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The Real War in Transformers: Earthspark Is Between the Franchise and Its Future

Now in its second season, the show that dared to do Transformers differently feels all too familiar.
  • Transformers: Earthspark (Image: Paramount+)
    Transformers: Earthspark (Image: Paramount+)

    With few exceptions, every show (and movie) about The Transformers has the same basic premise: Autobots wage their battles to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons. Transformers: Earthspark, Paramount+’s kid-oriented take on the iconic brand, very explicitly set itself up to be one of those exceptions, breaking every aspect of that original premise in one way or another. 

    It takes place after the civil war between Autobots and Decepticons. Former Decepticon leader Megatron has joined up with the Autobots to make up for his evil deeds, and the Autobots themselves have taken a backseat (that’s a pun, since so many of them turn into cars) to a new “race” called Terrans: the first Transformers “born” on Earth (one of whom is the first non-binary character in Transformers, which is a clever addition given how obsessed this franchise is with binaries). The first season even ended with the Decepticon and Autobots putting aside their differences to help the Terrans and their little human friends save the day.

    But, apparently, there’s only so much bending a gigantic franchise — even one like Transformers, which is on a tier below, say, Marvel or Star Wars — can handle before the people in charge start to sweat. Season 2 of Earthspark begins a year after the first season, mid-action sequence, with one of those little human friends explaining what the viewer has missed since the last episode: Basically, the Decepticons are all bad again, and they’re trying to collect a number of magic rocks before the Autobots and Terrans can. In other words, we’ve gone back to a status quo that predates the initial status quo of this series, with the Autobots waging a battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons.

    There’s an understandable angle to this, since you want to see Optimus Prime and Bumblebee fighting Starscream and Shockwave when you tune into something that has "Transformers" in the title, not to mention that it’s probably cool to see newer characters like the non-binary owl Transformer Nightshade and their friend Hashtag (okay, it’s not all cool) joining up with the famous robots. But it’s hard not to feel the oppressive thumb of franchise demands pushing down on all of this. Hasbro wants to sell Autobot toys and Decepticon toys, and it wants to indoctrinate a new generation of fans into the classic Transformers story, so it’s important to have Autobots fighting Decepticons. That’s what The Transformers is to most people (Hasbro executives included). 

    Still, there is fun to be had in Earthspark as it kicks off its second season. The action sequence that opens the premiere is well staged and handles the gimmick of The Transformers deftly — which is to say that it has transforming, with some ’Cons chasing Optimus Prime, the Terrans, and their human friends down a freeway as everyone plays keep-away with one of the aforementioned magic rocks. Robots are flying through the air, flipping around, doing slow-motion moves, and it all looks pretty good considering the heavy “this is for kids” stylization on everything. 

    At the end of the chase, the Decepticons even use the magic rock to summon a new kind of evil Terran out of the Earth, which is a fantastic hook for this kind of kids’ show, since it means every episode could introduce an exciting new character whose allegiance may not be as easily defined as “Autobot” or “Decepticon.” (And, yes, each exciting new character could be a fun new toy, alright?) There’s also one surprisingly funny sequence, where an older Decepticon imagines himself as a father-figure for this new robot, with a cut to a soft-focus montage of their faces crudely taped over a human father and son playing baseball.

    Earthspark has some good stuff going on, then, and it’s in a good position to do actual new things with the Transformers franchise, but it might all be too little, too late for the Terrans and their human friends. Long before this new season premiered, rumors began to spread among the Transformers fandom that the show was going to be quietly canceled after Season 2 in favor of some new show that is more closely aligned to the upcoming Transformers One prequel movie with Chris Hemsworth and Brian Tyree Henry voicing young, pre-war versions of Optimus and Megatron. That movie, despite taking place in a previously unexplored era of Transformers history (outside of the stuff for real aficionados, like comics) is very much indebted to the “Autobots wage their battles” concept, which makes it (and a hypothetical new tie-in cartoon) seem like a safer bet than letting Earthspark keep going.

    Which is a shame! Yes, it’s a show for kids and it was never going to be a Transformers centerpiece, but Earthspark introduces some new ideas to a franchise that is now 40 years old. Put it this way: It took all those decades (with all those movies and all those other shows) to introduce a non-binary character to a series about robots who have always just chosen their own gender identity anyway, and that might’ve never happened without this show. 

    Transformers: Earthspark is streaming on Paramount+.

    Sam Barsanti has written about pop culture for 10 years. He canonically exists in the Arrowverse. 


    TOPICS: Transformers: Earthspark, Paramount+, The Transformers, Transformers