“Pizza By the Shred” is an episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles where series’ villain Shredder runs a phony pizza shop to lure the Turtles into a trap. It’s the classic Saturday morning plot device – obvious enough for kids to see through it, utterly implausible for any adult to believe.
In Agents of Mayhem, a grizzled German scientist sets up his laboratory under a corny BBQ joint. On the roof, a cowboy pig spouts off advertising when touched, making one wonder how many customers sauntered up the building’s walls to hear a fiberglass pig talk about BBQ sauce. Again, obvious for kids, implausible for adults.
Everything about Agents of Mayhem picks up the tropes and cliches of ‘80s Saturday mornings. The knock-off shows, anyway – Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad compared to Power Rangers. Every character in Agents of Mayhem is doomed to fail, their action figures prepped for liquidation sales, the glue holding their plastic packaging bubble barely hanging on, the cardboard around it mauled inside dollar store dump bins.
But Agents of Mayhem knows this well. It’s decorated with self-effacing humor and dollops of crudeness. Everything wrong with slap dash, Hong Kong-animated cartoons of a youthful ‘80s is part of Agents of Mayhem. So it runs with it. Plastered with color and nonsense, satirical story bits flow freely. A planetarium appreciates the chance to say “Uranus” and a German scientist builds 10 stories of mega laser inside a BBQ place without anyone noticing. So implausible.
None of this moves or shoots particularly well. Agents of Mayhem bungles the basics. That fits though. There’s a healthy, reflective absurdity to all this. If ‘80s nostalgia peaked five years ago, Agents of Mayhem’s timing is too perfect – it even missed the boon, just like the late following knock-offs it represents.
The real genius though is in connecting this to Saints Row. Volition’s cranky, sometimes uncomfortable parody of gang warfare came from somewhere. If the Saints Row gang grew up watching Agents of Mayhem, no wonder they reflect this crude non-culture, a parent’s worst fear. Once, Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers came under fire from politicians over their violent content. The horror if those same congressmen laid eyes on Agents of Mayhem. All of the repetitious violence and rush to gunplay suddenly has grounding in a knock-off/spin-off that delights in a strange, disconnected way. Saint’s Row generously satirized America’s obsession with crime. On the side, the critique of media violence is better still.