Illustration: Jim Cooke (GMG)

A look at the awful children’s programming you’re forced to endure before you can finally kick the kids out of the TV room to watch sports for eight hours.

The Show

Transformers Prime

The Theme Song

DUHHHHHH

duh nuh nuh nuh nuhhhhhhhhh

DUH nuh nuh nuh nuhhhhhhhhh

duh nuh nuh nuh NUHHHHHHHHH

NUHHHHHHHHHHH

NUH!

The Mythology

I’m gonna keep this relatively simple because Transformers, like Pirates of the Caribbean, is one of those pop culture properties that was adapted from a commercial product and then saddled with a mythology so hilariously byzantine and needless that you’d have an easier time mapping out an Alabama family tree. I could explain The Original Primes to you. I could explain how Optimus Prime was once Orion Pax. I could try to explain how the space bridge works. I could get into the Matrix of Leadership and the power it confers upon its rightful owner. But really, you just came here for the big-ass robots, right? If you, a grown parent, take ANY of this shit seriously, I want you monitored.

So here it is in more digestible form: Once upon a time, there was a planet named Cybertron, where cybernetic organisms (LIVING ROBOTS!) lived together in relative peace and harmony, until war broke out between rival factions of AUTOBOTS (good but boring) and DECEPTICONS (bad but infinitely cooler). The war essentially destroyed that planet and drained it of the precious fuel known as Energon, a made-up element whose name even James Cameron finds uncreative. There’s also a Dark Energon, but whatever. ENERGON. It’s important shit.

As refugees from their home planet, these cybernetic organisms stumble upon a planet called Earth, the core of which is MADE of energon (NOTE: This is not true. The core of earth is made of iron, nickel, and trace amounts of gold, which is why the current U.S. Department of the Interior would like to open it to drilling).

The problem is that Earth happens to be populated by non-cybernetic organisms (Netic?) called … gasp! ... humans. The Decepticons would like the humans destroyed so they can get at that sweet, sweet Energon filling. The Autobots LIKE the humans and want to protect Earth, and here is where the entire concept becomes misguided. Because honestly, what alien with a brain is gonna defend US? Have you met us? We fucking suck. And we’re tiny. The Transformers are like 20 feet high. When I see a bunch of ants on my patio, I don’t work WITH those ants to make that patio a better place. I stomp the fuck out of them. The Autobots are complete saps and the Decepticons have the right idea. Take us, Megatron. Force us to do your bidding at laser-point and drink of the candy-like energon reserves below!

Advertisement

Oh, and the alien robots transform into Earth-like vehicles and ships, because that makes sense.

Episode Format

Transformers Prime tends to come in clusters of multi-episode arcs, with each cluster being its own kind of low-rent installment of the Michael Bay movie franchise. Sometimes the Decepticons cook up an evil plan to steal all the Energon. Sometimes an interloper like Unicron comes along and forces the Autobots and Decepticons to … ZOMG … join forces. Sometimes an Autobot gets kidnapped, even brainwashed, and the other uptight Autobots have to go rescue him.

Advertisement

But no matter what, our story almost always ends with Optimus Prime and Megatron squaring off one-on-one. Then Optimus Prime says ONE SHALL STAND, ONE SHALL FALL, and then somehow that prophecy only goes temporarily fulfilled. The dude who falls always get back up. If you find yourself sad because Prime dies in an episode (and I was GUTTED when this happened in the original animated film), don’t worry. He’ll be back, and he’ll be duller than ever.

Characters

Optimus Prime: Leader of the Autobots. Utterly humorless. Turns into a truck even though he can run just as fast in robot form. Talks in turgid, boring President-ese. “We must protect our human friends.” Supposedly a brilliant military commander even though he brings literal human children along on missions into deep space. When I was a kid, Prime had a faceplate over his mouth, so you never saw his robot lips. They don’t always do that here. Sometimes you see his mouth, and honestly it sucks. Yes, I am the fanboy who is ruined by the smallest of tweaks to the central mythology.

Advertisement

Optimus Prime has been voiced by actor Peter Cullen, who in real life looks like he wants to tie a damsel down to a railroad track, over the span of four decades. What a sweet, sweet gig. This guy hasn’t had to wear pants to work in YEARS.

Megatron: Leader of the Decepticons. TOTAL FUCKING BADASS. I might even go out on a limb and say the Prime version of Megatron is better than any other version of him throughout history, even the OG pistol version of Megatron that I once owned and couldn’t transform worth a lick and is probably worth a cool $5,000 today. Damn. Megatron is ruthless and evil and I would have a beer with him over lame-ass Prime any day of the week. CHOKE ME DADDY.

