Animalia. Semi-straight shot informational bios on, you guessed it, real life animals. So sue me if I like animals. You would too if you had claws. My goal as of now with that is to do around 25 of them before moving on to something else. Unless, of course, there comes a great demand for more animal profiles, in which case I'll pack up camp and move to a farm so I can properly describe the personality nuances of every chicken who shits on the outside doormat. Your feedback is important!

Finally, I'd like to wish y'all a belated Happy Holidays and an early Happy New Year. Don't drink Clamato and drive. Now, onto the show!

This one's long overdue, and any fans of TMNT should be stoked to see it. Today we're gonna review the very first episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which details their not-so-secret origins, shows Splinter in his human form, Krang without his body, and Irma without her crossbreeding sexual innuendo. It's a landmark show that kicked off years upon years of intense fan obsession from us kiddies and more toys than you can count. Think about this for a moment: if this one particular episode sucked, Vanilla Ice would never have appeared in the second Turtles live action movie. Donatello never would've told us that drug dealers were 'dorks'. We never would've been able to go to Burger King to get an oversized Michaelangelo character pin. It was all dependent on this one episode. I lived and breathed TMNT much like a lot of kids from my age group for years, so I can appreciate the importance of their first episode, uh, not sucking.

Originally a two-parter, this was sold as a 41-minute 'mega episode' on VHS, which I picked up at a book fair back in grade school. Man, those book fairs really didn't meet the PTA's goal of mixing fundraising with scholastic encouragement. I assume the point was to get kids to, you know, read books, but I never left one of the things with a single piece of literature. I'd always get sticker packs, videos, and the occasional bunch of monster football card parody sets. Oh wait, I did get one book - maybe their plan worked. I bought and read every single page of Garfield Trims The Fat. School rocks!

I can only assume that while many readers of this site are familiar with TMNT, and a lot of you are probably big fans...a great number of you likely never saw the first episode because the networks rarely ran the two-parters, much less the shows from the series' first season. So I take great pride in showing you how them toitles met April, and exactly why Bebop was, deep down, a racial stereotype. I'm actually giddy with excitement over this, which makes me feel pathetic in one way, but in another, more heartwarming way, makes me feel mighty, mighty stupid. Without further stalling, (I'm just putting off screencapping the episode) let's see how it all began...

(PS, this one goes out to Tokka, our forum's resident madman and a big TMNT fan!)

April O'Neil, who for all those concerned is a newswoman from Channel 6 and apparently the only person in the field of reporting who ever covers anything. in the city, has gotten herself into a bit of trouble with her continued coverage of the latest wave of crime sweeping the city, which has something to do with ninjas. A bunch of goons wearing leather, army fatigues, and weird sunglasses confront her, but before they can ask for directions to the Rancid concert, she ducks into the sewer. (by means of literally slipping down a sewer drain - April's body must be made up entirely of cartilage)

The goons give chase and deliver a message: stop wearing yellow already. Actually, they tell her that their boss doesn't like what she's reporting on, and they're gonna shut her up by smacking her across the head with chains and big pieces of plywood. April cowers, but before the punks have a chance to take this toon out of the PG range, their plans are halted...

Weird ninja weapons stop the assault, and the goons are confused. Before they have a chance to retaliate against their unknown assailants, they're all laying in a heap in a pile of sewage which by the looks of the color is around 65% crap, 35% rainwater. April is thrilled of course, now she can keep on reporting the news and won't have to watch herself on it from the hospital, or try in vain to interview herself about the unprovoked attack by a bunch of Ramones fans. She goes to thank her saviors, and notices something a tad off - they're not quite human.

They're...they're turtles! The boys look a little less comical than they became in future seasons, a little more muscular, closer to what they looked like in the comics. Actually I'm biting a bit there, they look pretty much the same as you remember, only their eyes don't look so much like Oreo cookies. They're also more of an olive green than their later sewer green. Whatever the case, April promptly faints from shock, leaving the turtles scarred for life because their first encounter with a woman has left her unconscious with fright. Strike one Mikey, maybe you'll get to second base next time.

