Ninja Turtles – The Next Mutation?
In 1997, the “Green Machine” returned to the small screen to “rock the town without bein’ seen” (thank you, Vanilla Ice). The live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were in homes across America, courtesy of Saban Entertainment. Although the planned fourth live-action film had fallen through, Saban Entertainment repurposed its proposed title into a brand new half-hour show Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation.
The show picked up with the brothers after the third feature film. The same train station was even used to make the audience believe that this was the next chapter in those on-screen adventures. But there were several noticeable differences. First, Shredder was absent for much of the series (though not dead, as was presumably the case at the end of Secret of the Ooze), turning over the duties of main villain to a new creation known as the Dragon Lord. Second the mysticism that was touched upon in the first and third films played a big role in many plot points of the series. Third, there was the introduction of a brand new female character: Venus de Milo. Fourth, there was the absence of TMNT staples April O’Neil and Casey Jones, as well as a call back to the censorship of Michelangelo’snunchaku (which were replaced with tonfas).
The show tried to introduce new elements that would reinvigorate the fans and maintain the popularity that had waned during the last few seasons of the 1987 animated series. These were done in a number of different ways, including a monumental crossover with the Power Rangers. The Power Rangers in Space episode “Shell Shocked” saw all five turtles brainwashed by the Power Rangers’ current foe, Astronema, who sent them to infiltrate the Rangers’ base (a giant orbiting spaceship). After the Turtles commandeer the ship the Rangers counteract the brainwashing, and the two teams fight together to foil Astronema’s plot. (The episode also ends with the first, last, and only time fans will see the live-action Ninja Turtles flying through space on hover boards – probably.)
If the series had been renewed for a second season, the show would have gone back to more of its roots. April and Casey would have returned; Shredder would have had a larger presence; and there was discussion about having someone close to the turtles die in an epic showdown (probably Master Splinter). However, the series barely made it past one season, and then the turtles were off the air until 2003.
The Next Mutation was, at best, a flop, despite being a loose continuation of the successful movie franchise. Venus de Milo wasn’t the amazing character Saban hoped she’d be, but she did have a profound effect on the mythos and the fans. Very rarely can a single character polarize a fan base as Venus did. Even though it was a failure, Next Mutation did try its best to add to the TMNT canon in significant ways. It was bold, daring, and would have drastically changed how the Ninja Turtles are perceived, had it succeeded. As “teenagers”, adding a girl turtle to the boys club certainly seemed like a worthwhile idea, and it could have created an interesting dynamic in future seasons (even if she is resoundingly denounced by TMNT creator Peter Laird).
Ultimately, fans have very different opinions on what they think of this particular series. Some loved it, some hated it, and some had genuinely forgotten it ever existed. Whichever camp an individual falls in, the show did exist and tried to be more than what it actually was. The Power Rangers team up was even a brilliant marketing strategy on the part of Saban Entertainment. The entire point of the episode was to build curiosity and hype for this series. With The Next Mutation starting the back half of its run, the best way to attract some new viewers would be to entice another show’s audience. (Though it could be argued that because The Next Mutation was a Saban property, it was already – and, possibly, only – getting the Power Rangers’ audience.) In the end, The Next Mutation will always be something talked about and best left for the forgotten television realm.