I know I said the Hawaii episode was the one that convinced me to pick on the show, but there’s one that, while maybe not as preachy, is a classic combination of stupid writing and sheer lameness. It’s the one where they realized Caruso didn’t really have a point on the team, and set out to show even an image-obsessed dork had something to bring to the table.
Things open on a shot of ants crawling through tunnels as a menacing voice tells them to “transform your world into one magnificent hive,” even though it’s obviously Buzz talking and not Veloci. Surprising no one, the cavernous complex turns out to be nothing but his ant farm, which is also his science project. High schools still make you do science projects?
Buzz “gives you the 411” on all the awesome things ant antennas can do, like pick up messages from other ants via smells called pheromones. Pardon me for doubting his credentials when this same guy needed Caruso to tell him ants don’t live in “hives.”
Caruso’s bored stupid by this explanation (hasn’t he ever seen a TV show? Insignificant stuff like this always tells you how to save the world over the next twenty minutes) and Buzz challenges him to present his own science project. He does: his own homebrew line of moisturizers.
The smell makes Buzz’s ants go nuts and crawl out of the ant farm. Buzz is none too pleased: “Way to ruin my project, Caruso.” Way to forget to put a lid on your ant farm, Buzz. Yes, I blame him for the ants getting in Rodger’s molecular deionizer more than I do Caruso. On an unrelated note, my spell-checker already thought “deionizer” was a real word, which is awesome.
Indignant at this displacement of blame, and the fact that he can’t invent comic book devices like Rodger or stupid-looking motorcycles like Fiona, Caruso leaves because he thinks the only reason he’s there is he has the same dino-powers as everyone else.
Moynihan chides the other kids for being so rough on Caruso, but even she keeps coming back to what a selfish prick he usually is. She does stick up for him a little because he doesn’t feel like he brings anything to the group. Rodger gets off the immortal line “hair gel and moisturizers are never gonna save the world,” telling us he’s never seen a TV show in his life either. Moynihan has, or else she moonlights as the school’s guidance counselor: “Everybody has important skills, even if their value isn’t immediately obvious.”
Max goes to bring Caruso back and starts checking out the various stores at a mall because that’s the only place in the world Caruso could be. The jock finds him at a day spa, but to be able to go in and apologize he finds out he’ll have to get a session himself. To Max’s amazement the spa actually uses the stuff Caruso’s handing in for his science project. The full treatment at this place is even called “the complete Caruso.” Suddenly his baking soda volcano’s starting to look kind of lame in comparison.
Instead of killing time waiting to talk to his selfish dork of a “friend” for free, Max empties his wallet for an all-day pass. All to crash and burn in the attempt to come up with an answer to one question: what does Caruso add to the team?
It might bear mentioning that during this part a couple girls come up and talk to Caruso with fondness and familiarity, but all they talk about is how much they like the lotions and salt scrubs he makes. And all he talks about is new mixtures he’s planning to try out. Draw your own conclusions.
The other kids pick up a prehistoric DNA (sigh) alert at what looks like a Sam’s Club. The mutants du jour are giant ants, or “mut-ants,” or “giant ant dudes.” Was this actually locked in DiC’s vault back in 1987? But after the kids finish their time-wasting transformation sequence they find themselves netted and gassed by Veloci’s goon squad along with the ants. The head goon, who reminds me vaguely of the only memorable character from Avatar, tells his boys to take them to…the lab!
Max and Caruso get back to the lighthouse and Caruso announces his retirement after one tame disagreement, but Moynihan talks him into going on this one last job. They get to the Sam’s Club just as Veloci’s pulling away in in his totally inconspicuous raptor-faced truck. He even drives it down a residential street in broad daylight!
Caruso stops because “I’ve spent a lot of time out here, researching the mud baths” and somehow this means he knows a shortcut to Veloci’s headquarters. I get the sense they’re trying to show how Caruso’s weird interests can be useful after all, but that’s the only kind of sense I’m getting from this. What mud baths? Whatever the writer was trying to say, they do indeed get there ahead of Veloci and block the loading doors. They split up, Max to release the ants to distract the guards, then Caruso to let the other dino-kids out. When Max opens up the truck the ants prove a little bigger and scarier than he was expecting, so he goes dino but is spotted and captured in the process.
Caruso despairs about getting in when he remembers what his homemade hand lotion does to ants, and gets the big mutant ones to chase away the guards by throwing some of the stuff at them. Good thing he actually has seen TV and knew they’d run away without getting ripped to shreds by the oversized insects.
He gets cornered by a pair of the bugs himself, but is able to scare them off by going dino and stamping his feet once. Or maybe it was telling them to “get along little doggies.” Why does the music tell them to go dino when it shows them changing back?
Caruso realizes that the security cam probably recorded him changing. As if a teenager sneaking around the place in the dead of night wouldn’t have been noticed anyway. He spots some guys hauling a cart with boxes, and somehow knowing they’re going to the place where his buddies are being kept, jumps into a crate. He thanks his years of yoga for his ability to do this, but it honestly looks like something any moderately flexible person could manage.
He steals a uniform and when a real guard comes over to ask what he’s doing, Caruso splatters more hand cream on the guy’s face and opens the cages somehow containing more ants. Even though Max released them from the truck and the guards thought catching a t-rex was the real priority. Which means this is the second time inside of five minutes Caruso’s had ants the size of cars attack somebody. Does their policy not to take life only apply to mutated animals?
In fact, he gives more of the cream to another pair of guards he meets passing it off as bug repellant, and tells them to give it to all the other guards on Veloci’s own orders. He even rubs some on himself and leads the ants into the security office to scare everybody else out of it. You have an interesting way of making someone seem like a valuable team member on a kids’ show, Robert N. Skir! And why do the ants suddenly ignore Caruso after following him up there?
He pours more lotion on the security console and the ants rip it up for him, but he’s been throwing his empties any old where. They all have his face and probably his name on the label, which kind of defeats the purpose of making sure Veloci doesn’t see the security footage. Lucky for him Veloci couldn’t conquer a comic convention.
By the time Veloci finally gets down to the work floor, Caruso’s saved the others and the kids have turned all the ants back to normal with their stupid guns. And somehow they got out past the guards even though the ants were the only thing keeping them busy.
Action’s over, time for one of the show’s trademark lame, abrupt and painfully unfunny endings. Moynihan picks the kids up and drives them back into town. And suddenly it’s day even though it was dark outside Veloci’s office. The kids apologize to Caruso and point out once again how given just the right situation even he can be useful. Moynihan decides to celebrate by taking them all back to the day spa before we cruise out of the episode to the strains of the demonic theme song.