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Transformers: Earthspark Twists the Franchise In a Great Way

The latest take on the robots in disguise is less of a reboot, and more of an intriguing exploration: What if life went on after the Transformers came to Earth?

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Image for article titled Transformers: Earthspark Twists the Franchise In a Great Way
Screenshot: Paramount

The new Transformers animated series, Earthspark, is doing a lot of things that might make dyed-in-the-wool fans wary at first. It’s a family show, in that its primary focus is on its robotic heroes as they sit hand-in-hand with two young kids and their parents. It’s also not about Autobot/Decepticon conflict, in so much as it is about a new generation of Earth-born Terran Transformers. But it is also this: a kind of fascinating sequel to the classic cartoon.

Earthspark is set in contemporary Witwicky, Pennsylvania, and does not re-litigate the arrival of the Transformers on Earth or the war with the Decepticons. That, in Earthspark, has already happened. Told to us via a cutesy riff on the 2D aesthetic of the classic cartoon series, Earthspark is set in a world where the Transformers and Decepticons did indeed arrive in the 1980s, and fought a brutal war over the new world they had found, roping in humanity along the way.

Image for article titled Transformers: Earthspark Twists the Franchise In a Great Way
Screenshot: Paramount
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However, 40 years later in this world, things are very different. The war is over, people know Transformers exist, and culture has developed an awareness of them akin to our own, through comics and toys as well as actual history. Perhaps best of all, the war ended in relative peace: Optimus Prime (Alan Tudyk) ultimately managed to convince Megatron (Game of Thrones’ Rory McCann) to come to the negotiation table and form a new alliance to both rebuild the new home they had fought over and to maintain peace, allying with a human taskforce named GHOST to bring in any lingering Decepticon agents who wanted to continue hostilities.

It’s in this fascinating premise we meet Earthspark’s protagonists, the Malto family—Dot Malto, a former soldier in the Autobot/Decepticon war and now an undercover agent for GHOST, her husband Alex, a history teacher and avowed Bumblebee stan, and their children Robby and Mo. Recently moved to Witwicky (where Dot’s new job as a local park ranger turns out to be a ruse to bring her unknowingly back to GHOST), Robby and Mo explore their quiet new town only to come across a miraculous evolution: a cave that gives birth to the first two Transformers ever born on Earth. Empathetically bonded to Robby and Mo through two gauntlets that emerge in their creation process, the two “Terran” Transformers, Twitch and Thrash, are kept secret by Optimus and Megatron from their human colleagues at GHOST, not just so they can remain with the Maltos, but so the Cybertronians can safeguard the secret of a new generation of their kind from the shadowy machinations of their tenuous alliance.

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Image for article titled Transformers: Earthspark Twists the Franchise In a Great Way
Screenshot: Paramount

It’s in this balance of the familiar and the new that Earthspark creates a compelling family show that jukes where Transformers reboots typically jive. Loosely treating the classic show as a historical event, and tying two generations of the Malto family’s relationship to it, the series creates fertile ground for enough nostalgic elements—although stylized, the classic Transformers and Decepticons are largely close to their Generation 1 designs—to lure in older fans, while also giving an earnest new perspective for viewers in Twitch and Thrash, largely unaware of their kind’s past, with Robby and Mo acting as a bridge between those two perspectives. As someone with a passive familiarity with Transformers, there was enough allure here of the worldbuilding to draw me into the show immediately, and the charm of what’s new—especially Twitch and Thrash, who make for a cutesy, tween-esque lens into the Transformers world—was enough to keep me watching.

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But while their antics with Mo and Robby are going to be the draw for younger audiences, there’s enough meat on Earthspark’s bones beyond the typical family show stuff to keep old-school fans intrigued as well (beyond the occasional very cool action scene, many of which see the Transformers creatively use shifting between their vehicle and robot modes as part of their fighting styles). By largely pushing the Autobot/Decepticon conflict into the past, room is created for new pressure points in the narrative. On a macro scale, there’s the new villain Mandroid, a former veteran of the war who now sees the only way to drive the Transformers off of Earth is by becoming increasingly like them, adapting parts of his damaged body with Cybertronian technology. But lingering in the background as well is not just Decepticon holdouts from the war, but GHOST as an organization, and Optimus and Megatron’s disparate views of their alliance with it.

Image for article titled Transformers: Earthspark Twists the Franchise In a Great Way
Screenshot: Paramount
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There’s something fascinating in watching Megatron wrestle with the idea of imprisoning his former soldiers, especially as friction is created between him and Optimus with how GHOST treats detained Decepticons. A potentially lesser show might use this to eventually play into a re-heel turn for Megatron, but Earthspark smartly sets itself apart by having Optimus and Megatron’s friendship challenged yet ultimately strengthened by this friction, the former realizing that his friend has a point about GHOST’s politics, and the latter embracing that he has changed as a being since he took the steps to work with Optimus.

As Earthspark continues, and more Terran Transformers are born, it’s going to be interesting to see just how the show evolves in its relationship with the classic Transformers story. Right now, there’s a lot of potential for the show to balance a love letter to Transformers nostalgia with something that feels like a genuine step forward for the franchise—all while the series remains an action-packed adventure show for families along the way.

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