Episode Reviews - Final Exam


Episode #03 - Final Exam
Original Airdate - July 19th, 2003 (First Season Premiere)

Gizmo, Mammoth and Jinx - members of Hive Academy - try to make an impression on Slade by taking out the Titans. This forces the Titans to learn how to work together in order to be victorious.

Reviews by Steel, Jim Harvey
Media by Bird Boy
Titans Writers
Written by Rob Hoegee
Directed by Michael Chang
Producer Glen Murakami
Producers Linda M. Steiner, Bruce Timm
Asst. Producer Kimberly A. Smith
Music by Michael McCuistion
Casting and Voice Direction Andrea Romano
Animation Services by Dong Woo Animation C.O., LTD.

Titans Voices
Greg Cipes as Beast Boy
Scott Menville as Robin
Khary Payton as Cyborg
Tara Strong as Raven
Hynden Walch as Starfire
Kevin Micahel Richardson as Mammoth
Andrea Romano as Headmistress
Lauren Tom as Gizmo, Jinx

Screen Grabs






Pans

Review (Steel)

Teen Titans is a cartoon that is so utterly ridiculous that it becomes charming and even endearing almost immediately, to the delight of my fanboy-ish sensibilities. The show is preposterous, but preposterous enough that it resembles almost nothing like reality. The extremely contorted facial expressions and leaps of logic such as the Titans eating out in full costume, not being in school, living in a T-shaped Titans Tower full-time without a parent or legal guardian, going to dances in a superhero costume, and much more allow us to easily and effectively engage our suspension of disbelief because rather than taking themselves completely seriously and ending up coming off as pretentious and flawed the show almost spontaneously sets us up with the expectation that anything can happen. The team dynamic has a vastly different feel from other superhero group stories and shows in that the team members exude a much more friendly, down-to-earth vibe. The animated Teen Titans aren't always serious all the time, and spend a large amount of time in believable small talk that comes off much more naturally and comfortably than it does with exchanges amongst other popular and prolific animated superheroes.

Above all, this show is comfortingly lighthearted and hilarious, a mood complemented by the bright and busy fictional west-coast city that they live in. The characters interact in a lively manner and none of them can really be labeled as the "jokester" of the team. Beast Boy's startlingly cute humor plays off of Cyborg's temper and Raven's cynicism nicely, and while Starfire's innocence can get annoying at times it provides an adequate jumping board for Robin's cracks ("Maybe we should just go out for pizza"). The merit of the show does not appear to be in the integrity of the plot or story, but rather the strong, three-dimensional characters and their experiences along the way.

Devout fans of the brilliant Wolfman/Perez era of the Titans are probably going to be disappointed with certain aspects of the show: At a first glance, many of the themes and characters have been "kiddified", and a lot of important details have changed (such as calling Deathstroke, the Terminator by his first name Slade). However, many of the important themes and concepts have been preserved from the comic series to the animated adaptation, such as Starfire's innocence and Robin's (undoubtedly Dick Grayson) keen interest in her. The medium in which the stories are being told has changed and the target demographic is somewhat different so the Teen Titans cartoon sports vast differences from the comics both visually and in terms of story content, but it remains inspired from the Wolfman/Perez era (with Marv Wolfman even writing one of the episodes for the new series). The Teen Titans are not just two-dimensional caricatures or stereotypes; even the aliens and demons on the team feel distinctly human.

The action is intense, the artistic style is charming and bizarre, and the characters are ridiculously hilarious. The Teen Titans provide a powerful combination of attributes that will hopefully lend themselves to a highly entertaining and timeless show. The show conveys important messages and themes that are accessible to people of all ages. Teen Titans subtly deals with issues such as bullying and sibling rivalry in a way that is easy to relate to, but it does it in a fun manner that doesn't become boring or preachy. The show does not appear to be in continuity with any of the previous "DC Animated Universe" cartoons since its substantially different in both tone and thematic content, a welcome change of pace. As a show filled with massive potential, it seems probable that it will enjoy a long and popular life.

Readers, be warned. From here on the remainder of the review contains specific details regarding the episode, so if you don't want to spoil the episode before viewing stop here.

