(This is a user-submitted post by NJ Truong)
When you bring up Totally Spies!, most people will say something along the lines of “Oh yeah, those girls in red, green, and yellow catsuits who fight crime and fall in love with every boys they see.” That statement is true. However, it undermines the concept of the show. Are we going to ignore all the smack talks between the girls and the villains? What about every science-defying way Jerry manages to bring the girls to WOOHP? Not to mention, the costume changes! Props to the costume design department because the girls don’t just change clothes every episode; they change clothes every scene. That’s dedication. That said, the show does have some problems.
Problem 1: Formulaic Storytelling
For starters, the episodes have a formulaic structure. Every episodes of Totally Spies! begins and ends the same way, with the exception of a few special episodes. At the start of each episode, the girls encounter a problem in their normal lives, then Jerry whisks them to the WOOHP center for a new mission and fancy gadgets that always come in handy. Along the way, one of the girls gets kidnapped, transformed, or brain-washed, leaving the other two to find an incriminating piece of evidence. WOOHP then flies them to the final battle’s location, and the girls save the day. Of course, not without learning something along the way that will help resolve their high school B-plot. Does the formula work? Yes, it works when you randomly flick on the TV, and it happens to be playing Totally Spies! But who turns on the TV anymore? The repetitive structure of the show makes for good mindless entertainment, but it affects how much you want to rewatch or binge watch the show, which in turns affects its memorability.
We can still keep the monsters-of-the-week format, but there should be a central plot line throughout a season. For example, they could introduce a new inconsequential element into the girls’ normal life, let it slowly build up, and then tie it into the main threat against WOOHP by the end of the season. This way, there’s a reason for viewers to return and continue watching the show.
Another solution to this problem is to have more creative storytelling. There could be episodes that can showcase the girls’ skills. Let’s say a bottle episode where they are trapped in a room without any gadgets, and they must use everything in the room to help them escape, or an episode where they are separated from one another, each in a different but equally dangerous situation, and they must rely on their knowledge of each other to breakout. The girls are international spies after all! Plus, the show champions friendship, so why not push their wits and relationships with each other to the forefront?
Problem 2: Lack of Character Development
Totally Spies! overall has great characters. The three girls have distinct, contrasting personalities, yet they work really well with each other. Their bond is a great example of female friendship on TV. Sure, they do fight over boys a bit too often, but they are generally supportive of each other. They are also good role models as young girls can see that there is no default to being a girl. The characters’ femininity is never shamed or portrayed as weak, and being active and sporty is not equated to being a boy. The girls show it is okay to like sports, math, or fashion, and still be an awesome international spy at the end of the day.
The only problem is that there is barely any character growth throughout the entire show. They stay the same from freshman year of high school to senior year of college. Plus, having a cute boy be their whole motivation gets old once they’re out of high school. There needs to be higher stakes that keep you on the edge of your seat. Need I mention again that they are international spies!
One way to fix this problem is raising the stakes. It doesn’t have to be death, but it could be a dangerous deal that they make with the other side to gather more information for a dead-end case that will later come back to sabotage them. It could be an emotional stake between the characters, a competition for leadership in the group, someone falling behind in school, one of them not as athletic as the rest, or someone conflicted over a villain because of ideology. The possibilities are endless!
Now this next point might be a bit controversial, but bear with me. How about not all the girls being interested in boys? There should be no difference between the girls showing interest in dating a boy or a girl. Understand I’m not asking for there to be a whole exploration of sexuality and a coming-out story. Couldn’t one of the main characters simply identify as gay or maybe have one be completely not interested in dating at all. This aspect brings more representation to viewers and helps them understand that you don’t always have to be interested in the opposite gender or date at all.
(Besides the two issues I’ve discussed already, there’s also the issue of the ridiculous villains. But I’m limited to 1000 words max, so I’ll stop here.)
Overall, I’m a huge Totally Spies! fan, and I believe the show deserves more credit and exploration of its characters and storylines. It’s a shame that the production company of Marathon Media shut down in 2016, but I hope that someone else will try to get the rights of this show and do it justice.
Are you a fan of Totally Spies!? What made it fun? What could make the show better? Let us know in the comments below!
Edited by: Kelly Conley