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How in the World Is 'Carmen Sandiego' This Good?

Why Netflix's 'Carmen Sandiego' is way better than it should be.

On today's episode of Netflix cartoons that are way better than they have any right be: Carmen Sandiego.

After Voltron, Castlevania, She-Ra and now Carmen Sandiego, I think it's fair to say that Netflix has somehow cracked the code on making cartoons out of 80s properties that have very little business even deserving reboots in the first place. Plus, with Castlevania, this now makes two shows adapting video games that are good. I think the closest Hollywood has come is Prince of Persia with Jack Gyllenhaal, so that's pretty impressive.

So how did we get here?

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? is a series of educational video games mostly for PC. I remember being really intrigued by the series as a kid. Carmen Sandiego has a cool name, a cooler outfit, and the coolest theme song. But when I actually tried to play a couple of the games, I got really bored. You don't get to play as Carmen, the "gameplay" is mostly just clicking on maps, and the game tries to teach you. Hard pass for me.

So flash forward to the show dropping on Netflix, and this time, I'm in. The show is completely focused on Carmen (you know, the title character), the animation style looks cool, and Finn Wolfhard is in it so that's enough for me to give it a try. My only question is:

How do you make a kid's show where the master criminal is the hero?

Easy. You make it about her stealing from worse criminals. This is actually well set up as the main villains V.I.L.E, a criminal organization pulled straight from the games. I honestly think this is the best way to make Carmen the hero.

So the show starts with a two-parter establishing Carmen's backstory. At first, I was like, really? She's a badass master thief with a cool outfit, what more do you need to know? But after watching it I was pleasantly surprised. The episode does a good job establishing the characters and setting up Carmen's motivation for switching to the side of good. The show even manages to throw in some fun facts organically through the story every now and then, keeping in the spirit of the original games. We are also introduced to Finn Wolfhard's character, the hacker kid from Kim Possible, codenamed: Player. (Do you get it? Like the player of a video game. Like the game this series is based on. Like Finn Wolfhard plays the player of the video game which is you. Do you get it?)

The third episode then establishes the formula for the series. V.I.L.E. is trying to steal something for evil and Carmen has to go to some remote part of the world to stop them. This episode gets a little weird when they first establish where they are going in the world, and then Wolfhard just gives an exposition dump of fun facts about that country. Yay. Learning. It's totally in line with the franchise, but it's so awkward it takes me completely out of the show. And then, they end up working most of the fun facts into the plot organically. So what was the point of learning them to me? Just have Wolfhard say, "Did you know, that rice is a food?" Problem solved.

They also bring in two randos that are part of Carmen's "team" with little introduction. I guess you need a Ron Stoppable to be relatable to the kids, but I was perfectly fine with just Carmen and Wolfhard's dynamic. That's really all you need.

I'm only a few episodes in but so far the show is really enjoyable. Carmen's characterization is really cool, and I like hearing Finn Wolfhard go through puberty. The animation style is really beautiful. There's a lot of hard geometric shapes that make action scenes fun and dynamic. If you're a fan of the Sandiego games, and even if you're not, I'd say check it out.

*Bad joke about how Netflix is where in the world Carmen Sandiego is.*

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