Despite a longer run than its source material Teen Titans, which aired from 2003-2006, and ratings that rival those of broadcast television, it seems that Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans Go! can’t catch a break with the critics.
When I first heard that Teen Titans was going to be rebooted into an episodic, chibi-esque, slapstick comedy, I’ll admit I had my nostalgia phasers set to kill.
Teen Titans aired smack in the middle of my childhood and despite its young audience, offered to tell deep and meaningful stories about life and growing up. So, of course, hearing that there would be any kind of version that didn’t immediately jump on the opportunity to continue this was a bit of a shock. As much as I hate the term “ruined childhood,” it was hard to feel like this significant piece of it was not somehow tainted.
However, Teen Titans ended when I was 11. And Teen Titans Go! aired when I hadn’t even yet turned 18. How could my childhood have been ruined when I was technically still in it?
Jamie Gutfreund at Deep Focus calls this “early-onset nostalgia” and cites the wealth of information we have available on the internet as the reason, stating that has “compressed [consumers] sense of time.”
Further into Tanya Dua’s article, she goes into how nostalgia can be used by a brand to give a sense of authenticity and its importance to the company. Basically, when a company reaches back into its old stuff, what they’re saying is, “Look! We love what you used to love as a kid. That means we’re good people!” But changing and adapting the source material negates the authenticity that would be gained by using familiar material. This is why Teen Titans Go! sits so poorly with millennials.
I did a little bit of googling and the list of modernized adaptions of old work is much longer than one might think. A lifetime of consuming adapted media, in addition to early-onset nostalgia, has groomed millennials into considering old works as peak storytelling. And we enjoy the adapted works so much because we know that these are considered classic stories. However, many if not most of the original works on that list, have not been consumed by younger people. We simply know that a work is highly regarded, and because it has been adapted to our current tastes we enjoy it. But when we are actually familiar with the source material, our opinions toward the adaption change greatly.
Don’t Let Nostalgia Cloud Your Judgement
Really this is just good advice in general, but also important when considering the quality of TTG! Each review after review after review of this show cannot seem to separate the new material from the old. Of course, with reboots, it’s still important to compare the two. However, after watching the show myself I find it very unimportant to talk about Teen Titans when reviewing TTG!
When watching this show, it’s best to throw out all attachments and opinions on the original TT. Firstly, This show is vastly different than the original. The setting is the same but that’s about as far as you can go in terms of comparisons.
Robin has become a neurotic psychopath, often attacking innocent people and his own teammates. Cyborg and Beast Boy are often too dumb to count to 5, and Raven and Starfire’s backstories have no meaning in this timeline. The characters no longer fight crime and have become so mindless and ridiculous its laugh out loud funny.
As one user posted in one of the discussion boards linked above, “The mindless humor is popular with young kids, apparently” and then another user states, “It’s just the way children’s cartoons are going these days, or at least the vast majority of them. It’s easier to write 20+ episodes of lazy humor than to write 5 that are actually clever and thought through.”
But what I find interesting though is that TTG! does not seem like a show for children. The Titans often end up dying at the end of each episode, there is display of very dicey morals (on several occasions the Titans decide to become villains and terrorize the city just for fun), and the humor is quite unsettling as seen in this clip where Robin watches the show ALF.
TTG! feels much more like a PG-13 Rick and Morty (which despite the showrunners’ claims, is still pretty episodic) and in that sense seems to be written specifically for those of us who were children when the original TT aired, just clean enough to still air on Cartoon Network.
With that understanding, we need to throw out the idea that TTG! is a crappy knock-off of the original that has been dumbed down for today’s kids. It’s much too easy to believe that your generation had much more complex tastes than the newer one.
As adults, we shouldn’t be clamoring for a show that we enjoyed in third grade to come back. Instead, we should drop the biases we have due to nostalgia and this generational gate-keeping, and enjoy a show we loved as kids that has simply now been adapted to our more adult-senses of humor.