A Eulogy for Sym-Bionic Titan
By Bert Ehrmann
April 15, 2011
I have an eclectic taste in TV series. Not only do I watch shows that do well in the ratings like The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family, I also watch shows that are outside the norm. One of these kinds of shows I've fallen for the last few months is the series Sym-Bionic Titan.
Airing on Cartoon Network, Titan is about two alien teens who look human and their robot friend who are hiding out on the Earth after their planet was conquered by the evil General Modula. Together, the teens and their robot can form together into the technologically advanced and mighty "Titan," a gigantic robotic machine that's perfect in defending the planet against the equally gigantic beasts sent here to conquer it by Modula.
Think Star Wars by way of Voltron meeting Sixteen Candles and one would be in the ballpark as to what Titan is.
Unfortunately, a few weeks back Cartoon Network decided against picking up Titan for a second season, effectively ending the story before it really had much of a chance to get started.
In this country, most animated TV series are produced and marketed to children and teens. It's seen as a bonus when these shows also appeal to adults who might have to watch animated series in the company of teens or children. But I really thought Titan was going to be different, that it could be that crossover-hit series between the generations.
Titan was extremely well written, well animated and designed, had believable characters and more pathos that just about anything currently being served up by network TV.
On one level, Titan was an action show where every episode the gigantic Titan battles with colossal monsters treating the countryside and cityscapes like gigantic, fragile wrestling rings. (A hit for the kids.) But at another level, the story and themes being explored by the writers of Titan were on a completely older-teen/adult level. (A hit for the older set.)
Also, I've seen very few shows, animated or otherwise, to have characters as fleshed out as natural-born leader Princess Ilana (voiced by Tara Strong) who's main concern is keeping the Earth safe, Lance (voiced by Kevin Thoms) a soldier sent to protect Ilana who seems rather gruff and mean -- until about half way through the season we find out why and robot Octus (voiced by Brian Posehn) who fits the sci-fi stereotype of the emotionless robot until he quickly becomes the core of the group holding everyone together.
To be sure, I've had a long love/hate relationship with Cartoon Network. The series they produce that I've liked I've REALLY liked (The Venture Bros., Young Justice, Justice League Unlimited…) but I can't say that I've watched/enjoyed much else on the channel.
Which, considering that the core audience of Cartoon Network seems to be boys aged 2 to 12, and not a guy in his mid-30's, is about right. But Titan "felt" different. The mature themes being explored in the story along with the action and visuals made it seem like the show was destined for that elusive crossover success.
But I suppose that the "mature" elements in Titan is what probably doomed the show from the start. Most series on Cartoon Network, in my opinion anyway, are practically unwatchable. Kids might dig the flashy animation, lite-stories and paper-thin characters but I don't think any adult does. But these are exactly the types of shows that are the "bread and butter" of Cartoon Network and get the highest ratings for the channel. It seems like Cartoon Network isn't selling stories or characters as much as 20 minute commercials for action figures and fast food.
I'm not against this business model, I just feel like Titan should have gotten a better shake than a one season run. I know most series fail, even the great ones. But it's always sad to watch the last episode and realizing "that's it." That we'll never get to spend time with the characters again or learn what happens next.
Maybe some generation of kids/parents down the road will catch Titan on TV and realize what a great show it is and just what we all lost when Cartoon Network pulled the plug.