Even among the select group of 40-something nerds who cherish even the awful content of our youths, there are not many who remember the short-lived cartoon Turbo Teen. This is a good thing. Its premise was lazy at best—a teen named Bret who can transform into a sports car—and executed horrifically, as Bret’s body shatters and stretches into a nightmare that eventually becomes a car. It looks like some Hellraiser Cenobite torture experiment. But hey, see for yourself:
I’ve had Turbo Teen on my list of shows to give the “Worst Episode Ever” treatment for years, assuming, like most of my other entries, I could research which episode was the worst without watching multiple episodes. However, as I said, Turbo Teen has been almost entirely forgotten. So I subjected myself to hours of this horrible, horrible cartoon for this article, and I can say with some authority that all 13 episodes of Turbo Teen are tied for Worst. They suck. They’re all dumb as rocks, insultingly written, lazily animated, and made by people who didn’t even pretend to care. All that said, “Video Venger” was the episode that made me the angriest, so here we are.
First, some basics. The rules of Bret’s transformation are that he turns into a car when he’s hot and turns back into a human when he’s cold. Turbo Teen ignores these rules ceaselessly. He has a girlfriend named Pattie and a friend/mechanic named Alex, and sometimes they’re chased by a mysterious “Dark Rider” who drives a monster truck that the teens constantly let sneak up on them because they’re idiots.
Dark Rider doesn’t show up in “Video Venger,” which is good for Bret because he and his pals are facing an even bigger group of idiots led by a Major who’s attempting the stupidest coup of the United States imaginable. For starters, he had his men create the arcade game Video Venger to use the vehicles to design real vehicles and I already have to stop because this is unfathomable. The Major made an arcade game, which required someone to design the vehicles in the game, shipped that game to an actual arcade for some reason, and then used the game to serve as the inspiration for his war machines. Everything about the game was wholly unnecessary, and what’s worse is that this is a video game from 1982 so the “designs” are made up of like 30 monochrome pixels.
Bret, Pattie, and Alex are playing Video Venger at the arcade when some kid somehow accidentally manages to throw a slice of pizza on Bret’s head, making him “hot.” Now, in many of the episodes of Turbo Teen, it is imperative that no one find out about his dark secret. In this episode, he turns into a sports car in an arcade full of people and has Alex plug one of his wires into the game to play it. (This wire is obviously an auxiliary cord and could do no such thing.) But instead of playing the game, Bret manages to control one of the Major’s real vehicles—a tank with a giant drill on it—and crash it into the arcade. That seems like a pretty major bug, especially since the Major “supposedly” wants to keep his coup secret until he’s ready to attack.
I say “supposedly” because he sends even more drill tanks to chase Bret as he drives off in car form with his friends. Now I need to break down a scene that perfectly encapsulates everything that sucks about Turbo Teen:
- Brett, being chased by three drill tanks, drives onto an elevated, unfinished highway, to Pattie’s concern. The three tanks follow them.
- The highway splits into three roads. Brett goes straight. One tank goes straight. The other two take the side paths and are never seen again.
- Bret spots two drill tanks driving towards him from the opposite direction even though this has been clearly stated to be an unfinished highway. Bret simply does a side wheelie and drives in between them, because he can do that. The two tanks crash into the solitary tank chasing the car.
- Bret drives off the edge of the unfinished highway that the two tanks couldn’t possibly have come from and is totally fine because Turbo Teen has rockets and has always had rockets and Pattie never needed to be worried and also Bret could have literally flown away from all of this at any point.
Afterward, the Major receives a fax revealing that Bret is the owner of the car and also provides the address of the hotel he is currently staying at, which is not a thing. He then declares the car is the only obstacle that can stop him from taking over the United States, which is patently untrue, and sends his troops to the hotel to destroy the car and further expose his plan.
At the hotel, Bret has spilled a cup of coffee on himself, turned into a car, and driven onto the hotel room’s balcony so his parents won’t find out about his secret, which looks like this:
This, unsurprisingly, allows the Major’s troops to spot him but after driving through the hotel and using the elevators in car form, Bret is able to wreck the soldiers’ three jeeps. As the Major’s men run off, Pattie discovers a clue—the license plate on the jeep has a frame advertising Smilin’ Sam’s Used Cars, because that is a place where the U.S. government sells its military vehicles when it no longer has a use for them.
To Bret’s chagrin, Pattie and Alex sell him to Sam as a wholly unnecessary ploy to snoop around the used car lot. Sure enough, Sam is in league with the Major for some godforsaken reason, information that doesn’t end up benefitting the trio all. Instead, the Major sends a Chomper, a vehicle with a large face designed to crush things but also designed in such a way that things would literally need to be placed inside the jaw to be crushed.
Alex and Pattie are fearful, despite the fact that Bret can fly away in any direction at any time. Instead, he drives onto a crane that drops a series of steel beams on the Chomper, only two of which land on it. Sifting through the wreckage, Alex finds a remote-control device he thinks he can use to find the Major’s operation and places it in Bret’s glove compartment, which somehow gives the Major the ability to control Bret, which is not how anything works.
Here’s the Major’s cunning plan to destroy Turbo Teen: have him drive into a mound of toxic waste barrels on the Major’s own military base. Why does he have barrels full of toxic waste? Might spilling a large amount of toxic waste in his center of operations be a problem? Don’t you worry, because instead of crashing, Pattie pulls down a water tower with a grappling hook, spilling the water on Bret, reverting him to a human before impact. This happens in full view of the Major’s soldiers who do nothing and say nothing to their commander about it, while the Major never bothers to check if his plan succeeded. Also, a teenager pulled down a water tower with a rope and her bare hands.
