Why Our Sons Should Definitely Be Watching Carmen Sandiego

It’s not every day, or even every month that my son and I are infatuated with the same TV show, but the new Carmen Sandiego changes everything! I’m feeling pretty damn hip right now TBH because Netflix’s new re-boot of the iconic character has only been out for a few weeks and I have seen it all. Cutting edge — à la mode — Zeitgeist — finger on the pulse — that’s me.

The show impressed me so much, I’d watch it again. I can’t wait for the live action movie and the next season to come out! Season two is already confirmed! I’m becoming a total fan-girl and getting a red coat and fedora for my Halloween costume (maybe for everyday wear,) maybe even a temporary tattoo!

I don’t usually get this excited about a TV show. Is it nostalgia? Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego stands out in my memory as a show I used to watch on PBS when I was little. But all that’s left of it is the song and some vague notions about geography and maybe math?

So, how do I love this iteration of a character that has morphed from several game versions to TV and now streaming on Netflix?

This is Carmen. Still image from Carmen Sandiego on Netflix.

Let me literally recount for you the ways:

  • Carmen (Red), the eponymous hero, is a female main character who is confident, daring, whip-smart, talented, principled, and a kick-ass thief for a good cause. She has close trusted friends who all stick together, but none of them are perfect. They make mistakes, they experience conflict, they improvise as needed, and they learn.
  • Carmen is Latina. Representation matters! There just aren’t enough strong mainstream female characters, let alone Latinas out there. Carmen is an Argentinian orphan who was raised on the Isle of VILE, the hideout/HQ for a secretive group of criminal masterminds and their crime school.
  • Carmen Sandiego, the show, in addition to the hero, is Feminist AF. It gives feminism a well-deserved place in the spotlight with action, wit, intelligence, and equality all wrapped up in a trendy, modern bow for the viewing pleasure of children and adults alike. My six-year-old son LOVES this show and I am thrilled.
  • Even though she leaves them behind when she realizes what they’re really up to, the people who raised her are highly diverse — villain representation matters too! There are three women and two men: a large, imposing, yet maternal white woman, an eccentric (possibly) Indian woman mad scientist, a glamorous countess, an Asian male martial arts master, and a pale creepy old psychopath guy.
  • Good and evil isn’t portrayed as black and white. Carmen’s tech angel, Player, is a “white-hat” hacker. Carmen is a shadowy thief who steals from other thieves and returns the spoils of her work to their rightful owners. But she only becomes a “good” thief after she does some soul searching when she discovers that VILE’s mission hurts people and takes cultural treasures away from the masses. ACME functions “in the grey” or something to that effect is explicitly stated at one point.

Ivy & Zack. Still image from Carmen Sandiego on Netflix.
  • Zack is an admirably NON-TOXIC white man with a sensitive stomach who isn’t afraid to take orders from a woman and even to dress in drag to help execute a mission successfully. His older sister Ivy gives the viewer another positive representation on the femininity continuum with her more butch fashion choices, and demeanor.
  • ACME, the super secret organization trying to stop VILE, is headed up by an unapologetically fierce black woman, Chief, who appears exclusively by hologram projection. She recognizes the intelligence of underling Julia Argent. When this happens, Argent claims she was not working alone and refuses to take all the credit for herself. Her deductions are almost always right on the money — as her name would seem to suggest.

Agent Devineaux asserting his undeserved authority over Julia Argent…AGAIN. Still image from Carmen Sandiego on Netflix.
  • Agent Chase Devineaux, former Interpol agent turned ACME investigator, is a hyper-masculine, mansplaining, French douchebag, who rarely listens to his more thoughtful female subordinate, Julia Argent, and he frequently suffers the humiliating consequences of his stubbornness. (I’m married to a wonderful Frenchie who is nothing like Devineaux, for the record.) While he doesn’t change his behavior much, Devineaux seems to gain some consciousness of his problem throughout the season admitting that his assistant will probably be running ACME one day.

Dash Haber. Still image from Carmen Sandiego.
  • Dash Haber is another refreshing male character. He may be working for Countess Cleo on the wrong side of crime, but his dandy/fop persona is deliciously non-binary.
  • There is cool educational content: difficult moral quandaries, geography, problem solving, culture, humanity in general…
  • It gets kids thinking. My son remarked to me, “That inspector should be able to follow the clues better if he’s an inspector. Argent is much smarter. Why would they choose him if he’s not good at the job?” I’m still swooning from his budding feminist powers of observation. Later he asked, “Did you know that Ivy is a girl? And that other one with red hair is a boy? So, there’s two girls and a boy?” I reminded him that player is a boy, too. He’s still way into categorizing as best he can to understand his world, but I love that he’s seeing multiple ways of being female, male, non-binary, good, bad, and somewhere in between.

I could go on…for a while. But instead, I’ll wish you happy viewing and let me know your thoughts.

Thanks for reading!

A slightly different version of this post originally appeared on www.livingimperfection.com.

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