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Generator Rex – Generating Wasted Potential?

by on November 24, 2011

When Generator Rex premiered in the Fall of 2009 to strong ratings and plenty of hype, it transformed the action-animation team Man of Action into star creators. No longer could they be considered a one-hit wonder with the Ben 10 franchise that they had lost control of starting with the Alien Force season. Generator Rex offered plenty of its promise in its pilot episode from a a truly threatening villain in Van Kleiss, to death and violent destruction (for nameless redshirt types, at least), to Rex’s powers having limitations in ways Ben Tennyson’s powers did not. 

But as the show begins its third season with faltering ratings and merchandise, why has the show begun stumbling? 
The truth is, Generator Rex fell into the same trap that Ben 10 fell into. The main protagonist, Rex himself, is cocky and full of himself to the point that serious happenings do not affect him in a realistic manner. They just bounce off of him. Even when Rex does get serious, the show never lets any of that develop to let him grow as a character. The result is that Rex is a static and flat protagonist. When supporting characters like Doc Holiday and Agent Six have more development and emotional growth than the lead character, something is wrong. 
There is also a lack of serialization in the plotting, especially in the second season, which seemed to rely on Rex stumbling into random missions for Providence or clowning around with his friend Noah, who has had no real connection to the plot since he was outed as a Providence undercover agent in the first season unless a story bends over backward to try to include him.
The main problem in season 1 were the rushed plotlines. We saw Rex being disillusioned and running away from Providence after
discovering Noah’s identity, deciphering the layers of Providence, battling Van Kleiss all over the world, and trying to build his
relationship with enemy Circe. There was enough material for two seasons crammed into twenty episodes, including a highly entertaining comedic filler episode (“Operation: Wingman”). There were hints of trouble here such as Rex’s inability to develop beyond his basic archetype, but it wasn’t outright horrible, just a series that hadn’t lived up to its full potential yet.
But season 2 went downhill in a hurry. A big reason for that was Man of Action’s rather stupid decision to leave the show behind for the Ultimate Spider-Man show that will premiere in Disney XD in early 2012. As a result they only wrote a few episodes and ended up having no say in the direction or planning for the show. only writing a few episodes and having no say in the direction or planning of the show. If one thing has been proven in television over the years, it’s that a show’s quality usually drops like a rocket when the showrunners abdicate responsibility.
Generator Rex’s 2nd season suffers from the same flaws as season 1, as Rex outright refuses to develop, only with more and more filler episodes that did absolutely nothing to extend the plotline. Instead, the decision was to make more “Operation: Wingman”-esque episodes. Jokes are at their funniest the first time you see them, and retreading the “Wingman” humor into the ground with forced attempts to be wacky threatened to derail the show in season 2. 
Now, I understand filler. It’s nice to take a break from the main storyline and offer something else, something totally random that breaks from the norm. But nearly half of Generator Rex’s second season was filler with fairly silly material that seems to contradict many of the “rules” of the story. For instance, the nano-mutant EVOs are hated one episode and accepted the next as we bounce along. Characters are rotated in and out, the one constant being the unchanging Rex, his general emotional reaction to many things being a variation of a jubiliant “That’s cool!”. 
A revelation in the season 2 finale was one of Van Kleiss’ underlings, the young EVO girl Breach, betraying Van Kleiss in order to protect Rex after Rex tries to be kind to Breach. This is a good setup for a plot, but it did not work in execution because there was no foreshadowing and no hints that Van Kleiss was treating Breach that cruelly or Breach wished to leave Van Kleiss. Breach was just a psychotic girl in all of her appearances before hand, either tormenting Rex or bailing Van Kleiss out with a cleverly-timed portal to get him and his underlings out of trouble. You can make the argument that Van Kleiss is taking Breach for granted, but the portrayal of their relationship in the finale suggested that more than that, he openly considered her a tool to use at will. 
If Van Kleiss is supposed to be taken seriously as a intelligent, genius-level villain with plan after plan and machination after machination, he should have known that openly abusing Breach would set him up for a fall. He is a megalomaniac but he is supposed to be smart enough, and has been smart enough in some episodes, that it is best to lay off on the overdramatic villainy to make things work towards his own ends. The fact that he regressed into cackling villain turf in the season 2 finale shows that the writing team didn’t grasp the character and had no idea where to take him, other than to have Breach zap him out of the show. 
However, my biggest issue is that Breach’s betrayal would have been so much more effective if actual time had been spent developing Breach’s situation instead of wasting 22 minutes of everyone’s time on subjects like EVO table tennis and yet another episode of mutant bunny insanity. Why could we not get more episodes about Breach? Why could we not be shown the deteriorating relationship between her and Van Kleiss? Why could we not see her increasing reluctance to do what he says and perhaps have Van Kleiss show some kind of frustration through increasingly cruel instructions and insults? Why throw all of that into a single episode and expect us to buy it when it’s never been shown to us before? 
I am not asking or wishing for anything Young Justice-esque, where the show has been building up to a confrontation with supervillain group “The Light” since the pilot that has not yet reached its apex. But something, anything to hint at what’s coming or give emotional build-up to what is coming, would have gone a long way to making the event believable. As another example, the only hints that Caesar could betray
Rex as he did in the season 3 premiere were one single line from Van
Kleiss himself, along with Caesar conveniently erasing ZAG-RS’ data to
possibly cover up some kind of tracks, all in a single episode.

