TV REVIEWS : 'Ninja Turtles' Crawls Out, Lands on Back

"Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtles" (on KCOP at 7 a.m. and 3 p.m., Monday through Friday) boasts the year's silliest title for a miniseries. But a preview of the first half-hour episode suggests that the five-part cartoon fails to live up to the promise of its wonderfully absurd name.

Created in 1984 by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, "Ninja Turtles" is a popular action-adventure comic book. In addition to the current issue (No. 12), three collections' early adventures are on sale, plus games, figurines and T-shirts. As the television show was produced "in association with Playmates Toys," more Turtle merchandise is probably on the way.

The Turtles were ordinary pets until a freak accident shattered their bowl, swept them into the city sewers and coated them with a radioactive glop that increased their IQs and physical size. They were raised in the tunnels by a similarly irradiated rat named Splinter (in the comics, he's the former pet of a Ninja master; on the show, he is the master, who's been turned into a rat by the mysterious slime). Splinter taught the turtles the martial arts and named them Michelangelo, Leonardo, Donatello and Raphael, after his favorite artists. The reptile brothers wage the traditional cartoon war against crime.

Writers David Wise and Patti Howeth based their story on the first comic books, but they turn the grim warrior-Turtles into mock "heroes on the half-shell," whose real interest is eating pizza. The program strives for the campy humor of "Batman" but never quite attains it. The results are too silly to work as adventure, but not silly enough for a farce.

The designers have softened the bold lines of the comic book figures and made the Turtles look like muscular Muppets. (An outrageous heroine like Miss Piggy--instead of the whiny newscaster April O'Neil--might have given the show the flair it needs.)

The series is mildly diverting, but the artists at the Murakami Wolf Swenson studio could have developed the adventures of the teen-age mutant Ninja Turtles into something funnier or more dramatic--or both.

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