TOTALLY SPIES! IS TOTALLY RIGHT!
Photos courtesy of Marathon Media
Well, I watched all six seasons of Totally Spies! and its titular prequel movie that truly deserved a theatrical release.
Was it worth it? For sure, like, totally!
(From left to right: Clover, Alex, and Sam, photo courtesy of Marathon Media)
When Netflix decided to reboot and botch Winx Club, I couldn’t help but let out a sigh of relief that my favorite animated series had escaped the wrath of Netflix (and its overzealous series of unfortunate reboots).
In film and television, female trios have come and gone, from Heathers to Jawbreakers, to Charlie’s Angels. Whether they are doing crime or fighting crime, each has become cult classics, and, one by one, meet more commercial success than its predecessor.
While some may argue that “three’s a crowd,” triads of women in entertainment have a wider appeal. They become ever more multidimensional, not only feeding into each other’s interests and quirks, but allowing their differences to play out in more meaningful ways than purely romantic interludes. This allows anyone - not simply girls - to find themselves in these characters: not only in how they are, but how they are treated by, and treat, others. Contrary to many one-man or one-woman films and television shows — where the characters are often monotonous to appease to the masses (characters like Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) in the Mission: Impossible film series, or Kim Possible in the Kim Possible television and film series come to mind)-- clear protagonists carry the uninteresting burden of righteousness: they’re always right and doing the right thing. heir character isn’t allowed refinement over time because they’re already ‘the best.’
Films and television shows featuring triads of women showcase diversity in their conquests of adversity, their strengths, strut, and style keep them so dear and near to our hearts.
A standout contender among the geometries of triads has to be Totally Spies. They are beauty, they are grace, and they’re not afraid to kick you in the face.
I’m not sure what everyone else has done in this holiday season; perhaps spent it with loved ones, took a well-deserved break, or finally caught up to the latest season of The Crown. Well, I watched all six seasons of Totally Spies! and its titular prequel movie that truly deserved a theatrical release.
Was it worth it? For sure, like, totally!
While Totally Spies! was a staple of my childhood, I genuinely don’t think I appreciated the artistic vision enough. The show’s style took on a remix of the best from the 1970s and the 2000s, evident through the costume and set design.
This very mashup of style allowed the costumes to stand through the test of time, and are still very much what you could see high school and college kids wearing nowadays. They didn’t shy away from bright colors or bold prints, they experimented with layering, and perhaps my favorite part is that they didn’t wear the same outfits every day; they re-wore standalone pieces across seasons, but weren’t limited to a signature outfit.
(Outfits worn by Alex, collage by TashaelaGrayLovesArt)
(Outfits worn by Clover, collage by TashaelaGrayLovesArt)
(Outfits worn by Sam, collage by TashaelaGrayLovesArt)
The set design embraced maximalism and all shades of pink; every room the Spies have walked into was a room I have tried lucid dreaming into. The interior design is very reminiscent of the 1970s, and could be best described as psychedelic and glamourous, with exaggerated colors, patterns, and shapes; the ambience feels like a scene straight out of the original Charlie’s Angels television series or what is mimicked from the era in That 70s Show. This is combined with a touch of utopian futurism from the 2000s, with glass and metal elements, and futuristic technologies that add a new level of intrigue for the viewers. Technology is a heavy focal point of the show, often in forms of the spies’ gadgets, from their communicative 'Compowder' to my personal favorite, the defensive 'Wind Tunnel 3000 Tornado Blast Hair Dryer.'
Architecture and interior design aside, the show takes many excursions into international locations away from the continental United States. In the first season alone, they go to Paris for a shopping trip (in ‘The New Jerry’) and Taipei for an investigation at a toy convention and toy factory (in ‘Child’s Play’). The artists incorporate notable attractions of each city, for example, the Eiffel Tower and the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.
(A hotel room on from mission, screengrab from the Totally Spies! Wiki)
(The same hotel room from the same mission, screengrab from the Totally Spies! Wiki)
(The spies’ beach house in season 3 and 4, screengrab from Totally Spies! YouTube channel)
(The spies’ penthouse in season 5 and 6, screengrab from Totally Spies! YouTube channel)
Not only is Totally Spies! diverse in art and design, it is diverse in its characters and representation of positive female role models. Though the three show an affinity for fashion and fighting crime, they are very different in appearance and assets, each representing a different character archetype.
Alex is the ‘tomboy’: she is the most athletic out of the three, often using this to her advantage in missions. As the youngest, she is also written to be the most childish among the three. Clover is the stereotypical 'valley girl' local to Los Angeles, and this is reflected in her dialect and vocabulary. She is seen to be most boy-crazy, vain, and kidnapped the most frequently out of three. Sam is the ‘preppy hippie’, who is seen to be the most intelligent out of the three, though this has been hypothesized to be paralleled to the show’s long-standing villain, Tim Scam.
The characters are very much not perfect, but that’s my favorite thing about them. They make mistakes — big mistakes sometimes that leave the episode on a cliffhanger, but they learn along the way and make the best out of each situation. They are just regular high school and college students that happen to be international spies. They are everyday people with everyday problems, and this is reflected in each episode’s b-story, showcasing the spies’ day-to-day lives, their boy troubles, run-ins with the mean girls, all while trying to maintain their grades.
I find this is heavily reminiscent of Ratatouille’s “anyone can cook” philosophy; even though not everyone can be a great spy (as evident in the antagonist, Mandy’s multiple stints as a spy), but great spies can come from anywhere. Even though they were not born with killer instincts and superhuman strength, it’s their determination in making the world a better place that makes them exceptional.
Even though the spies care about their appearance, and talk about boys, these seemingly superficial concerns don’t take away from who they are. In fact, they highlight what so many characterizations fail to honor: that each person can contain contradictions and still be wholly authentic. I love how Totally Spies! doesn’t play into the “I’m not like other girls” trope, because they’re just like other girls, and that’s not a bad thing to be. In the age of internalized misogyny, I think we need to be reminding ourselves that together we are stronger together, rather than tearing each other down for being who we are.
In fact, they highlight what so many characterizations fail to honor: that each person can contain contradictions and still be wholly authentic.
Totally Spies! also created non-repetitive and unique villains, unlike Phineas and Ferb, or Powerpuff Girls, where the episodes felt a lot like neverending cases of déja-vu. Their villains reflected real issues: bullying, corporation corruption, and global warming. Though the villains often have valid concerns, their extreme behaviors are corrected and criticized by the spies. The spies don't dismiss the legitimate roots of their villainy, and often change their behaviors for the betterment of the world and others.
Alex, Clover, and Sam contributed so much joy to my childhood, and they don’t deserve to be butchered by Netflix. The show is timeless in its design and writing — the only thing that dates the show is the fact that they went to malls. Totally Spies taught me so much, from fashion, feminism, to fighting crime. Maybe what they’re saying isn't groundbreaking, but it’s a great place to start when you just learned how to use the TV remote.
All six seasons and the prequel movie of Totally Spies! are available to stream on YouTube for free.