Monday, January 21, 2013

'Transformers: Prime' Season 2 (2012)

Starring Peter Cullen, Frank Welker and Kevin Michael Richardson
Developed by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman

Following the events of Season One, the Autobots find themselves in dire straits: Their leader, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) has lost his memory, reverting to his original personality, Orion Pax. Orion Pax used to be an archivist on the planet Cybertron before he was called to be the Autobot leader. The evil Megatron (Frank Welker), taking advantage of Prime's amnesia, recruits Pax to decode an ancient Cybertronian database.

From this database, Pax uncovers several sets of coordinates which lead to artifacts of great power jettisoned from Cybertron eons past and buried on Earth. Over the course of this second season, the Autobots will race against time to retrieve these powerful artifacts before the Decepticons do, with the fate of both their worlds hanging in the balance.

And what does it all have to do with the arrival of a young new Autobot, Smokescreen (Nolan North)?

Much like the first season, this second season of "Transformers: Prime" is broken up into a number of multi-part storylines. The season opens with several episodes of the Autobots attempting to retrieve Prime from the Decepticons, which will set the stage for the season's ongoing storyline involving the artifacts from Cybertron. This is both a strength and a weakness for the season. While there are plenty of twists and turns, with both sides gaining and losing the upper hand at times, the show does settle into a kind of predictable pattern where the adventures are set off by the Autobots and Decepticons decoding another set of coordinates and heading off.

Sprinkled in are subplots involving the villainous humans known as MECH, led by Silas (Clancy Brown) who are attempting to build their own transforming robot - and succeed in the form of Nemesis Prime. Additionally, Starscream (Steven Blum) is now a rogue, attempting to play both sides for his own gain. There's a pretty funny running gag involving his attempts to contact the Autobots.

So there's a lot happening in this season. Is it any good? Just like season one, yes... with some reservations. The season isn't perfect. As I said, the predictable pattern of episodes becomes very noticeable, especially when watching multiple episodes in a row. Still, the overall storyline is worthwhile. There's an ongoing theme involving loyalty and who can be trusted in this season, most notably for Optimus Prime. The emotional effects of his actions as Orion Pax haunts him, as does the encounter with Nemesis Prime, which endangers the trust of his human allies.

The human characters also play lesser roles in this season, with the kids taking a back seat to the robot characters. This is something of a welcome change, as one of the pitfalls of Season One was allowing the kids to get into too many dangerous situations and having to be rescued by the Autobots. Unlike the live action "Transformers" films, the TV series are not beholden to human characters in order to lure in a mainstream audience, and it seems like "Prime" has learned that lesson.

The animation is somewhat improved this season, with some larger and more complex action sequences on display. As before, the robot characters are impressively detailed, especially after fighting, when they're covered in scuffs and scratches. The human characters remain disappointingly flat, with plast-looking hair and bland skin and clothing.  Additionally, the backgrounds remain somewhat uniform - many episodes take place in the same open desert or forest areas, allowing the producers to save money by utilizing the same computer models over and over. It's mildly distracting, as it was before, but not a dealbreaker. The show is at the mercy of its budget, after all.

"Transformers: Prime" is a good show. It has some drawbacks, but its strengths generally outnumber them. It's still a joy to hear Cullen and Welker as Prime and Megatron, and the rest of the cast is great, too. This is also easily my favorite version of Starscream. In the end, "Prime" is great if you're a fan. If you're not, it might make you one with its solid storytelling and impressive animation.