Christina Kambani looks back at the kid’s cartoon Totally Spies! and explains why this show is still compelling to watch as an adult.
Firstly, it’s visually stunning. As a hardcore anime fan, I’m a sucker for the good old 2D cartoon. It’s stunning at any given frame, especially in that Barbie-meets-fashion-sketch category Totally Spies! falls under. The more I’m bombarded with trailers of new big animation studio productions, featuring the minions and boss babies of the digital world, with their freakishly large heads and play dough-textured faces, the more I long for simpler times, when Mickey’s ears appeared to sit on one side of his head and vehicles were non-sentient.
Secondly, it’s creative and random. The TS squad, composed of Clover, Sam, and Alex (also known as red, green and yellow spy respectively) can be seen going about your standard TV show high school life, when they are somehow drawn into the ground below: a literal hole forms beneath their feet, the bench they’re sitting on decides to take a dive into the unknown, a whirlpool pulls them down the bottom of a hot tub, and they find themselves inside the accursed bottomless elevator… The free fall always ends in a top secret portable office belonging to Jerry, their spy-manager bossman, and also head of Woohp, a suspiciously vague secret agency with questionable priorities. Most of their missions revolve around the TS universe’s most vicious threat: emerging celebs mysteriously becoming overnight sensations. Things get increasingly creative as the episodes go by, which is definitely something to look forward to while binge-watching the show.
Arguably the most iconic part of the show is the gadgets. Whilst vaguely touching upon the day’s mission, Jerry reminds us what we actually came for: there’s a magnetic belt with a heart-shaped buckle, an inflatable pink vest, hologram-projecting heart gemstone rings, fashion-forward titanium chunky-heeled boots, a foundation-shaped communication device used for facetiming Jerry, and last but not least (Jerry’s personal favourite) an obscure acronym that stands for whatever ends up saving the day this time. Don’t even bother pretending you don’t need all these gadgets in your life as bad as you did when you were younger.
there is enough graphic, skin-crawling content to keep a horror film franchise going for many, many sequels
It’s also fascinatingly creepy for a kids show. In an episode called “Model Citizens”, the girls end up in a fashion show, where the mystifying overnight sensation Gazelle charms the audience with her unblemished looks. As soon as she retires to her dressing room, Alex uses the power of some laser beaming eye contacts to arrive to a shocking discovery:
*WARNING, the following content has been rated N, for Nightmarish. Please proceed with caution*
The gentle removal of Gazelle’s silk gloves reveals a pair of arms utterly clashing her skin tone, ending in equally multicoloured fingers, all wrapped in stitch marks! Gah! If you’ve watched a substantial amount of TS episodes, I’m sure the infamous horror scene is currently revived afresh in your mind’s eye, likely to remain there for the next couple of nights. Would you be surprised if I told you that Gazelle later drops an… Ear? In the episodes I’ve seen so far, there is enough graphic, skin-crawling content to keep a horror film franchise going for many, many sequels.
The focus lies on spectacular action scenes and punch line opportunities more than anything
Finally, one of the show’s strengths is that it is satisfyingly self-aware. Throughout the episodes, the girls seem more invested in their appearance and any persisting teen drama that awaits them back home, rather than the mission itself. When Clover eventually gets kidnapped (which happens in almost every episode), Sam and Alex don’t look particularly concerned, and instead focus on investigating the case a bit further, as if already knowing that their findings will inevitably lead to a living, breathing Clover. The show plays with its own conventions like that quite hilariously, being fully aware that no one, not even the youngest viewer, would really be on the edge of their seat over the main character’s short absence.
The focus lies on spectacular action scenes and punch line opportunities more than anything, to the extent where the ‘cool’ factor overrides any logic or cohesion of plot a lot of the time. The gadgets are oddly specific, so much so that Jerry appears to be extraordinarily gifted in the intuition department, thus accurately foreseeing each and every action scene, down to the last detail. And frankly, it’s totally awesome!