From a video screen, Shredder watches on in aghast. Who are these people interfering with his planned beatdowns? And why do they seem vaguely familiar? This'll all be revealed later. Unfortunately, what won't be revealed is how Shredder has the personal foresight to set up video equipment in a particular part of the New York sewer system for no apparent reason. Infomercials have taught us that only black women are psychic - not cloaked Japanese ninjas. What gives, Shredder - who ya been talkin' to?!

At the lair, Splinter, the Turtles' mentor and big rat guy, offers the fallen April some tea. She responds by fainting again. Splinter didn't change much throughout the course of the series, though he's a bit more haggard here and he doesn't have quite so pronounced whiskers. I guess early screening tests called for more, explaining why his face had these big ugly black lines drawn all over it in future episodes.

When April regains consciousness, there's no monsters left to introduce to ignite another fainting fit. So she stays awake this time. Splinter offers her some sushi while the Turtles eat their first televised pizza ever - another landmark for this episode. I wonder if kids would've liked the show half as much if the boys didn't eat pizza. I mean, what if their weakness was for gyros or something? Would we still have found such an amazing kinship with 'em? These were all important decisions to make, and I for one am thrilled they went the pizza route.

April eats the sushi quietly, but it doesn't take long for everyone to notice that she's looking at them with the most classic, cliche, and template 'what the fuck are you?!' face imaginable. So, Splinter decides it's high time he explained who they all are, and how they all came to be. Batten down the sewer hatches, it's time to learn how the Turtles became Mutant Ninja Turtles....

Picture it. Japan. 1965. Oroku Saki, a devilish and jealous young chap, double-crosses Hamato Yoshi, his fellow member of the Foot Clan, by stabbing his shirt to the wall, which keeps him from bowing to their master. When Hamato pulls the knife from his shirt, everyone suspects a murder plot, and he's banished from the clan forever. Hamato soon takes over and leads them to a way of crime, forever changing the scope of ninja acceptance forever, and the eventual size of Hamato's tail to boot.

Amazingly, this plot makes forty-thousand times more sense than what they used for the live action movie, where Hamato was simply a caged rat who mimicked ninja moves from his cage. When my brother took me to see the movie, I remember nudging him when they got to that part and complaining that the cartoon explained it better, just so he wouldn't think I was a fool for liking TMNT so much. Of course, either way, it was still a show and a movie about turtles who spoke, ate pizza and listened intently to a dirty mutant rat, so it's not like my brother was going to feel any more encouraged even if they went with the more logical origin.

In disgrace, Hamato moved to the sewers of New York City. What? He moved from medieval Japan to the sewers of NY? In what a time machine? Isn't Japan like 85% city nowadays? Somehow I doubt ninja clans are still making their regular rounds over there. Oh well, I'll suspend my beliefs for the sake of entertainment if you will. Hamato moves into the sewers, because he's too poor to move anywhere else and too new to have heard about the myriad Spanish trailer parks outside the city that even someone on a ninja's salary could afford, and his only friends are the rats. Until, that is, some poor kid trips and his bowl full of little turtles falls on his head. Now there's enough friends down there for Hamato to run out and get an address book. Just give each rat and turtle a different apartment number. Rat 37, Sewer -- #5A, NY, NY, 10012. Turtle 2, Sewer -- #13A, NY, NY, 10012. He could make up the phone numbers as he pleased, because A) they didn't have phones and B) he doesn't have quarters. Geez, you think life couldn't get worse for the guy, and then lightning strikes and he turns into an oversized mouse. It's a good thing the turtles mutated and learned to talk, otherwise there'd be no one to talk the guy out of suicide every night.

Weird pink ooze spills into the sewer, and Hamato is most unpleased. He doesn't know it's mutagen yet, but honestly, it's ooze and it's in a sewer, so no matter what it is, it's not something he wants to clean off the turtles.

