by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & Transformers Animated & r & & r & (Saturdays, 10:30a, Cartoon Network) & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & E & lt;/span & ven before you see the new Cartoon Network series, you get a sense of who the new Transformers is aimed at. Transformers Animated, as the show is called, suggests that its target demographic isn't people who grew up watching the original Saturday morning series, Transformers: Generation 2, Beast Wars: Transformers or Beast Machines: Transformers (which were all, you know, animated). No, the producers are clearly after kids whose first whiff of Autobot came in last summer's live-action feature.
That's bound to create a bittersweetness for people who grew up on the original series (me), especially if they have kids of Transformers age (definitely not me). There are some really annoying liberties taken with the characters. Optimus Prime is no longer the wizened old commander of all Autobots (the good guys). Here, he's a young hotshot who's been busted down in the military to the point that he's commanding a demolition crew. There's nothing Optimus or Prime about him. He's kind of a douche.
On the positive side, the new series is much more focused than the old, which strained under a glut of dozens of characters each representing a branch of the Hasbro toy line. Remember the Aerialbots, Stunticons, Constructicons and Protectobots? Me either. The old series was among the earliest and most ham-handed examples of cross-marketing, absolutely rife with references to and commercials for the toys. What's instantly notable -- and admirable -- about the new show is that there are no obvious product tie-ins. (There'll be toys, of course, but they aren't out yet.)
Transformers, it seems, has gone from being a lucrative Hasbro toy line to being a lucrative all-encompassing brand. A sign of our times. And -- oh God! -- what an occasionally funny and frequently cloying brand it is! "So ... this is what it feels like ... to be a hero?!" declares/asks an incredulous Optimus Prime at one point. Dreck.
In all, Transformers Animated is probably about as good as the thing we all grew up with, but for different reasons. The most endearing reason: The new series doesn't give me the urge to beg my mom for action figures, then whine and kick and scream when she says no, then get my ass sent to time out. Of course, back in the '80s, "get sent to time out" was code for "get whipped with the belt."
Miss America: Reality Check
When CMT decided to stop airing the Miss America pageant in 2006 people probably thought the humiliation, degradation and objectification of our nation's women would end. Then TLC picked it up, forced all 52 contestants into this reality show, and now all bets are off. (TLC, Fridays, 10 pm)
The writer's strike has led to a profusion of crappy reality TV and exactly zero new news programs. One unforeseen effect: 60 Minutes is all of a sudden cracking the ratings top 10 again. Sure they're doing fluff like interviewing quarterback Tom Brady and adding ridiculous superlatives to things like the Discovery Channel (segment "THE AGE OF MEGA-FIRES"), but it's almost news. (CBS, Sundays, 7 pm)
It was a dark day in our nation's history when American Gladiators left syndication. Now they're back with Hulk Hogan and Laila Ali as hosts. (NBC, Sundays, 9 pm)