Now, finally, the show has done a continuity reboot in an effort to save itself, jumping the show six months into the future with Rex displaced by a continuity warp. Providence is now the bad guy. Van Kleiss is nowhere to be found with the new leader of Providence, Black Knight, possibly set up to be a centerpiece of a new battle. But instead of spending time with the ramifications of such an event, the first thing Rex does is go run around on illegal motorcycle races, and we are going to have a crossover with the Ben 10 universe that will not advance anything for either universe unless this is a truly unique crossover. Do the writers have any respect for the show they’re working on? Did Man of
Action give them any sense of direction for them to take the show and
progress it? 

With Generator Rex‘s ratings falling to the point where it’s been shifted to a more unfavortable timeslot earlier on Friday night and merchandise sales falling as well, this could very well be the final season. It’s obvious Man of Action no longer cares about Generator Rex as
they’ve left it behind to basically turn Peter Parker into a clone of
Ben Tennyson and Rex in Ultimate Spider-Man. So what does that
mean for the show? Is it just going to run on a treadmill for the
next seventeen episodes before a finale tries
to resolve everything, just like what happened with Ben 10 every year
when Man of Action were the showrunners for that franchise? 

People wonder why I have trepidation for the upcoming Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon. If what has happened to Ben 10 and now what is happening to Generator Rex becomes a repeating pattern…well, you put the pieces together. I am not going to watch 26 episodes of my favorite superhero running on a
plot treadmill with no character development. If Man of Action can defy
their action animation pattern, I will see it through, just as I will see Generator Rex through anyway despite my perpetual
frustration with the show. I have watched 42 episodes so far and I will
watch the Ben 10/Generator Rex crossover as well. With eighteen episodes
to go before the end of the third season (and possibly the series), it’s worth doing just to see if the great potential in the concepts and
stories of Generator Rex will finally be shown to us. It would be a nice
break from watching a treadmill of wasted potential instead. 

Maybe instead of making me think of what might have been, Generator Rex will finally make me think what could come in the future. That is the greatest thing a show can do.
Make us want to think what will happen next, instead of making us wish what had happened instead. There’s 18 episodes left to make us do that, roughly six hours when you take out all of
the commercial time. Six hours for Generator Rex to generate something
truly memorable to make it a cartoon known for years after it is gone,
instead of a forgettable experience like Street Sharks or Spider Riders or Voltron Force or Skysurfers. Now that is a mission. I hope it is a successful one.

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