Growing up in the 90s, Carmen Sandiego was among my favorite characters. With a killer red ensemble and an even better theme song, it was hard to not take notice of this femme fatale. There were game shows, an animated series, video games, and other media; but things had been rather quiet for the titular thief in the early 2000s until Netflix announced a new animated series in 2017. Last week, the long awaited show premiered and I was curious how Netflix would handle the origins of the iconic thief with so many conflicting backstories from the various iterations of the franchise.
Weirdly enough, the answer is by using almost everything.
When the trailer first dropped, some voiced their concern that Carmen would be an anti hero rather than a slick thief who enjoyed the challenge of the heist. Watching the show, however, the show creates a more fully realized character in Carmen. Instead of being cool due to her air of mystery, we get to know who Carmen Sandiego is instead of second hand rumors and hearsay that we had been given in previous incarnations. What we learn about her simply reinforces how skilled she is instead of detracting from that. The first two episodes of the nine episode first season focus on Carmen’s origins growing up amongst V.I.L.E’s elite criminals, her eventual rejection of their criminal organization, and set up some questions about Carmen’s past that become key later in the series. Despite Carmen’s popularity, she has never been the lead character in any of her shows and the set up provided by this incarnation is both refreshing and needed to drive a narrative that is now focused on her. With Carmen Sandiego at the center of the mystery of her own past, Gina Rodriguez brings the necessary spectrum of emotion to the role which bodes well for the future live action movie Netflix has also announced.
While some choices are new to this series, there are plenty of references for long time fans. If you have warm memories of the game show, A.C.M.E’s Chief makes a glorious reappearance. In reference to the original actress, the late Lynne Thigpen, The Chief is an older black woman with white hair (in what I hope is a nod to how Thigpen would have been seventy this year). Also returning is the edutainment aspect with Carmen and her cohorts often discussing notable aspects from the countries they are visiting that later prove to be necessary to the heist. From the original series, “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”, Ivy and Zach make a reappearance but are now working with Carmen Sandiego instead of attempting to take her down. The references to the games are almost innumerable. With a White Hat Hacker called “Player” to the Inspector Clouseau-esque Detective Chase Devineaux who tends to spout many of Carmen Sandiego’s video game backstories as his theories. For those worried that this adaptation strays too far from the other series, it is apparent in every choice the production staff has made that their respect and knowledge for Carmen is at the core of their team.
I feel I could go on even more about this adaptation but perhaps that would be a disservice to it. This show is a love letter to the Carmen Sandiego franchise while using that foundation to create something bold and new. With gorgeous animation and cohesive story, I am definitely intrigued to see what the future holds for the next season of this show.
Who knew that asking “Who is Carmen Sandiego?” was the push this franchise needed to welcome it to the modern era?
-Stephanie Groce, Dame Patrol Host