Is Carmen Sandiego good, or bad?
There are endless ways someone, fictional or not, can be defined within the broad categories of being ‘bad’ or ‘good’. Their words, thoughts, actions are major points that allow the viewer, along with other characters to gain an understanding of someone before them. And thus make the judgment if one believes they are good or bad.
Yet during the past three seasons of Netflix’s hit reboot of Carmen Sandiego we still see the characters in this world struggling to define our titular character of being a hero or a villain. Even as viewers watch along as the events unfold there are moments we might find ourselves siding with Devineaux’s remark in the season four trailer. Is Carmen good, or is she bad?
In June of 1985 the word was first asked the question “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” As a game of the same title released that placed the player in the mists of an action packed adventure as they used clues and deductive reasoning to track down and stop the good girl gone bad Carmen Sandiego. However, this educational game that let you experience world trotting proved to be thrilling as it resonated with fans and thus the brand grew. Over the years the series branched off into additional games as well as two live-action game shows that took the game off a board and into life.
But it wasn’t until the mid 90s did fans get to gain more understanding of the fedora wearing figure with the animated series “Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego.” This Saturday morning series ran for forty episodes and expanded on the lore and tales of Carmen Sandiego.
Normally once a series, especially one as sizable as Carmen, reaches the end of an animated series it does more often than not slowly becomes obscure and fades into the back. Yet this isn’t the case, Carmen Sandiego though not always front and center, kept her place in our minds and pop culture. The brand continued to make and release games for both educational and even leisure play across various means of play.
Despite all the games and series we have seen from this brand come, none have really dived in and asked just who is Carmen? Incarceration of her as poised her as an ace ACME agent who merely became disenchanted and unfazed with the mundane life of a hero and turned to the darker side for thrill. But that really doesn’t tell us who she is, really.
Thankfully Netflix was willing to take a look deeper into a villain we all knew and in January of 2019 as a new version of the story, told from Carmen’s view, emerged and introduced the world to the one and only Carmen Sandiego.
Set in modern day, the series keeps the heart of the previous tales and brings back an array of familiar faces fans recall and might have even forgotten. And it is glorious.
The core and driving force of the story is Carmen herself. In the two-part opener fans are not only introduced to our protagonist but gain an understanding of her past, and what led her to become who the world knows her as. Found as a baby alone in Buenos Aires, she is taken in by a faculty member of VILE and raised on a remote island by an electric family of villains who teach her the ways of villainy. Wanting to join the ‘family business’ Carmen- better known at the time as Black Sheep- trains to join the ranks. But once she comes to the cold, harsh reality of what said business is and what lines she would be forced to cross, she resolves to leave and do whatever it takes to stop VILE.
Before the actual events of the series, later told in flashbacks, she forms a team that becomes a team of her own. Siblings Zack and Ivy serve as her backup and infield support, as well as comic relief. From his room in Canada is perhaps one of the most critical facets of the team in Player. A teen who works behind the scenes to aid Carmen in all of her missions (akin to Wade in Disney’s Kim Possible series.).
The team does receive an addition at the end of the first season when (former) VILE member Shandowsan (feel like it should really be Shandow-san, because Japanese honorifics.) proves his true loyalty to Carmen. After his betrayal being known to the rest of the organization his efforts with them are severed as he moves forward with Carmen’s quest to stop VILE and uncover the truth about her past.
In addition to these core five characters, the series also gives features to the other members of VILE as well as several key players from ACME as both parties set out to stop Carmen and bring her in for themselves. And in the latter’s case understand where the antihero alliance is- with the side of good or evil.
The series follows Carmen and her team traveling the world to stay one step ahead of VILE. Even often going to the point of stealing the target before their enemies and ensuring it’s safety. And naturally sabotage VILE as much as they can to put an end to them. Following Shadowsan’s revelation of Carmen’s past, they set out to discover the truth- and her mother.
Overall the series seems fairly episodic, yet though every episode and each season the lines of an on-going arc do become stronger as we dive deeper into Carmen’s quest and even the character development. The series does keep the same heart of the previous incarnations of the story as there is a heavy focus on world geography and world cultures. Arguably there are some instances when we have the characters talking about what you could call facts or trivia on the location where it feels a bit like an information dump.
Similar vein of Disney’s current reboot of the classic series DuckTales, Carmen takes a similar approach as it really does core in on family. How we define it, who we can count as family and often just how messy and even toxic relationships can be. We see the twisted of ‘I love you, but do as I say’ Carmen gets from VILE, more specifically Coach who wants her Black Sheep back. Shadowsan’s complicated relationship with his older brother. Zack and Ivy’s back and forth sibling rivalry. The strong bond of our core five form as time progresses and despite there being no blood just how critical they are to one another.
The series does great character development, proves a lot of action and heart and goes to prove not only is there a clear way to reboot a series well but you can make a series with education good and get kids and adults to enjoy it.
Carmen Sandiego feels like what a modern take on a Kim Possible should feel like. This series hits all the notes that Disney’s live-action film from 2019 missed. And as someone who did grow up with the original Carmen, this feels like a natural transition into present day.
As for the question I proposed at the start, Carmen is she good or bad. Well, that depends on you. She’s a thief who steals from other thieves in the name of good on her own terms. And her story is about to conclude with the final season dropping on Netflix on January 15th. Stay turned here at BSCKids as we give into Carmen’s final act.