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"Total Drama World Tour: Walk Like an Egyptian" Walks Tall

Total Drama is a franchise that constantly amazes me: Against all odds, it manages to be good. I enjoyed the first season immensely despite a myriad of problems, including predictable jokes, one-dimensional protagonists, and an extremely poor style of animation. Now, after missing most of the second season, I come back to a show that has the same problems but seems inexplicably stronger. It has the same prevailing sense of fun that saved the original series, magnified by familiarity—both on my side and, I suspect, on that of the crew behind the show.

It has basically the same plot as well, though a few major changes to the formula help make things interesting. A group of teenagers, including two new characters, the suave-but-menacing Alejandro and the hyperactive Sierra, compete on a reality show to win a grand prize of one million dollars. The show is hosted by the sadistic Chris McLean, who is assisted by the equally sadistic Chef. The group’s “base” is a large, exceedingly run-down plane. They use this plane to travel from country to country, because this season’s shtick (well, one of them) is that the challenges take place in a different locations (thus, “World Tour”). The other new aspect to this season feels tacked-on, but it is funny enough to make up for it: the contestants are forced, at various intervals, to sing. The reasoning behind this is, and I quote, “Singing reality shows are huge. And the worse the singing, the higher the ratings!” This makes an alarming amount of sense.

The show feels different in other ways as well. Some of it had to do with my attitude towards it, but I’d wager there’s a genuine increase in quality in there as well. I’ve become used to some of the characters, like Leshawna and Owen, who grated on me in the first season—not to the point where I actually like them, but to the point where they’ve stopped setting my teeth on edge. There are some other advantages to this being the third season, as well. The exposition in the first episode is thankfully brief, and the character jokes seem a little quieter now, as if, since we’ve been introduced the characters already, it’s no longer necessary to bash us with their personality traits. The show’s cheerily stupid tone is unchanged, but it’s a better fit than it was previously, and these are only the first two episodes! In a nutshell, this feels exactly like Total Drama Island, but better, like the people working on the series have found their niche.

This is most evident in the characters. I complained of the original show that each character was basically one trait repeated infinitely, which was not inappropriate for a reality TV show send-up but not very funny either. That complaint no longer applies: each character is working at multiple levels. This makes the show worse as a parody (not that it was smart enough to be a good one to begin with), but it works better as a story. Total Drama Island just barely managed to make me care about its caricatures, but there was always the vague sense that I couldn’t take them and their “drama” seriously. That’s no longer the case. Finally, even the show’s first season had a terrific voice cast, and that’s not changed, and Christian Portenza needs some kind of award.

The show’s only an upgraded version of Total Drama Island, though, not a completely new series. The animation is still horrid, and the character designs are still basically ugly despite being surprisingly expressive. A lot of the jokes are still annoyingly DreamWorksy: It’s horrifying to hear a character say “Killer ride, dude!” and mean it non-ironically, and I’m seriously getting tired of “Owen farts” jokes. But fans of the show have already proved that they think this stuff is worth putting up with for the series’ good qualities. Those who did so will probably still like the show. Those who hated it will probably still hate it. And I’m looking forward to the third episode.

Total Drama World Tour makes its US premiere on Monday, June 21, at 9:00pm on Cartoon Network.

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