Bret, Pattie, and Alex disguise themselves in military uniforms, which makes them look like kids in military uniforms and not soldiers, and sneak into the base’s control room. There, tech whiz Alex presses a single button he thinks will somehow stop the Major’s entire operation. Instead, it drops a net on them because the Major had positioned a net in his command center in that exact location for reasons, those reasons being no one making this cartoon gave a shit. The teens are sent through into a jail cell whose bars are so wide a guard walks through them.
I’m so angry.
With the teens out of the way, the Major launches his cunning plan to take over the United States, which consists of using his three tanks with freeze rays to ice over the White House, and then… nothing. There will be ice on the White House. No one inside will be harmed. Lines of communication will not be cut. No vacuum of power will be created. The president will still be able to contact the vast forces of the U.S. military and direct them to stop the man who thinks he can install himself as dictator with three freeze ray tanks and a jeep. In retrospect, perhaps wrecking all of his drill tanks and Chomper in an attempt to destroy a sports car instead of joining his assault was a poor tactical decision.
Honestly, making the White Cold isn’t even the Major’s favorite part of the plan. Instead, it’s freezing the Potomac River so his mighty forces can drive over it as opposed to using the countless bridges that span it. When Turbo Teen and his friends inevitably escape from the cell and give chase, he’s faced with the dilemma of how to cross the frozen river without becoming cold. Bret’s solution is to fly into the air and land on a forklift carrying wooden crates that appears out of literally nowhere in such a fashion that wooden slats magically glue themselves to the bottom of his tires in such a way that he can still spin his wheels and drive without them moving, ignoring all laws of physics and common sense and decency.
Bret jets around one of the freeze tanks while it’s on the river, causing the ice to melt around it, sinking it. The two remaining tanks give chase, cornering the car inside the Lincoln Memorial. Here, the true nightmare begins.
Inside the monument, the freeze tank makes a patch of ice on the ground, which Turbo Teen drives over but inexplicably does not turn him back into a human. Instead, he slides to the edge of the memorial where his front end hangs off the edge. Helpfully turning around in-between shots while somehow remaining stuck, the car is blasted by a freeze ray. And, despite the fact that a slice of pizza landing on his head and spilling some hot chocolate on his shirt turned him wholly into a car, this time the cold only turns his top half human, creating this abomination:
Think about this crime against god and man. Think about his flesh, stretching grotesquely out to the width of a car. Think about the intestines being widened into inhuman proportions to form the car’s interior. And then, think about how Bret has to crawl out of the Lincoln Memorial with his goddamn hands, dragging his metal, 1,000-lb ass and the pain it must cause him. In his exertion, he sweats enough to turn into a full car again, even though I watched an episode where he was hanging out in a desert during the summer and was fine.
Meanwhile, the Major has indeed put a thin layer of ice over the White House, possibly icing its doors and windows shut for a couple of hours. But then Turbo Teen drives between the two tanks, causing them to freeze each other. When the Major tries to escape, Alex grabs an icicle and uses Bret’s seatbelt to launch it into the traitor’s jeep’s tire, popping it, in a final, contemptuous insult to the laws of physics.
The final scene is of the President of the United States of America giving Bret, Pattie, Alex, and their dog each a Medal of Freedom for “bravery going above and beyond the call of duty.” Then Bret has the gall—the fucking gall—to ask for a second medal for “a friend” as if they were tote bags being given out at an anime convention. And what’s worse is that Bret clearly wants a second medal for his car form which is so messed up on so many levels I can’t stand it.
Guys, please believe me that the episode is far, far stupider than I’ve made it sound. I’ve left things out. If you’re wondering why I have spent so much time and emotional energy hating a children’s cartoon which is literally 40 years old, 1) this is more or less what I’m paid to do, and 2) I have a belief that not everyone shares, and it’s this: Just because it’s kid’s entertainment, that doesn’t mean it needs to be moronic. These animators could have made a cartoon about a kid who turns into a car that followed its own rules, that wasn’t so lazily plotted it’s like the writers had short-term memory loss, and made an attempt to put its ridiculous premise in a bare semblance of reality. But they didn’t. Turbo Teen has nothing but contempt for its young audience, and it deserves to be scorned for that. I just happen to be late to the game.
- Take a look at the video game screen. It’s clearly a game where you try to destroy the White House, which is pretty messed up. It’s even weirder that Alex has somehow managed to miss the stationary building with all six of his vehicles. Also, please note that none of the vehicles EVEN REMOTELY LOOK LIKE THE VEHICLES THE MAJOR HAS BUILT NOT A SINGLE ONE
- Bret spills hot chocolate on himself and turns into a car. But drinking hot chocolate is apparently fine. This show sucks.
- There’s a moment where a guy kicks Bret’s tire while he’s in the used car lot, and Bret says, “Ow!” The ramifications of this are horrifying.
- The specific reason Bret hides on the hotel balcony is because his parents want to retrieve their toothbrushes from the room Bret and his friends seem to be staying in together. Guys? Why were the parents’ toothbrushes in their son’s room? What reason would they have needed to brush their teeth there instead of in their own room? Where are they taking their toothbrushes now, and why do they need them so suddenly? I desperately wish I could stop thinking about this.
- Honestly, I should have probably just posted this screenshot of how the animators drew this guy holding a piece of pizza like a lunatic and saved us all a lot of time.
Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel and Star Wars releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about House of the Dragon and Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.