But indeed, it is mutagen, the rare experimental gloppy stuff that turns whatever touches it into the animal it's been in contact with most recently. So, if you had a cat in your lap, and touched mutagen, you'd turn into a big cat. And if you had a monkey in your lap, and you touched mutagen, you'd turn into Louise Jefferson. It's a pretty simple formula.

The little turtles morph into - wait, there was a point I forgot to make. That little kid who dropped them into the sewer. If he ever found out that the TMNTurtles were his, would he have a right to get them back? I mean, in a court of law. That would've been a great episode - attorneys cross-examining Splinter asking him if he ever actually bought the four mutants from Petland, the Turtles having to, under oath, admit whether or not that kid shelled out the fourteen bucks, and so on. It might sound ludicrous, but I have another tape from this series where the Turtles use an interdimensional portal to bring the Easter Bunny to Earth. So it's all relative, really.

The little turtles morph into big turtles, and Hamato inexplicably morphs into Splinter, despite very clearly having touched turtles ten seconds prior. Guess the mutagen has a selective memory. Splinter continues telling his story to April, about how he named the guys after his four favorite Renaissance artists - Michaelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo, and Raphael. The toon shows him looking in some old art books to find the names, making me wonder why Hamato would bother carrying those big books all the way from Japan, and not one single change of clothes.

Over time, he taught the turtles the ancient art of ninjitsu, which according to the show involves a lot of weapon-twirling and party hollars. And that's how they became the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

A now, I'll allow you all a moment to reflect on what you've seen before continuing. I know your collective worlds must be in an uproar from the sensory overload only the TMNT origins unmasked could conjure. Try not to have a seizure. It's just a cartoon. That's right. Keep telling yourselves that. Just a cartoon. Muahahaha!

April doesn't really buy any of this crap, and thinks the Turtles are responsible for all the robberies she's been covering on the news. In this scene we also get our very first TMNT voice-over flub, as Donatello stops April from leaving the sewer using Raphael's voice. Another landmark point! April agrees to stay down in the sewer until they can reach an amicable solution to their problems. They can't let her leave like this, because she'll undoubtedly go straight up to Channel Six and tell the world that there's four turtles and a giant rat causing problems in the sewer - a story that would certainly get her fired and institutionalized, but worse yet might cause some trouble for our friendly amphibians, who don't want to, as Raphael puts it, go back to the ol' glass bowl.

It's decided that April will hold off on any impulse reporting given that the Turtles can catch the real crooks. April's really wielding a lot of political power in this episode. I guess that's what happens when you pattern your outfits after Dick Tracy.

The Turtles inspect a suspicious 'Ninja Pizza House' after finding a matchbook at the scene of the earlier crime, and the Shredder, using his mystical video equipment that shows him everything from sewers to pizza houses to your bathroom, monitors their every move. Meanwhile, April is captured by some of his troops and taken to the top of a building, where she's taped to a chair and forced to listen to Beethoven's 9th over and over again, driving her progressively more insane to the point where she's about to jump off the side of the tower and become one dead devochtka. The Turtles notice her purse hanging off the side of the building, a clue only those with superior eyesight would notice. Either that, or the buildings in the cartoon world are only a few feet taller than the Turtles themselves. Either way, they head on up to save April.

Look - Foot Soldiers! If you'll recall, these are the robotic ninjas who the Turtles kick the crap out of in every episode of the show with relative ease. This is their first battle with the mutants, so they go the extra mile and give a small bit of offense. They still get their asses handed to 'em, though. I should mention that virtually every toon, show, and movie of this genre/type has something like the Foot Soldiers. Power Rangers had the Putties, Star Wars had Stormtroopers, pro-wrestling has cruiserweights, and TMNT had these guys. They're effective for keeping battle scenes plentiful without having to use up the really hot sequences featuring the villains we actually wanted to watch get beat up.

Foot Soldiers were doubly cool because they had the posture of old, crippled women.

