A new generation of kids may be tapping into Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" thanks to the success of the new CG TV series on Nickelodeon. But in the wake of this month's first season finale, longtime fans of the Turtles franchise from comics to TV and beyond are looking to how the show's producers will continue to adapt pieces of the franchise from the newly arrived Technodrome to the impending debut of Casey Jones.
CBR News caught up with executive producers Peter Hastings and Ciro Nieli as well as stars Kevin Michael Richardson and Sean Astin about where "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" has been and where it will be going when Season 2 arrives this fall. Aside from Casey Jones, the show is aiming to continue to expand on the world established in the original comics as well as the '80s TV show without going too far too fast.
"Being a fan of the Turtles comic first, more than anything with this franchise, I wanted to make sure we had a real reverential nod to it at all times," said Nieli, who takes point on the visual look of the series in addition to story duties. "At the core of this show, there's who the characters are, but there's also the idea of this seminal black and white indie comics revolution. I don't think anything in comics has been as big as that since it happened besides the movie boom. But the idea that anyone outside of Marvel and DC could print their own comic in their house and get it out there was so punk rock to me. When I got it into my hands as a kid, it freaked me out. I felt that was the kind of vibe the show needed to embrace...the stuff Kevin and Peter did in that thing was huge to my childhood and rekindled my creativity at the right age.
"Any time we're doing a new character, first we check in on the comics – especially the early Kevin and Peter ones," he added of the shows plans for adaptation. "I love to look at the first 12 issues and then the 'Return To New York' saga. I look at that stuff all the time including the 'Micro-Series.' The original Leo one-shot along with issue #10 blew my mind."
Hastings agreed that the producers looked to capturing the spirit of the original series while also developing the classic "Turtles" mythology with a slow boil. "One of the things that's really fun about the property is that there's this irreverent aspect. Even the name was kind of a joke when they first came up with it," he said. "We knew we wanted to do a new version of the origin story, introduce all these characters and then really work up to a season finale. So we've made episodes that have very specifically moved large story points along while others just focus on what one character is all about.
"The biggest thing for us was to make a big, huge, fun finale where all those elements came together. We have some storylines that pay off immediately and others that are more mysterious where you don't know how they'll play out. Some of the stories from the finale will spin, some will change and some will end. We're way deep into Season 2. We've finished writing Season 2 – a whole 'nother 26 [episodes] – and we're actually pretty deep into Season 3. And we have plans for 4 that we'll hopefully be able to do as well."
Premiering this month, the Season 1 finale saw the debut of "Krang Prime" as a force more in line with the classic version of the brain-based villain fans may recognize, but it also let some major twists to the status quo filter in – particularly when it came to arch villain the Shredder, his back story and where he'll next battle the Turtles. "With the Season 1 finale, even though we saw the Turtles fight the Shredder earlier in the season – and he kind of handed them their shells a bit – we didn't really explore all the fighting combinations yet," Nieli said. "There are a lot of things the fans want to see that we're going to do, but what's cool is that we've been barreling through Season 2 on our way to Season 3, and it's amazing to see how many new things we can do...But starting with the Season 1 finale that leads right into the Season 2 premier, the show gets on this insane, non-stop tear. It's so much fun."
Shredder actor Kevin Michael Richardson agreed that holding his character back in the early days of Season 1 was the right move for the show's development because it paid off. "The cool thing was the response from the fans, because having to wait for a character and feeling it sucks would tank the show," the actor laughed. "But the feedback has been amazing. This Shredder has a dark edge to him. Darker than previous versions, I believe. James Avery did an amazing job [in the '80s show], but I think this is a little different."
As for the villain's future, the plan is to keep viewers guessing. Richardson explained, "They definitely wanted to leave you with a question mark. What will become of him? You got to see a bit of a vulnerable side of the Shredder because he has this daughter, and personally Karai is Shredder's soft spot. Beyond that, no comment."