Anyway, onto the episode itself: Overall there wasn't a whole lot to the fairly linear plot. Essentially Slade asked the Hive Academy graduates to destroy the Teen Titans, the Hive kids ambush the Titans, dispatch Robin, and take over the Tower, Robin returns to help the Titans beat the Hive kids, and then Slade reveals that he was just using the Hive graduates as an elaborate form of sending a message the entire time. However, the merit of the story is not the plot but the manner in which it is told that makes it interesting and engaging. The witty and hilarious dialogue, feisty music, and fluid action scenes were what made the episode.

As the primary villain of what appears to be a long story arc, Slade appears to fulfill his function well. Ron Perlman (Clayface from BTAS) does a fantastic job of portraying Slade as a dangerous, cunning, and mysterious individual with an equally sinister and somehow regal voice, attributes that are clearly present with a meager quantity of calculated dialogue at the beginning of the episode. Although we only see him once more near the end of the episode ("Who is Slade?"), his revelation helps him come off as even creepier and more manipulative, and we see the great care that he takes in his work (which seems quite similar to Batman, actually). While no Deathstroke, Slade is definitely promising to be an interesting villain and his impact on the episode despite his very brief appearance will most certainly make viewers eager for more.

"Final Exam" does a competent job of balancing and developing all of the characters without making the dialogue seem extraneous or unnecessary. Robin's debut in the tower makes him seem like the mature mediator of conflicts while Starfire's naiveté in trying to deal with the argument is remarkably similar to that of many young children (give them something else and hope they forget about their problems). The pizza scene was also an interesting insight into the diversity of the team. The Titans resembled a squabbling family or a group of kinds deciding what to eat: Cyborg revealed himself to be a lifelong meat-eater and Beast Boy was understandably vegetarian ("Dude... I've *been* most of those animals!"), while Raven revealed her apathy by not caring what they got as long as they ordered soon (sort of like me) and Starfire got mixed up by the menu.

Robin's demise itself wasn't all that frightening since we all pretty much knew that he was going to come back anyway, but the Titans' reactions helped show us more about their characters as well: Beast Boy chose to be in denial while Raven displayed far more maturity than most children have by indicating a preference for the truth no matter how harsh it is, which I feel is a wonderful character attribute to be showing to kids. While Robin's return was predictable, the appearance of the Hive graduates rather than Robin took me by surprise (how'd they get in so easily anyway?). After the Titans got booted out of the Tower, Cyborg's anger was interesting in that he provoked the other Titans into revealing to us the way that they deal with defeat: Beast Boy tries to lighten up the situation with jokes, Cyborg gets steamed, and Raven tries to stay calm and deal with things objectively.

Although I'm no animation expert, the fight scene animation was very fluid and the battles were intense. If the fight scenes were left alone, they might have started getting dry and repetitive but the dialogue interspersed with the fights helped keep them captivating and even borderline silly ("What do you call an idiot with a rocket pack on his back?"). The Titans display a variety of powers and abilities with Cyborg seeming to serve as the strongman, Robin the martial artist and tactician, Starfire with the projectiles, Raven with a utilitarian ability for support, and Beast Boy serving as a wild card. Aside from Mammoth, the Hive graduates had an interesting array of abilities as well, particularly Jinx with her ability to cast "bad luck" spells which ultimately served to be her downfall. It was nice to see the Titans challenged in the Tower fight scene (formidable opponents keep things from getting dull), and the last fight scene was cute when we saw the titans finally using their abilities to their fullest potential, especially Beast Boy as a monkey tricking Jinx into harming herself, the hacking Batarang-esque object, and the coordinated attacks.

As fun as the fight scenes were, they would have been sorely diminished if not for the wide range of different sounds and music that the episode featured. Unlike some of the other superhero cartoons, Teen Titans doesn't seem to stick to a single style of music but relies on an eclectic blend of tones and formats to convey the mood of particular sections of the episode. The soothing piano piece in the introduction to the episode emphasizes the casual manner in which these kids have been trained as killers so now their lives are being trivialized as their abilities go on sale in some kind of commercial, making the headmistress a despicable individual and an effective villain. In the initial battle the fight music promptly changed to accentuate a change in the attitudes of the combatants, and the mournful anthems when Raven and Beast Boy are telling the others about Robin's death help show their various methods of coping with the loss (such as Cyborg's anger and vehement self-hatred). While most shows lighten up the music or change the key during dramatic moments, the entire genre of music changed which served as an interesting technique that was undoubtedly effective.

