You know, despite being a crazy Transformers fan, I have never really watched Transformers Prime. It was a Transformers subgenre that I was willing to let slide, that it was just for the kids. I know some young collectors who swear by Prime, and they were constantly trying to get me to watch. That’s cool, I thought. Transformers is for a younger generation, and this probably isn’t for me. The Transformers message board thread I follow seemed to find Prime rather boring, which was a bad sign. (Of course, that same message board also were rabid fans of the Transformers Animated series, something I didn’t care too much about.) Besides, I didn’t have The Hub or Netflix, so it’s not like I couldn’t watch any of the episodes easily.
Then, one day, I was downloading some G1 Season One episodes on my iTunes, and Episode 1 of Transformers Prime was featured as a recommendation. “Eh, why not?” I said, clicking onto the preview link. All it took for me was to hear Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime again. That is literally all it took to get me to devour the first five episodes (a story arc called “Darkness Rising”).
It turns out that Peter Cullen wasn’t the only voice actor returning. Frank Welker is also back as the voice of Megatron. Seriously, if I’d known this four years ago, I would’ve rung up Comcast and go, “YO! Get me the Hub, yo!” I suspect, given the other programming on that network, that nostalgia hungry 30 to 40 somethings are their prime market, actually. Another thing I’d also heard was that Mark Hamill was the voice of Ratchet. Luke Skywalker doing the voice of my favorite Transformer doctor? Hell, yeah, I thought. Well, it turns out those rumors were wrong. Because it wasn’t Mark Hamill doing Ratchet’s voice. It was JEFFREY M********ING COMBS. That’s right, the G*******ED Question himself. And I was like… Oh my God. OH MY GOD. That’s the sort of stellar voice acting roster you can expect when flippin’ Arcee (Susie Blu) is the voice director.
Plus, Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman are involved. Some consider these two marked men for working with Michael Bay on the Transformers movies. However, these two have a great track record. They did a good job on the rebooted Star Trek movie, and their TV show Sleepy Hollow defied everyone’s low expectations. The two specialize in taking concepts that some find absolutely unworkable and spinning the idea into gold. (The Transformers seems like a sure-fire movie formula now, but do you know many people thought it would fail? A LOT of people. And I think we have to thank Orci and Kurtzman for keeping things fairly fast-paced and fun.)
So yeah, enough gushing about the production staff! Let’s get to the things I really liked about the show. I like how it brought everything back to a G1 setting: the blasted desert mesas of the southwestern US. The Autobots are once again living in a computerized base under a mountain. There’s a twist, though. This isn’t the crash-landed Ark. This is a government facility on loan for the robots to do their secret operations in hunting down Deceptions who might threaten Earth. This establishes two things: 1.) the government is already aware of the existence of Transformers but isn’t willing to make their presence public knowledge, and 2.) there’s a great reason for the robots to be in disguise. (Despite the classic theme song, there was no reason why the Transformers had to adopt a disguise in the G1 cartoon. All the world’s governments pretty much knew and approved of their existence by the end of the third episode.)
Every piece of Transformers fiction has the human sidekick characters. In this cartoon, there are three. There’s Miko, a psycho Japanese girl whose very heritage makes her a big fan of giant fighting robots. There’s Raph, a bespectacled nerd whose nerdiness means he can talk to computers. And then there’s Jack who… has a pretty suspect relationship with Arcee. Seriously, his interactions with the Transformers’ most visible female robot can best be described as flirty. I mean… there’s even a scene where Arcee’s dying, Jack touches her hand, and she’s revived by the power of love. This is… a little creepy, mainly because Arcee is three times taller than him, a robot, and is presumably several millennia older. And he sits on her. A lot. And screams while doing it.
Anyway, Prime assembled pretty much my dream Transformers roster of Optimus, Ratchet, Arcee, and Bumblebee (who is the somewhat mute Bay version, but cuter). The wild-card here is Bulkhead, imported from the Animated series, who’s sorta filling the Ironhide role as the team’s muscle. He’s bigger and cuddlier, though, sort of the team’s gentle giant.
As for the Decepticons… well, it’s early yet. We haven’t been introduced to many. The standout is the new verison of Soundwave, who looks way more the Decepticon logo than he ever has before. I love that he’s mute and can only talk in soundclips recorded from other robots. He comes equipped with an awesome drone who might be Ratbat or Laserbeak. The scene where this drone chases down a government helicopter is probably my favorite scene thus far. It’s eerie and alien, emitting cooing noises while barely changing shape from a rigid arrowhead.
I’m not sold on Steve Blum’s voice as Starscream yet. Rather than the familiar high-pitched whine, Blum voices him as a hunchback. His relationship with Megatron, though, is perfect. Starscream is a pretty competent commander, getting the jump on poor Cliffjumper in the early goings. He even has a functioning energon mine that he’s later forced to blow up on Megatron’s orders. Still, while he has the desire, he’s clearly not leadership material. When Megatron appears, he’s ready to tow the line. He follows orders like a good soldier, but he clearly chafes at being pushed around.
The story is a typical zombie one, but with a twist: they’re being revived by Dark Energon. What’s that, you ask? Only the essence of Unicron, my friends! I don’t know why the comics have been shying from Unicron lately, as having a Transformer who makes the Autobot/Decepticon battle look like a minor slapfight has been one of my favorite all time Transformer concepts. Anyway, Megatron injests that essence because he’s totally crazy and because he wants to command a zombie robot army to take over earth.
All in all, I had fun watching these five episodes. It left me wanting more. And… dare I say it? … the kids these days are getting a far superior Transformers show that I was getting in the mid-80’s.