REVIEW: Netflix’s ‘Carmen Sandiego’ is Just Okay

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Carmen Sandiago

Netflix’s first season of Carmen Sandiego sets up the back story on a retelling of our favorite cunning thief but misses the mark in holding our interests. Even with only nine episodes, each one close to 30 minutes, the storytelling is long and drags out from time to time. However, in the midst of a popular trend where antagonists become the heroes, Carmen Sandiego (Gina Rodriguez) fits right in.

While this retelling keeps the V.I.L.E. organization, Carmen Sandiego isn’t running it – she’s stealing from it. The first two episodes set up Carmen’s origin story and we learn why she is a cunning thief. Carmen’s backstory in this series is the common trope of a hero rising from harsh circumstances.

She is belittled by her teammates and consistently cut down by one of her teachers. Her final test to graduate V.I.L.E. Academy is sabotaged and she does not pass the official requirements to become an expert thief. In a twisted way, it’s very familiar to Luke Skywalker’s journey as a Jedi. He is belittled by his friends on Tatooine and Jedi Master Yoda tells him he is too old to be a Jedi – in Sandiego’s case, she’s too young to be a villain.

I have mixed feelings about her origin story. It’s an overused and often tiring way to elevate the main character. Carmen doesn’t need to be the “Black Sheep” (yes, that’s her literal code name) in order to have clout and merit in a story. On the other hand, I understand the importance of having characters in your life – especially as a kid – that overcome obstacles and difficulties and still obtain their goals.

Nevertheless, it’s a story that presents the main villains she will be facing throughout the series and an important set up to a potential next season. The villains she trains with are not one-sided and there is a complexity to their situation as a V.I.L.E. thieves.

To fail is one thing, but if you get caught – there are worse consequences. If they get caught, they are recalibrated. Crackle (Michael Goldsmith) runs into Carmen after his return to V.I.L.E. and does not recognize her. The true villains of the series are turning out to be the board of professors who train these thieves. It’s a fire that sparks Carmen’s nemeses into going after her. However, nothing is as it seems with these bad guys.

The animation is absolutely beautiful. Carmen’s distinguished red cape is at the center of it all with neutral colors adding to the luminance rather than clashing with it. There were some humorous moments in the episodes that got a laugh out of me and kept me tuned into the storyline even if I felt it was running slow.

It still keeps the tradition of providing facts about the world we live in. Carmen travels all over and throws in a few snippets of information – like Indonesia’s dependency on rice – each episode. She’s an advocate that reminds her friends that, even if something doesn’t directly affect us, it is important to get involved and help out.

Zack (Michael Hawley) and Ivy (Abby Trott) are cleverly put into the series to help Carmen or Player (Finn Wolfhard) explain the importance of the pieces they are recovering from V.I.L.E. Throughout each episode, you get to learn a bit of history whether you’re paying attention to it or not. While it was an obvious transition to me when these explanations would happen, I knew that there would be people asking why they should care about what was being stolen. There’s a healthy mix of action and history to keep the plot moving.

Carmen Sandiego makes it a point to teach that villains don’t often look like villains and heroes don’t look like heroes. All of these deep philosophical lessons that stem from a cartoon and the reiteration of them, while sometimes overbearing, beats it into your head that the world and the people in it are complex.

While it’s not a show I am particularly invested in, I do understand the importance of it. Kids are watching a lead who is Latina and voiced by a Latina as well. That representation is far more meaningful than how I perceive the show. It also has a good lesson for viewers: your environment does not dictate your future. Carmen was raised by villains, but she still walked away from that path.

It’s a show that also allows a look back to the game it is based on. Or the series Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego. A parent can see their child show interest in the series and introduce them to something that they grew up with.

The first season of Carmen Sandiego is available on Netflix. Let us know what you think about the show!

Carmen Sandiego
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    Rating - 5/10
5/10

TL;DR

It’s a show that also allows a look back to the game it is based on. Or the series Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego. A parent can see their child show interest in the series and introduce them to something that they grew up with.