Why Netflix's 'Carmen Sandiego' Is Family Fun for All Ages
I consider myself a pretty hands-on mom. I let my 6-year-old son, George, stir the brownie batter. We devour the Harry Potter books in tandem and regularly collaborate on wildly unflattering drawings of Dad. But watching the same TV shows together? Well, until recently, that was where the wheels came off.
It's not for lack of trying. I've white-knuckled my way through Paw Patrol, a Nick Jr. series about a boy named Ryder who presides over a pack of search-and-rescue dogs. (Do those pups ever get to enjoy a drama-free day off?) I navigated four seasons of Netflix's Octonauts (more earnest animal-on-animal heroics) by furtively playing Scrabble on my phone. I put myself into a protective coma as George plowed through Wild Kratts, featuring zoologist brothers Chris and Martin Kratt alternating between live-action and animated versions of themselves.
In moments of desperation, I reached for my oxygen mask and turned on Family Guy or The Simpsons. But their adult-skewing jokes often left me with awkward 'splainin to do, forcing me to steer back to safer, duller pastures.
I'd come to accept that this was just how it was gonna be for, oh, another decade…and then a scarlet-clad spitfire swept onto the scene to prove me wrong. In late January, Netflix released its new animated adventure series Carmen Sandiego — based on the '80s-era computer game that used the titular character's antics as a vehicle to sneakily deliver lessons on geography. And suddenly, I no longer had to pretend to be engaged.
This fresh incarnation reimagines Carmen, who is voiced by Gina Rodriguez with all the sass and humor she brings to The CW's Jane the Virgin. In the premiere, we discover she was orphaned as a child and subsequently groomed to become a master criminal by the aptly monikered V.I.L.E. organization. She broke out and now dedicates herself — at great physical danger and psychological cost — to stopping her former comrades from lifting priceless historical artifacts.
If that doesn't strike you as boilerplate kiddie programming, you're right. Carmen Sandiego has the bells and whistles of a top-notch scripted drama. There's the captivating origin story, played out in flashbacks, with its themes of betrayal and redemption. A suspenseful cat-and-mouse element, as our protagonist struggles to evade both V.I.L.E. operatives and law enforcement agents who have yet to realize she's a contemporary Robin Hood. Clever writing brimming with smart one-liners. An epic twist in the finale.
Best of all, Carmen can be savored in the company of a kindergartner. George is glued to the screen, and so am I. Given the explosion of new programming, it's a natural progression for TV to begin making the type of high-quality, compromise-free, intergenerationally satisfying fare that's long been the purview of animated feature films.
Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego? She's in my living room — and it's about frigging time.
Carmen Sandiego, Streaming now, Netflix