Nightwatcher's Patrol #18

Where on the world-wide-web is Carmen Sandiego?
April 07, 2014
I was rattling my brain trying to come up with some more ideas for articles one day when it hit me like a fully loaded mini van while watching Where On Earth Is Carmen Sandiego (I recently scored a copy of the complete series DVD set, more on that show in a little bit). I've written an article about my fond memories with the world's greatest detective (Batman), so why not write one about my fond memories with the world's greatest theif. So without further ado I give you my article for Carmen Sandiego.

Do it Rockapella!

As a character most of Carmen's past remains murky. Below is a clipping taken from the home console game Carmen Sandiego: The Secret Of The Stolen Drums (which I don't recommend because it stinks as it is not an educational game but rather an adventure game which doesn't make sense in this series. That and it is just plain lousy). Carmen's criminal organization is called V.I.L.E. and is made up of villains of all shapes, sizes, species and time periods.

The Carmen Sandiego phenomenon began way back in 1985 (yes, it really was that long ago) with the release of the original game on the PC.

The game was also released on the Amiga 500, some copies of which included a copy of "The World Almanac and Book Of Facts" which was presumably to help solve Carmen's clues and eventually apprehend her. I've been told that the game is really fun but sadly I wouldn't know since I've never had the pleasure of playing it myself. That was the point of it though, kids who played this would be learning but wouldn't realize it because they were having so much fun. First you would sign int to ACME Crime Net and get briefed on Carmen's latest theft. Next you would collect clues, which Carmen's henchman would leave behind after a crime, and solve them in order to proceed. After solving all the clues you would need to get a warrant so that you could arrest the criminals. After obtaining the warrant came "the chase" which culminated in a fist fight between you and the henchman (as well as Carmen when you reached her), but you could only arrest them if you had a warrant, if not than they would win the fight scenes until you got one. You won after the case was solved and Carmen and her henchman were placed safely in jail (Note: The sequence of the game's events may not be written out 100% accurately here but don't forget, I've never played it so please bare with me). This PC game proved popular enough to spawn it's own game show on PBS which is where my fond memories with Carmen began. They start with the PBS Kids bumper shown below, the P-Pals singers. Does anyone else remember these guys?

The P-Pals bumpers were used between 1994 to 1999, and the one who's still shot is shown above is the one that I remember being used the most for Carmen Sandiego and Bill Nye. Most of the bumpers in the above youtube video seem to be from Texas and California so I don't remember most of them (although the one with the blimp flying over the world does seem sort of familiar). How many of these bumpers do you remember?

All these people want to know...

The Chief (Lynne Thigpen) and "Senior Agent" Greg Lee

The first of two game shows ran from 1991-1992 (Chelsea Studios New York, NY) and 1992-1995 (Kaufman Astoria Studios Queens, NY). It aired at 5:00 pm Mon-Fri and I never missed an episode. It would start out with three "Gumshoes" who would be given fifty "ACME Crime Bucks" each and it followed the scenario of the video game very closely. Something either famous or important (ie famous landmarks, important documents, etc) would be stolen by Carmen's henchman, who included RoboCrook, Eartha Brute, Double Trouble, Kneemoi and Wonder Rat to name a few, and the Gumshoes would be tasked with solving clues from locations around the world between rounds one and two. During round two one Gumshoe would be eliminated and the two remaining Gumshoes would move on to the final part of the round in which they would re-aquire the stolen loot, get the warrant and arrest the henchman, this part being played on a vertical tile board. After that one more Gumshoe would be eliminated and the winner would get to go to the bonus level called the World Map where they would attempt to catch Carmen. The usual prizes included: a new computer with the PC video game (needless to say technology has moved on since then), an ACME Crime Net tee shirt and for catching Carmen, a grand prize trip to a location of the Gumshoe's choice.

Trivia (Some of it being kind of awkward): At the end of round two the two remaining Gumshoes would have to find the loot, warrant and crook in that respective order for one of them to move on to the World Map to go after Carmen. If a Gumshoe got all three on the first try they would get five chances to win a $100 savings bond. This was only accomplished once in a season one episode by Gumshoe Ali Haider but after five tries he never found the savings bond tile so he didn't win it. There also exhists an unaired episode entitled "Auld Lang Gone" in which the winning Gumshoe Jasmine Doman slipped and broke her arm on the World Map causing production to stop for a few minutes so that the second place Gumshoe Ed Mann could run the map for her. Don't worry, it ended well: Ed managed to capture Carmen in thirty two seconds and they were both given the grand prize trip out of fairness.

The first game show proved so popular that a second one was made and started the following Fall.

This is the theme from season 2 (trust me, it's the better version)

Lynne Thigpen reprised her role as The Cheif and Kevin Shinick was now the "Brave Squadran Leader"

The second game show, like the first was also based on the video game of the same name. I have Where In Time on NES but I haven't really played it because the first and only time I've popped it in so far I had no idea how to play and didn't have time to figure it out. I haven't tried it since but it is still in storage somewhere.