After the Turtles realize that they're fighting robots, they stop acting all inhibited and seriously beat the living fuck out of them. See, they're ninjas, but they're nice ninjas. Even if the Foot Soldiers were evil people, they'd still be people, and wouldn't deserve to have their arms chopped off. Robots don't have that going for them. They save April and escape, after a lengthy action sequence that fills one skyscraper up with water and causes it to shatter to the ground. Surprisingly, nobody in the city notices. Jaded yuppies.

This episode's worst kept secret gets revealed as the Shredder unmasks to reveal...Oroku Saki! The guy who framed Splinter back when he didn't shit out round pellets! Oroku realized that these turtles are the same ones that Hamato had back in the sewer - meaning that it was him who put the mutagen there, thinking it'd destroy them. Obviously, things turned out a tad differently. That's the problem when you use experimental mutagen. From now on, Shredder vows, he'll only use established mutagen. Even world-dominating ninjas in metal masks learn life lessons once in awhile.

The Turtles also notice the weird guy on the video wall, but they have no idea that they'll be fighting him every day of their lives for the next seven years. Scary, right? Michaelangelo hasn't even christened him 'Chromedome' yet. This is all so beautiful and amazing! I am stoked to all hell with wonderment and turtlement. I am I am.

Splinter recognizes the suit worn by the killer robots as the uniform of The Foot - and warns the Turtles that his old enemy, Oroku Saki, must be nearby. Leonardo starts looking around nervously, so Splinter tells him he meant that as a figure of speech, not that Oroku was nearby like right next to them. Then all the Turtles point and laugh at Leo -- Raphael calls him a dummy, Michaelangelo questions his leadership status, and Donatello repeatedly refers to him as 'Nards! Nards!'.

The next day, they have breakfast...

Cereal on top of pizza, of course. Splinter's still eating sushi, which doesn't make April happy one bit. She hasn't had real food in days. Or, by my count, a shower or change of underwear. Food should be the last thing on her wantlist. We also get a rare shot of the boys without their eyemasks, which make their heads look a lot like bottom-heavy water balloons. It seems weird to see them without the masks, almost like they're naked or something. I was going to avert my eyes, but I just couldn't do it. It was all too erotic. Especially with April in the room.

Elsewhere, the Shredder tromps through the underground in his Technodrome, a huge orb-shaped vehicle made of steel that in any other medium would make far too much noise and overall fuzz to pass unnoticed by the general public. While complaining to himself about the Turtles' victory over his mighty foot soldiers, he's summoned by someone into another room of the 'dome. whom?

It's Krang! Blow your trumpets, it's KRANG! My number one favorite TMNT character ever, probably in my top 5 villain characters ever, probably in my top 3 favorite character ever, definitely in my top 2 like-to-do-their-voices character of all time. Krang is an alien brain that was banished from it's home dimension (Dimension X) and stripped of it's body - he's teaming up with Shredder, helping him out with the eventual return favor of Shredder building him the body of his design. To date, Shredder has not kept up his part of the deal, partly because he's not sure he can trust a talking brain who gurgles a lot. I understand his convictions.

Shredder complains about his new adversaries, so Krang offers a solution as long as Shredder agrees to make him arms and legs soon. Oroku complies, and Krang's gem of wisdom is this: he used the mutagen to destroy Hamato, and instead, he gained the powers of rats. So why not grab a few goons, make them hang out with more powerful animals, and face the turtles with his own mutants? Shredder is both overjoyed with the brilliant suggestion and embarrassed that he didn't realize the obvious himself. Krang gurgles some more and hits a one-liner just so the audience understands that he's supposed to be funny gross, not scary gross. There's a fine line.

Those little androids I became so infatuated with after playing the TMNT Arcade Game invade a zoo to steal a warthog and a rhino. See where this is going? If you're a fan of the show, you should. If you don't, that means you're not a real fan, and that's something you're going to have to live with for the rest of your life. Sleep easy at night, sucker!

