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January 12, 2015
Clearly the best character in the show.

Clearly the best character in the show.

FYI, this review contains some spoilertastic discussion of the end of the third season.

I associate Reboot with some very happy memories of coming home from middle school, plunking down on the couch, and watching episodes that my family had recorded on the VCR. What I remember is a fun action adventure show with characters who live inside of a computer. (It blew my eleven-year-old mind that bad guys could become good guys.) So imagine my delight when I was fooling around YouTube a few weeks ago and discovered that the whole thing is up there free.

What a memory trip. So many things are different from what I expected.

The CG in the first season is atrocious. The experience is like listening to a well-written radio play spinoff of TRON while watching this. Now that I can put the show in historical context, I realize that the animators made the characters blue and green to cut down on the Uncanny Valley. It helps a little. The animation gets gradually better each season until by the third, you can look at the characters’ faces to understand their emotions. The writers understood this and started to take advantage of long reaction shots. Episodes like “Web Riders of the Storm” hold up to modern day standards.

Some of the computer jokes have aged well (hidden messages in binary will always be funny), some haven’t (has anyone here ever used a SCSI port?). The character in the show can’t assume that every computer system has Internet access. Even the idea that a system crash is a real possibility is becoming outdated. I am writing this review now on a laptop that hasn’t crashed a single time in five years of operation. I think I had to use a force shutdown once. If you are just discovering this show, my advice to you is to pretend the characters live in a fantasy world that works sort of, but not quite, like a computer.

What I didn’t expect was this show provides so much to adults that will go straight over kids’ heads. Is that the Pixar lamp attacking Enzo? Look, now he’s dancing “Thriller!” That flock of bicycles is straight out of Blade Runner. There is a wonderfully dark moment near the end of the third season where the Sailor Moon team start the first few seconds of their transformation dance, and then they all die from falling debris. The main cast all have shades of right and wrong to them, and much of the third season has the audacity to focus on a pair of adults who have an implied sex life.

The show also gets high marks for its women characters. (Well, computer programs who look and sound like women…) It passes the Bechdel test left and right. AndrAIa is defined by her role as Enzo’s girlfriend. She holds her own well as a sidekick, but that’s all she is. But major props to Dot Matrix, who is not defined by her love for Bob. She winds up running Mainframe’s military and does so without becoming a cast-iron Amazon or taking away from the male characters. I had no idea how great a character she was when I watched the show as a kid. But Hexadecimal is still my favorite.

So. The end of season 3. I wish that Enzo had blown Megabyte’s brains out. We’ve already seen that Enzo’s capable of killing and the show’s willing to get that dark. He may even be struggling with PTSD. Then he finally, finally, gets into a situation where shooting somebody in the face is the right thing to do, and he won’t do it. I know it’s supposed to be part of his character arc that he’s turning away from the violent person he’s become, but I don’t buy it. Megabyte is the sort of supervillain who will always come back. (Guess what? He does in season 4.) So for Enzo’s supposed moral victory, he puts all of Mainframe in danger. Possibly the entire Net.

Despite that gripe, the end of the season was oddly satisfying. It’s as deus ex machina as a deus ex machina ending can possibly get, yet I don’t mind. It’s fitting with their world. The characters are at the mercy of a User they don’t understand and who ultimately saves them all through dumb luck. There’s something philosophical about that.

So if you’re looking for cheesy CG, great characters, and surprisingly grown-up storytelling, give it a try.

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