In the meantime, viewers can comfort themselves with the new "Turtles" debut of hockeymask wearing vigilante Casey Jones. Voiced by Nick star Josh Peck, this Casey will keep in line with his traditional role as rabble rousing partner for Raphael. Raphael voice actor Sean Astin recalled how that sense of improvisation has fit into every aspect of the show so far. "The more fun [the other guys] were having, the more creative I felt about it," he said. "There was certainly a moment sitting next to Rob [Paulsen] on day one – the guy who originally did Raphael – and now I'm doing Raphael and thinking, 'I hope I don't come off like a jerk. I hope he doesn't think I'm terrible.'"
But Astin is fully into his work opposite Peck, and he thinks the younger versions of the duo will click with fans. "We've done a bunch together. It's been fun because last year I was the new guy on the block, but when Josh showed up, I could feel like the old pro. I'd done Comic-Con!" the actor laughed. "He definitely had this wide-eyed look. It's a brotherhood, and his quality – what he does with his voice whether it's his tongue, his jaw, his teeth, his spirit, whatever – is so good. It's really fun to act opposite him. The way we are in the booth...he and I are looking right at each other.
"The relationship between Casey and Raph is really fun to play. I think people are going to respond to it. Josh is so sweet that when he does something that's intense in character, it's a little arresting. I love being a big brother type and the competition vibe. Raph has his own place in the group, but when he's with [his pet turtle] Spike, he can get really intimate. And things will happen with that Turtle as the show goes along. But you've also got Donny having his love with April. So it's great that each character has their own stuff to deal with, but adding a character like Casey for Raph to have arc with is so much fun."
Hastings noted that even though this Casey Jones is younger than previous versions of the character, he's well on his way to the character longtime fans recognize. "Some of this is having a good thing and being able to wait on it and know that it's coming up. We didn't have to shoot everything [from the mythology] out there at the same time. Also, some of this was the development. How did we want to bring our version of that classic character into the series? He doesn't just burst through a wall fully realized. There's a little bit of an origin of Casey over the course of a few episodes. And we're changing some things. Just like our April is younger, our Casey is younger. And he's maybe not the full-on crazed vigilante, but he's close to it.
"Figuring out what our particular origin story was and the design of him, one thing we felt we were particularly successful with was how we kept what was cool about the characters. We might change the design a little, but the core of what you love about the characters is always there. So there's going to be a hockey mask and a stick. He's pretty cool. It's really well balanced," Hastings said, adding that the overall theme of Season 2 will be "They're going to get a little older. They certainly have a lot of experience after Season 1, and they confront a lot of different new characters – mutants and everything. Some of the old nemeses may or may not be around. The second season is going to end in a different place, but they'll continue to grow and change. But that brotherly, wrestling idea between the Turtles is a fun dynamic that we'll continue to explore."
"It's all really organic," Nieli said of how they chose to introduce more characters from the Turtles world into the show. "A lot of times we'll work on a story and realize, say, 'We need a bat in here.' Then the discussion becomes, 'Do we bring in Wingnut? If we do, are we just filling the bat slot, or is this really a Wingnut story? Let's think about it.' There's no set way we go about it. It just keeps folding into itself. We're surrounded at the office by every iteration of the comics and the toys. There's always a visual totem there that we can refer back to easily...You can pick and choose what does and doesn't work.
"The one character we brought in that's really new was a last minute addition," the producer teased. "We were in a pinch for a character, and I pulled out this Ninja Turtles character I created as a fan when I was 12 years old. It was somewhere around the time I was reading the Triceraton stuff in issue #6, and I just started making up my own Turtles characters. So this guy's name is the Neutralizer. He's great because in retrospect we kind of made him an homage to insane '90s comics from Rob Liefeld with shoulder pads and round pouches. When you're a kid, it's like 'Why do you need round pouches? Oh, because that's where your grenades go.'"
Overall, the focus of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" will remain on the characters first with fan nods and mythology building off of that. "I wanted them to just become real and then have the time to start filtering in the lesser but important mutants," Niei said. "I think fans will be happy that Casey shows up when he does. Throwing him right in at the beginning would have been a mess. It would have just been 'Now there's a fight because we need to sell a toy.' I wanted to establish them as a family."
The "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" season finale airs all month on Nickelodeon. Stay tuned for more from Season 2 as the Fall approaches on CBR!