Appellate Judge Mac McEntire thinks the next season should be set on Mars and be called Total Recall Drama Island.
Dear mom and dad, I'm doing fine
A group of contestants are placed in a remote location, with cameras filming their every move. Every couple of days, they must vote out one of their own. The last one remaining takes home an enormous cash prize. The contestants compete in a series of challenges, sometimes for a reward, and sometimes for immunity from getting voted out. The competition is overseen by a host, who often announces changes or alterations to the rules as the game goes on.
Sound familiar? That's the premise of Total Drama Island, with a summer camp filling in for the remote location. Only this series is not a reality show in the likes of Survivor and its various spawn. It's an animated spoof of such shows, one that is so spot on, you might forget it's a cartoon.
Facts of the Case
Meet the contestants:
• Beth, with her glasses and braces, might not be much on looks, but she makes up for it with her baton-twirling skills.
• D.J., who might look like a tough guy, but he soon shows his sensitive side by communing with nature and befriending the local animals.
• Gwen, who dresses all in black, has pale skin and wears blue lipstick. She's a fierce competitor.
• Geoff, the requisite Western/cowboy character.
• Lindsay, the long-haired blonde beauty, who keeps thinking she's at a deluxe spa and not a summer camp.
• Heather, the self-absorbed "alpha girl," who plans to win by lying and deceiving her way to victory.
• Duncan, who has green hair, numerous piercings, and one bad attitude. He's been in and out of juvenile hall a couple of times.
• Tyler, who is described as a jock and dresses all in red and…actually, that's all we know about Tyler, isn't it?
• Harold, who bares a strong resemblance to a certain indie movie sensation. Let's just say Harold voted for Pedro.
• Trent, a genuinely nice guy who plays guitar and who only has eyes for Gwen.
• Bridget, a beach-going surfer girl who is often the voice of reason among her peers.
• Noah, a self-styled intellectual who despises physical challenges and loves to point out how much smarter he is than anyone else.
• Leshawna, who is a master of trash talking and doesn't put up with crap from anyone. She's loyal to her friends, though.
• Sadie and Katie, two "BFFs" who refuse to be separated, no matter what happens around them.
• Ezekiel, raised in seclusion by "freaky prairie people," this is his first time being around other people.
• Cody, a wannabe ladies man, who, unfortunately, is smaller and scrawnier than all the other guys.
• Eva, a weightlifting giant of a girl, whose short-temperedness and aggressiveness could be either a good thing or a bad thing.
• Owen, the typical wacky fat guy, who sees everything with an overly-positive outlook.
• Courtney, who sees herself as a natural leader, thanks to her counselor-in-training experience.
• Justin, who was brought on the show for his looks, we're told. Even the man-eating sharks who circle the island think he looks terrific.
• Izzy, who tells a lot of tall tales and doesn't appear to be afraid of anything. Is she really a fugitive from the RCMP?
This bunch is overseen by the show's host, ruggedly handsome TV personality Chris McLean. Along for the ride is Chef, who both cooks for the contestants and toughens them up, drill sergeant-style.
Total Drama Island is supposed to be a spoof of reality TV, except it follows the many tropes and clichés of the genre so closely, it's often a little too much like watching an actual reality show. When, early on, one character proudly proclaims, "I'm in control of this game," I roll my eyes, because that's the sort of stupid thing that people on these shows always say. It seems to me that, because this is a parody, this line should have been punctuated by some sort of joke or slapstick beat, but it didn't happen. There's a lot talk about winning immunity, building alliances, who's going to vote for who, and so on. Perhaps this type of dialogue is to appeal to the reality TV fans, but I would think the creators would be better off to spoof it rather than play it straight.
The parody element mostly comes through Chris, the host. He delights in torturing the contestants for the sake of manufactured TV drama, and he admits to being a big stinking liar when it comes to changing around the rules all the time. Survivor isn't the show's only target. One episode takes on Fear Factor, another does the "cooking competition" thing, and a "build-a-bike" game evokes the many "guys building crazy stuff" reality shows. Don't be mistaken, though, there is no shortage of comedy to be found here. The laughs are mostly of the slapstick variety, as the contestants face various painful-looking mishaps throughout the course of any given episode. Some running gags I like are Izzy's unpredictable craziness, Duncan's slick sarcasm, and Lindsay's perpetual cluelessness.
As the series progresses, some interesting things start happening. Namely, some real character development. Beth learns to stand up to Heather. Duncan and Courtney bond during some nighttime mischief, and even Jeff and Gwen have heart-to-heart while visiting a neighboring island. These extended dialogue scenes don't happen often in the show—or in any animated show, for that matter—but it's nicely handled when it does happen. During these few rare moments, the characters cease to be stock types or walking jokes, and instead they almost feel like real people.
Then the pendulum swings the other way. For every surprising laugh, clever moment, or character-driven plotline, the series has its share of lowbrow gross-outs. There are fart jokes, toilet jokes, burp jokes, and vomit jokes in every episode. Most of these have to with Owen. It's one thing to have the comedic fat guy in your show, but to portray the comedic fat guy as a gaseous glutton who constantly farts and poops all over the place, that's, well, that's a bit much for my tastes. He's hardly the only character to fall prey to this style of comedy—in one episode, two of the girls learn a valuable lesson about poison ivy and toilet paper—but he's certainly the main offender. I'll admit that even a snobbish critic like me has laughed at the occasional poop joke, but the key is "occasional." Total Drama Island drenches viewers with bodily function humor, and it gets tired fast.
So this show was made in Canada and aired there a year before showing up in the U.S. According to crazy-sounding Internet rumors, a lot of dialogue has been changed from the original to make it more family-friendly. Allegedly, the use of the word "crap" caused much controversy behind the scenes. I don't know if this is true, or what, exactly, has been changed, but buyer beware nonetheless.
This four-disc set features all 27 (27!) episodes. The animation is simple, but it has plenty of bright colors, and the DVDs show them off excellently. The 2.0 sound isn't a fully immersive experience, but does its job. The only extras are "cast interviews" and a "reunion special," which were promo pieces that ran on Cartoon Network to hype the show and its follow-up, Total Drama Action.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
We're at the campfire ceremony, and there's only one marshmallow left. Does Total Drama Island get it or not? It's hardly a perfect series, and the creators make some questionable decisions. On the other hand, it's compulsively watchable. It has some big laughs, and the characters really endear themselves after a while. The sum is better than the whole of its parts. So TDI, come on up and get your marshmallow.
Not guilty. Bonus!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Cartoon Network
• Reunion Special
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