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Guilty Pleasures: Carmen Sandiego

Yes, it’s a kid’s TV show — yes, you should still watch it as a university student
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FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY
FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY

When my summer course finally wrapped up, I — alongside the rest of Toronto — still found myself stuck at home due to the lockdown in place. Knowing I would need something to keep myself busy with, I decided to finally cave in and allowed myself to restart up my long-neglected, but never forgotten, Netflix account. 

After clicking through the neverending list of newly added TV shows and movies, I quickly found myself absolutely enamoured by Netflix’s animated series Carmen Sandiego. The show follows Carmen, an ex-thief who travels around the world intervening with robberies attempted by members of her previous thief-training academy, aptly called V.I.L.E., an acronym that stands for Villains’ International League of Evil. 

Those who recognize the main character’s name — despite not knowing about the animated series — may have grown up playing the original video game, Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? which came out in 1985. The computer game came with The World Almanac and Book of Facts for players to read and refer to when they played.

While Netflix’s Carmen Sandiego is geared toward children aged seven and up, I myself had just turned 20 years old sometime around the start of lockdown. Nostalgia isn’t even a valid excuse for my fondness of the series, as I had never even heard of the 35-year-old franchise until discovering it on my computer screen this summer. 

I was initially worried that the content would prove to be too cliché, cringey, or ‘dumbed down’ to enjoy as a young adult; however, the show ended up happily surprising me. For one, the art style of the animation is absolutely jaw-dropping. I would go so far as to argue that older watchers stand to appreciate the show’s visuals much more than their younger counterparts. Outside of Carmen’s signature bright red hat and trench coat, the animation utilizes a gorgeous array of colours in its artistic interpretations of famous buildings, broad skylines, and cultural attire. 

As someone who loves travelling and learning about different cultures, Carmen Sandiego not only offers a visually pleasing source of entertainment but also stands as a learning experience. The TV adaptation perfectly showcases the culture, architecture, and even the vocabulary present in the various cities Carmen travels to. Since entire episodes are dedicated to different cities, the show allows viewers to become completely immersed in the location, from bird’s-eye visuals in building-hopping chase scenes to watching Carmen and her team rendezvous around national landmarks. The series manages to superbly balance an exciting crime-fighting storyline while still teaching its viewers interesting tidbits about the world through Carmen’s culturally appreciative perspective. 

As a seasoned hate-watcher with a tendency to watch series solely under the comedic genre, and as someone who abhors watching anything that will either trigger tears or induce my fight-or-flight response, Carmen Sandiego stands as my perfect in-between. The plots are light on the heart, the animation is aesthetically pleasing, and the show manages to pull off kid-friendly jokes that even I find myself chuckling at. If you’re looking for a show to watch and potentially finish in the span of our upcoming reading week, or if you want something to watch every now and then as we crawl through this hellish midterm season, give Carmen Sandiego a try; I swear she’s worth it!