Better Than Bond

By Kate Teves

Screenshot from the original  Carmen Sandiego  computer game.

Screenshot from the original Carmen Sandiego computer game.

If you were a fan of the Carmen Sandiego computer game in the 80s, then you know a thing or two about love and loyalty. When cooler kids played Mario Brothers, you stood by this Commodore 64 femme fatale and swore to death to never let her go.

Carmen Sandiego was a mysterious red-headed thief who stole relics from around the world, and you chased her from one capital city to the next, studying geography and cultural history along the way. The game was designed not only to entertain you but also to educate you, and therein lay the weird whodunit: it was actually fun.

But eventually love and loyalty did you wrong, and the brushstrokes of Time swept Carmen Sandiego away. By the 2000s, she was gone like a Casablanca wind.

Along Comes Netflix.

Then came word across the wires that Netflix was releasing a brand new Carmen Sandiego TV series, and nerds everywhere scoffed in unison. There was a big chance this was going to be terrible. A very big chance. In fact, it was a darned certainty.

And then the trailer dropped:

The first annoying thing in the trailer was the cloying Australian accent of Carmen’s male peer. And it almost succeeded in overpowering the biggest shocker of all: the fact that the 21st century parenting police had given Carmen an ethical code. No longer was she a seductive thief who stole for the thrilling sake of it. Now she was a pollyanna Robinhood who stole from other thieves.

But we watched.

Carmen Sandiego has a full emotional world.

Carmen Sandiego has a full emotional world.

We tuned into the series, ready to pluck the first feathers out of this miserable bird. We were met with something so surprisingly good that we didn’t know what else to do except watch and watch and watch.

This show is beautifully plotted with a pace as good as any Bond movie. The graphics are stunning, designed in a chic, mid-century-modern style. They are complemented by a perfect mid-century-modern score of relaxed lounge music and thrilling Mission Impossible chase notes.

Carmen must deal with contemporary problems like hacking, uploads, and facial recognition technology, making the show feel like it was made by people who are at least under the age of 65. This technological relevance leaves you with a refreshing sense that the writers are actually listening to what is going on in the world around them and taking notes. Carmen Sandiego is utterly of-the-moment.

Carmen Sandiego is a fighter, through and through.

Carmen Sandiego is a fighter, through and through.

But the biggest reason I am in love with the Neflix version of Carmen Sandiego is quite surprising to me. And I need to be careful how I say this. I love Carmen Sandiego because it is violent. It’s not too violent, but it is nicely violent. Carmen does not shut down her urge to fight and to protect herself just so she can give the male characters something to do. Nor does she stop fighting just to keep America’s parents from filing complaints. Carmen is a badass and has always been a badass. And believe it or not, Netflix has made her more badass than ever.