In any case, this is my favorite of the two game shows. It ran for two seasons from 10/7/96 to 12/12/97 and features my favorite member of the V.I.L.E. gang. Evil, fire breathing knight, I summon thee:

"Thy mechanical beast is no match for Sir Vile!
Ruh-ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!!"

According to his back story in the game manual Sir Vile has been in a bad mood since the dark ages when he failed to corner the market on round tables. It was then that Sir Vile decided to turn to a life of crime and became a fiercely loyal member of V.I.L.E. where he will gladly steal important artifacts from the past to the whim of "Lady Carmen". In his spare time, Sir Vile enjoys Turtle Waxing his suit of armor and listening to his favorite type of music: heavy metal.

The "mechanical beast", as Vile referred to it, was the Chronoskimmer, a star ship sized time machine, which was helmed by three "Time Pilots" (this show's version of Gumshoes) and captained by Shinick. This show pretty much followed the same formula as the first one only it dealt with time travel to teach history and the World Map at the end was replaced with the "Trail Of Time". I thought this show was far superior to Where In The World because I love anything that has to do with time travel as it usually makes for a good story, and Carmen and her henchman were portrayed in live action this time which made them more believable, where as in the first show they were hand drawn cartoons. The second season of Where In Time brought several changes and improvements over the first season. Season one featured a villain called Baron Wasteland who was replaced in season two with the 1920's gangster Buggs Zapper although they were both played by the same actor. The other villains got new threads including Sir Vile with armor going from a dull silver to fiery red (seen above) and got better Chronoskimmer attack scenes and getaway animations. It also got a new rendition of the theme song for season two (again, above) which was ALOT better than that of season one. All in all the second game show went out with a huge bang and I enjoyed every minute of it. I was very sad the following new season when I had to watch Bill Nye: The Science Guy (5:30 pm) without Carmen to lead him in. I'm sure they could have made a third game show out of another PC game Where In Space Is Carmen Sandiego? to help teach astrology but I guess it didn't happen because there wasn't enough of an out cry for it. Besides, I'm not sure if Where In Space would have lasted very long anyway since the second season of Where In Time had allowed the game shows to reach a pinnacle.

While the game shows were great to watch on week day afternoons, Carmen wasn't ready to turn herself in just yet.

Where On Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? is an animated series from DIC Entertainment that originally aired Saturday Mornings on Fox from 2/5/94 to 1/2/99 and consists of four seasons. The show revolves around two junior ACME detectives named Zack and Ivy and their boss, the wise cracking C.H.I.E.F. (Computerized Holographic Imaging Educational Facilitator) as they thwart Carmen's incredible crimes and try to put her in jail. Some juicy tidbits about Carmen's past were also revealed here (that is, if this show is to be considered cannon with the rest of the franchise). Carmen was left on the streets when she was two after a severe fire burned down the hotel where she and her parents were staying killing her mother and she spent the rest of her childhood in an orphanage in San Francisco. Carmen had her own arch nemesis named Dr. Maelstrom when she was still a detective who made a comeback in the three-part mini series "Retribution", and it was revealed in the two-part series finale "You Can Never Go Home Again" that her father, Malcolm Avalon, is apparently still alive although he took a nasty fall at the end and lost his memory so now we will never know for certain. The Chronoskimmer made an appearance here too but it was a walky-talky like hand held device instead of a huge space ship. The show is great, it has good animation and professional voice talent and I like how Carmen is portrayed as a "criminal with a conscience". As mentioned at the beginning of the article, the complete series DVD is available. If anyone is interested you can get it from amazon for a good, fair price, and it looks like this:

It's a really good piece of 1990's nostalgia and most importantly, it's educational. I recommend it for both of those reasons.
Interesting fact- The opening theme of Where On Earth is a real piece called "Singt dem grossen Bassa Lieder" ("Sing to the Mighty Pasha Selim") from the opera "Die Entfuhrung aus Serail" ("The Abduction From The Seranglio") by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The updated changes include new lyrics, a pop instrumentation and a back beat. I'm not kidding, look it up online.

So that's about it. Sorry, I know it's been long but as I've said in the past, I like to cover all bases. I've also heard some out cry for a live action film based on the Carmen Sandiego franchise and last I checked the movie rights were owned by Angelina Jolie. I read that a few years ago though and haven't heard anything about it since so that information may have changed by now. I think AJ might be a good fit for the role of the world's greatest thief because they look enough like each other to be twins. What do you guys think?

Well there you have it, my fond memories of growing up in the 1990's with Carmen Sandiego. I hope everyone enjoys it and that it wasn't to long. I'll be back in a little while, retro detectives...

Until next crime

This article is dedicated to the memory of
Cherlynne Theresa "Lynne" Thigpen

12/22/48 - 3//12/03

An excellent actress of Broadway and television, she is well missed.
I salute you Cheif, you've done your job and done it well.
Rest easy.
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