The latest take on the Transformers on TV is good, but I've spent a little bit of time trying to estimate how much of my positive reaction to it is a result of the series being decidedly unlike the trio of terrible Michael Bay movies. Putting aside all issues of parity with the 80's TV show (frankly, I could care less), or robot design (advantage: Prime), this first season of the Hub's show benefits mostly from knowing what it's about and what its young audience wants to see: the ongoing struggle between the heroic Autobots and the villainous Decepticons played out with thrilling fights and action with clear motivation and goals.
And in spite of a little roughness in trying to integrate the human children characters into the show completely, Prime is, to my mind, the definitive modern interpretation of the Transformers universe.
The first batch of episodes, under the title "Darkness Rising" set up the new status quo with the Autobots and Decepticons living in secret on Earth, the former under the auspices of the U.S. government (Ghostbusters' Ernie Hudson plays their cranky government liaison, Agent Fowler). Humans come into the mix when teen Jack (Josh Keaton) sees one too many transforming robots along with Japanese exchange student Miko (Tania Gunadi), and middle school braniac Raf (Andy Pessoa). From there, when the kids aren't in school, they spend their off time hanging out in the Autobots' base under the guardianship of Optimus (Peter Cullen, reprising his role), Arcee (Sumalee Montano), Bulkhead (Kevin Michael Richardson), Ratchet (Jeffrey Combs), and Bumblee (a series of beeps and boops, one element carried over from the films).
Early in the new series' run, Megatron (Frank Welker, back again) is taken off the board in an ill-advised attempt to bring a portal full of zombie robots through to destroy the Autobots and enslave the energon-rich Earth. This has the net effect of changing the dynamics of the show, as in-fighting and Starscream's attempts to command the loyalty of the rest of the Decepticons keep the bad guys dangerous but not especially a threat until later in the season.
In fact, most of the first half of the season is used to establish the characters of the Autobots and the young humans they babysit/guard. Josh is the responsible one, Miko is the reckless one, and Raf is the nerd and you have to wonder if their parents have any questions about where their kids are for large periods of time after school and during the weekends. The kids aren't grating or anything, but for most of this season you wonder why they're actually around beyond providing some interesting counterpoints to the Autobots assigned to guard them.
Still, they supply enough humor without it becoming overbearing comic relief while also acting as audience surrogates, allowing us to learn the in's and out's of Cybertronian history and the terrible war that has brought the two factions to Earth (and as the season progresses, it's clear that the war was nasty indeed). It's this level of detail, along with fine voice work by the cast and distinct but reasonably plausible robot designs that make Prime such a pleasure to watch.
There's more than enough here to keep you occupied once you've watched 26 episodes in the set, including commentaries on select episodes by the Prime showrunners, composers, and actors. The Blu-ray also features a "making of" special, a featurette on the toys, and a preview of the second season, and the whole thing is accompanied by an IDW minicomic written by Mike Johnson with Joe St. Pierre, David Daza, Atilio Martin, Allan Jefferson, and E.J. Su.
Transformers Prime: Season One will be available on DVD and Blu-ray on March 6th.