The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles needed a home just as much as any of us. More importantly, they needed a home that could be represented in toy form, since Splinter liked the idea of little kids across the world putting him in wacky situations in their very own bedrooms. It's not because he's perverted or twisted - Splinter's a giant Japanese rat. It's not like he can walk the streets. No movies, no bars or clubs...the guy can't even go to a Petland without someone trying to buy him. He's got to occupy himself somehow.
So, we've got the TMNT Sewer Playset, easily the largest item ever created by Playmates for the series. This was where the Turtles did their everyday stuff, like ninja training, eating pizza, and arguing over which one of them has the best shot at banging April. The stupid thing was immense - two floors, several rooms, loads of features, it looked like it had it all. Unfortunately, the playset was made so poorly that it was impossible to keep together without the aid of either experimental super-glue or five volunteers willing to give up their lives to hold the toy together by hand.
I remember the Sewer Playset fondly. I felt like I had the Turtles living in their own little world right in my house. It was a Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood moment. Only a little more amphibious.
Here's what made it what it was...
One of the main attractions was a long, curved plastic pipe. It was sized large enough for the action figures to slide through, but the damn thing fell off the playset under their incredible weight of, oh, 12 ounces or so. Fortunately, you were given a spiked yellow ball - apparently Shredder's latest super weapon. I guess there were some budgeting cutbacks at the Technodrome. We're used to seeing alien rayguns and small electronic boxes that make the city folk think they're bunnies from the bad guys. But a spiked yellow ball? Must've been one of Krang's double-dog dares.
Krang: Bet you can't beat the Turtles using just a spiked yellow ball!
Shredder: What?! I can do it with my bare hands!
Krang: Sure you can, Oreoku. Prove it.
Shredder: Fine I will! And stop calling me that, my name is Oroku.
Krang: Whatever, Orko.
Shredder: Two can play this game....TANG!
Krang: Paper Shredder.
Krang: You already said that. Arya hah hah hah! I win again!
So the ball would come flying down the pipe, and if your Turtle figures were placed in a very specific spot, they'd get knocked down. I guess the Foot Clan realized they're never gonna actually defeat the heroes - knocking them down will have to do. Course, getting hit with a chainless mace isn't something you just shrug off. That's why the Sewer Playset had a 'recovery room'...
This was pretty cute. The Turtles modified one of the sewer hatches with a mattress. They're the Martha Stewarts of the underworld. The 'mattress' was a flexible piece of plastic that may or may not fit into the hatch depending on how hard you pushed, but at least the thought was there. Though the manual said this was the Turtles' recovery room, I always assumed it was Splinter's bed. In part because he's old and sickly and needs a bed, but moreover because Splinter had one of the most god awful ugly action figures I've ever seen - picture a wet dog wearing white contacts and walking around in a purple Flintstones costume. Also: the figure had Band-Aids and bandages all over it, so you knew the guy was diseased on top of everything else. I put him there to get the thing out of my sight.
Today's token villain? Mutagen Man. Mutey was a good guy trapped in a bad guy trapped in a HOLY CRAP WHAT IS THAT body. Shredder performed some strange experiment that made him dependent on mutagen, so now the poor slob is forced to carry out his evil orders even though, deep down, he's as angelic as Ivory soap. You know an action figure is great when they've got emotional struggles going on. Personally, I just liked it since you could fill him with water and watch his guts and spine float around.
His job on this mission? Shredder wants him to slop the Turtles with more mutagen. I'm not exactly sure why. Every time Shredder throws mutagen on someone, he ends up with another adversary who consistently kicks his ass. Besides, the Turtles are already mutated. What's he looking to turn them into? Double-Turtles? Does he want them to have to change the paint job on their blimp by altering the team acronym to TTMNT: Teenage Twice-Mutated Ninja Turtles? Shredder was tough to figure out. Then again, anyone who wears a blender on his head and hangs out with an alien brain is typically tough to figure out.
With that, the playset's next feature: a porous manhole cover that you could pour retromutagen ooze down. Ooze not included. Just another toyline that gave little boys the slime they loved so much. TMNT slime was extra cool - it came in little jars with tiny, glow-in-the-dark turtles that were meant to represent Don and Leo before they went the way of the ninja. As an added bonus, the slime looked phenomenally like snot and was a great way to gross people out with fake sneezes.
Notice how Raphael just stands in the background while Mikey gets covered in mutagen? I guess they didn't get along as well as they'd like us to believe. I mean really - even if you took your three favorite people in the world...if you had to sit around with 'em in a sewer twenty-four hours a day, every day - you'd eventually get a little annoyed with 'em too. And it's not like the Turtles were all one in the same, they have very distinct personalities and probably wouldn't even hang out if they weren't stuck together by the hellish fate of being mutated reptiles. I wouldn't be surprised if they all hated each other deep down.
Michaelangelo: Are you just gonna stand there? Help!
Raphael: Oh don't worry, Mike. That's not mutagen. It's green semi-liquid pizza.
Michaelangelo: Really? I should eat it?
Raphael: Definitely. Hell, get a needle and a tube and just inject the stuff right into your veins. It tastes even better that way.
Michaelangelo: Are you shitting me?
Raphael: Mikey...buddy...pal...would I shit you? We're both turtles!
Michaelangelo: Maybe you're right. This stuff does kinda taste like oregano.
The playset was also an effective way to make use of the really pointless TMNT figures. Like Panda Khan. It became increasingly difficult to work some of these guys into your little toy adventures - with a guy like Panda, you had to spend twenty minutes of playtime explaining why the Turtles are hanging out with a bear. If you assumed the Sewer Playset was a sort of cultural center where people of all races and credos wandered through, everything moved along a lot more smoothly.
Ah, who am I kidding? I've got a confession to make. My favorite thing to do with action figures was making them have huge celebrations. Forget battling - the only thing I ever did with my toys was have them sit in circles, telling ghost stories and passing Swiss chard tarts around. That's why I liked this stupid thing so much. You could fit a lot of figures in there. And just like everyone else in the world, I wanted my parties to be a success.
The top floor was a bonanza of crap - a working elevator, fire hydrant, various platforms and pulleys, even phone poles. I'm shocked the Turtles could afford a place with this many features. Thank God for the city's rent control.
By the way, the fire hydrant wasn't really a fire hydrant - rather a secret periscope. It really worked, too. But you had to have eyes the size of pebbles to see through the thing.
The two poles had this weird trapeze thing attached to them. In theory, it allowed the Turtles to swing across the playset and knock the bad guys down. In reality, trying to use it would cause the entire sewer to fall into pieces. Well, this explains how they afforded the place. God damned death trap.
All in all, the TMNT Sewer Playset was like a really fine wine that just happened to be in a dirty glass. I'm not sure if that even makes sense, but if you're gonna start calling me out on terminology used in articles about toy sewers, you've already lost the battle. In case you're curious - this playset didn't sell well at all, and few fans ever even had the chance to buy it. It was only on the shelves for a few months, and with the huge price tag, you could've put a down payment on your own sewer instead. As far as TMNT playsets go, the Technodrome toy was probably superior. But that's only because it was silver, didn't fall apart, and had a giant plastic eye on top of it. You'll find it difficult to find this thing in any type of decent condition today, because it wasn't even in that great shape still sealed in the box. But we love Turtles, right? We've gotta love their home too. It's only fair. It's rude to say your friends live in ugly, broken houses. So keep your comments to yourself.