Starscream: Oily second-in-command Decepticon who is always scheming up ways to usurp Megatron and take over as leader despite the fact that he just turns into a little plane. Starscream is, without question, the best drawn character in the Transformers universe. He’s a craven, simpering coward who lies at will, plays both sides, and only has his best interests at heart. He would win Indiana by 20 points if he ran for President.

Advertisement

Bumblebee: Little yellow Transformer who talks in botched Vocoder. Let me pause here to note that Transformers Prime is a deathly serious affair. The music is serious. The dialogue is graver than Patton. Everything is treated like life or death, which is both charming and hilarious. And what’s even better is that all of the Transformers have colossally stupid names. So when Optimus Prime says “Bumblebee” with the most solemn intonation possible, I die. “You served with honor today … BUMBLEBEE.” You’re talking to a fucking Camaro, guy!

Unicron: Entire planet that transforms into a robot. You might remember Unicron from the original Transformers animated film, where he was voiced by Orson Welles in Welles’s final film performance. I cannot even imagine how drunk Welles was in the voice booth. You can smell the gin fumes from the screen! Anyway, Unicron is fucking awesome and I wish he’d devour us all. In this show, Unicron is so huge that he sends miniature avatars of himself to wreck everyone. Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized Unicrons or a Unicron-sized duck? Think about it.

Advertisement

Ratchet: Another Autobot. Usually has to do all the legwork because Optimus Prime is stuck in a bear trap somewhere.

Bulkhead: Autobot, only fat.

Agent Fowler: Human law enforcement official who somehow thinks he has the right to boss the Autobots around like he’s an ‘80s movie police chief. DAMMIT OPTIMUS THIS ISN’T THE TIME. I GOT A MEETING WITH MY DIVORCE LAWYER AT FOUR.

Advertisement

Soundwave: Badass minion of Megatron who in the original series used to talk with this awesome effect in his voice. “Laserbeak, EJECT.” So fucking sweet. Anyway, this version of Soundwave doesn’t talk. He’s faceless, kinda of Cobra Commander with an autoplay function.

Shockwave: The other Soundwave. Has one eye.

Ultra Magnus: Bumbling substitute teacher for the Autobots who gets to be in charge whenever Optimus Prime is trapped at the bottom of a well. What’s great about Ultra Magnus, apart from nothing, is that the creators of this show stayed true to the original vision of Magnus having shoulders that are two feet too high.

Advertisement

LOL. Nice shoulder pads, dipshit. I bet you were one hot ticket back in 1995.

Airachnid. A spiderbot! And she’s a lady! Her webs are both literal AND psychological!

Advertisement

Predacons. Prehistoric transformers who get resurrected by Megatron so that he can do bad shit, only they have a mind of their own. Please do not get these confused with the Dinobots, who were far more charming and far stupider. ME GRIMLOCK WONDER WHAT HAPPEN IF EAT TELEPHONE WIRE!

Raf. Very small child who somehow gets roped into every single one of the Autobots’ adventures even though he’s a small child and therefore useless apart from speaking fluent Bumblebee-ese. But sure yeah, let’s invite a fucking sixth grader to join us in going through a galactic wormhole to check out a dessicated technoplanet together. What could go wrong?

Jack: Angry teen who has to be talked into helping the Autobots, like he’s doing them a goddamn favor. You know what, kid? Stay home. Smoke a pack and jerk off. They can find the Energon without you.

Advertisement

June Darby: Raf and Jack’s mom. Not into this whole partying with homicidal robots shit.

Miko: Exchange student kid who also gets to tag along, because why endanger the life of one human child when you can endanger three of them?

Best Episode

There’s a whole storyline where Optimus Prime get soap opera-style amnesia and becomes Orion Pax, the no-name robot pud Optimus used to be before he became the Last of the Primes (please don’t ask me to explain this). Then, he gets brainwashed into serving Megatron. Then everyone freaks out because WHAAAAAA???!!!!

Advertisement

Worst Episode

Any episode where Megatron or Unicron aren’t around for extended stretches. Don’t deprive me of my big bad robot boys.

Pros

This is the best show my son watches and it’s not even close, really. I mean, between this and Power Rangers, I hope the Transformers eat the Power Rangers and then shit out pastel motor oil. In fact, I’m gonna go even further and tell you that Transformers Prime is better than the Michael Bay movies. The animation is very good. The battle sequences are shockingly coherent. And I’m not stuck in a theater feeling like someone hucked fistfuls of gravel at me for 150 minutes. And NO Marky Mark! What’s not to love, I ask?

Advertisement

Cons

The toys. There are a zillion different Transformers toys now, and they come in two distinct varieties:

1. Utterly impossible to transform without breaking something

2. So easy to transform you feel like you got assigned to wood shop

Fuck those toys, man. Don’t be asking daddy to transform your shit for you, kid. There’s only one Transformer I’m interested in:

Illustration: The New Yorker

Advertisement