Based off of the edutainment franchise of the same name, Netflix’s newly released “Carmen Sandiego” revamps the eponymous character from a gentlewoman-thief to a classy version of Robin Hood. Voiced by Gina Rodriguez of “Jane the Virgin” fame, the series starts with a two-partner flashback to Car- men’s childhood on the Isle of VILE and the events that led to her defection from VILE and decision to take them down.
Carmen Sandiego or “Black Sheep,” as she’s originally known, was found on the side of the road as a baby in Argentina and brought to the Isle of VILE, where she was raised in a school for thieves. In the flashback of the first episode, Black Sheep finally gets the chance to officially attend the Academy to become a thief for VILE.
However, her failure in her final pickpocketing exam means she is unable to graduate and become an official VILE operative. Her attempts to join a heist end up reveal- ing to her the true nature of VILE and how ruthless they actually are. Unwilling to harm innocent people, Black Sheep escapes from VILE and decides to become the one who will take them down: Carmen Sandiego.
The rest of the season follows Carmen foiling VILE’s schemes with the help of Player, a mysterious “white-hat hacker,” and Zack and Ivy, a brother-sister duo who helps Carmen’s
numerous capers. Law enforcement agents Chase Devineaux and Julia Argent star in their
own storyline in their attempts to catch Carmen. The show also gives an updated look on VILE as they send out multiple operatives to deal with Carmen.
Despite the immediate creation of interesting story arcs, the show ignores them in favor of a generic “mystery of the week” style, with two-thirds of the episodes focusing on an ultimately pointless heist and largely ignoring the stronger story arcs going on in the background. The edutainment aspect of the show seems forced, with Carmen and Player heavy-handedly discussing trivia facts about the location the team ends up this week.
However, each location is beautifully animated, along with the rest of the show. Each location is distinctly different from the others, with the animators bringing each new setting to life. Character designs are unique and striking, with each character boasting an individualized design. The designs give the characters plenty of characterization without them ever saying a word.
Character depths vary among the cast, with multiple members of the main cast feeling less defined than others. Characters like Paper Star and Pilar Marquez, who only appear in one episode each, are given more of a personality and characterization than main characters Ivy and Zack. While Carmen herself is characterized well enough, her motivations and reasons for her behavior are often hazy and seem forced.
The show finally finds its footing when it begins to tie previous episodes together and ramps up the tension. The last three episodes of the season shake up the formula by presenting Carmen with a real threat and allowing VILE to get a step ahead of her. They bring back a character from the first part of the series, allowing the dynamic they’d originally wanted to shine through far more naturally than it had.
The season’s finale ramps up the tension and shows exactly why VILE is such a big threat and brings back the question of Carmen’s past, ending the season on a strong note.
Overall, Carmen Sandiego has a clumsy beginning but seems to get a better grasp of the type of story it wants to tell towards the end of the season. With a second season officially confirmed, it remains to be seen if “Carmen Sandiego” will play to the potential it has displayed thus far.
Final Score: 3/5