By the way, this must be the most unsuccessful zoo in history, since the only person there is an old man and his dog, both of whom hide under a bench when the robots appear. What is this an earthquake? Get out from under there, they can still shoot you, partner. The bots lasso the two animals using their weird electro-chords and make their way back to the Technodrome. Aside from the big gaping hole in the middle of the ground, they don't leave any tracks for police to pick up on.

Shredder sweet talks two of his punks into volunteering for an 'experiment.' Yes, those two punks are indeed Rocksteady and Bebop, pre-mutation. One thing I never understood: later in the series, whenever we saw the rest of the punks, they were in some sort of prison in the Technodrome. I always wondered what this meant - were they slaves, prisoners, or just not housebroken? Even more odd? In any episode that called for Rocksteady & Bebop to hook up with their old buddies, the punks weren't in the Technodrome. It's like the writers wanted to really mess with our heads without screwing up the schematics of the show too much. For all the geeky TMNT fare there is on the net, I haven't found one single FAQ that explains the mysteries of the TMNT punks. Help, someone...please?

The two future mutants wonder why they're being strapped up, wonder why there's a rhino and a warthog wandering around, wonder why Shredder's dressed up like a nuclear physicist, and wonder if that glowing pink stuff is edible. Shredder reassures them that the experiment will leave them powerful enough to get revenge on those four turtles who humiliated them earlier in the show. Oh yeah, somewhere during all this, Splinter made his way into the Technodrome and was captured by Shredder. I guess that's a pretty major plot point for me to be leaving out, but I just never got into that rat the way other people did. I found him to be, well, trite - a self-serving bastard, actually.

The Turtles make their way into the Technodrome to save Splinter, and in an extended action sequence, defeat a horde of weird androids that range from 2' tall to 20' tall with spider legs. Pretty cool sequence, one of the best in the entire series. When they reach Splinter, Shredder makes a bid for them to join him, explaining that they wouldn't be who they are if he didn't pour mutagen all over them. They aren't going for it, and Raphael insults him by asking if his name means he's a kitchen utensil. Cute. That's why I always liked Raph the best on the toon. Sure he had the shittiest weapon, but at least his jokes didn't always include pizza references or slapstick comedy. Anyway, they refuse Shredder's kind offer, prompting him to unleash his own mutants...

Meet Bebop and Rocksteady, as you always knew them. They charge at the Turtles, who jump out of their way, causing the two fools to smack heads and land unconscious. So much for that. This sets up 200,000 future episodes where the two goons act like idiots and do everything wrong - my favorite R&B moment? Shredder tells them to go check out the fission plant. Later, he contacts them, and they remark that they haven't had one bite, and they've been fishing for hours. Maybe you had to be there. It's funnier when you realize that right after this Rocksteady gets beamed aboard an alien spacecraft while Bebop's doing the 'don't do that to me!' dance.

The Shredder also uses this opportunity to call his two mutants 'fools' for the very first time. Landmark #664.

The Turtles save Splinter, and April has her news story - one that heralds the Turtles in as city saviors and all-around good guys. The day is done, the battle is won, but the war is far from over...they'll be plenty of more battles with Shredder and his goons in the future. Many more personalities introduced - guys in hockey masks, giant frogs, even a skateboarding gecko. But it all started here. For a first episode, I thought it was fantastic. It even holds up pretty well by today's standards, which of course are several times higher because cartoons are now mega intelligent beyond most of our intellectual capacities. Everything you know of TMNT - the show, toys, cards, movies, books, pies, stickers, everything - it all started right here. Except for the comic book. That was beforehand. Tee hee.

Just one last question - while the original Turtles figures looked a lot like their toon counterparts, why was Shredder all purple and blue? Did silver paint cost more? Was the metallic outfit just his formal ware? Shoot me an e-mail if you've got the scoop. Hope you enjoyed today's history lesson.

- Matt
AIM: xecharchar

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