However, more than the music, fight scenes, or character development, the driving force of the episode was clearly the inherent hilarity of the entire situation. The comedic techniques employed in the episode kept it exciting and sort of served as a substitute of traditionally building up the suspense and excitement with a coherent plot. The episode started off with some humor as Cyborg angrily recounted all of the other stuff that Beast Boy lost and Raven getting irritated with their obsession over a pointless worldly device, culminating in an explosion of furry blue food and the hilarious punch line "Maybe we should go out for pizza". The author doesn't let up throughout the remainder of the episode, with the Titans cracking jokes and having funny exchanges all the way (such as their varied reactions to the Hive occupancy of the tower). The Teen Titans aren't the only ones with a sense of humor: The deliciously villainous (and bratty) Hive graduates trash-talk to the titans and crack lame jokes of their own. With preposterous scenes like the chaos in the Tower started by Cyborg's robotic hand (why did they need Robin to figure that out, anyway?) and other snippets of dialogue ("I guess, we really oughta be training for battles, tracking down clues, and trying to figure out who Slade is, huh?") almost parodies traditional superhero tales. The episode wrapped up nicely and gave us an idea of what to expect with a laid-back finish, using the interwoven subject of the missing TV remote to both start the episode and conclude it in a funny visual punch line.

Overall, "Final Exam" was an entertaining peek at what promises to be a very different kind of show. The creators certainly deserve kudos for their guts in many of their divergent and non-traditional approaches to this series. They will most certainly take criticism for many of their decisions, but if all of the episodes sport the quality of "Final Exam" they will have done a wonderful job in my book.

Cyborg: I guess, we really oughta be training for battles, tracking down clues, and trying to figure out who Slade is, huh?
Robin: We will, but right now I'm just happy to be part of the team.



Review (Jim Harvey)

Teen Titans is all flash and no substance, but that actually works for it. A nice, bubbly, retro-ish series, Teen Titans will please those looking for something different from the animated DC Universe.

The Teen Titans features a Robin, Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy, and Cyborg. All the names will sound familair to the old-time comic readers, but new viewers may be left wondering who these characters are, exactly. And since the series offers close to no backstory, that also may hinder any character development, as well.

Oddly, the lack of back story is what gives the series it's charm. The series basically fulfills the fantasy of that every kid every had. Here, the kids are superheroes who get to fight crime and hang around all day. Forget the stress that comes with a secret identity or a real job, the kids here are just chilling out having a good time. They sit around and eat pizza and fight a bit of crime when it's warranted.

The only real problem is the inconsistencies that the series presents. In "Final Exam," the team is portrayed as useless without Robin at the helm. It seems that once he's gone, in a poorly done "death" scene, the team just falls apart and has no idea what to do. It's not until he returns do they get back into order, but it's done so haphazardly, that's it hard to understand how they function as a group even with Robin. Also, in one sequence, Cyborg's arm saves the team yet moments earlier, he (as a whole person) was unable to take down one villain. That's incredibly inconsistent, but also distracting.

But, when the team acts together, there are some stupendous and energetic action sequences. Teen Titans fully takes advantages of it's anime influences and provides some beautifully looking fights. And while the anime influences may be a plus, they also hinder the series. I don't mind the occasional anime-inspired gesture, but this series just really dumps them on, repeatedly it seems. Some of them do work for great comedic affect, but others just seem tacked on and incredibly lame.

The voice work on this series is great, as well, with Robin and Beast Boy standing out as two of the best. The only real complaint I have, voice-wise, is Starfire's usually wooden delivery. It seems that a lot of her lines should have been given with more emotion. Yes, she is an alien who's new to the world, that's the impression given, but every emotion she has just sounds the same. Not really exuberant, but just sort of there. If she's a character fascinated with Earth, she should be showing the emotion to express it.

This series is also the perfect anti-thesis to Justice League .Justice League tends to be dark, serious in nature, the exact opposite of Teen Titans . The series doesn't take itself serious for one minute, and it's bright and fun. For those who are looking for something new from the DC stable, Teen Titans may be just what you're looking for.

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