Confession: I’m a child of the ’80s who has never watched the Transformers. I haven’t seen the newer movies either. I’m not cool.
So when my son first started watching Transformers: Rescue Bots, I was skeptical. I knew the movies were high action and had some sort of robot conflict, and I worried about the content of this show for him.
Fortunately, even though the Rescue Bots inhabit the same universe as the other Autobots (they even know Optimus Prime!), their stories don’t include the wars with the Decepticons. Instead they focus on an island town off the coast of Maine. Griffin Rock is a special place full of “tech” so the Autobots try to blend in there by acting as robotic emergency vehicles. The show is intended for younger audiences, with a focus on safety and what to do in emergencies.
While the story lines are fun, and I love the concept of “science fiction in the not too distant future,” the lack of diversity worries me.
Of the nine main characters, only one is female. Yes, four of them are Autobots, who appear to be gender neutral (until season four, when Alex Kingston appears), but the main family is Chief Burns, his one daughter, and his three sons. I understand that this show was probably designed for the stereotypical “boy,” but there are plenty of women police officers, fire fighters, and EMTs. Surely they could have found a way to include another woman or girl in the core set of characters.
I will give the creators credit for creating a scientist who is also a person of color. Doc Green, voiced by LeVar Burton, is a throwback to Doc Brown from Back to the Future (yes, I have seen those). Doc Green’s daughter, Frankie, is also a budding scientist, and best friend of Cody, the youngest member of the Burns family.
Frankie is a take no prisoners kind of girl, dedicated to being herself, learning everything she can, and taking the world by storm. We should all be like Frankie.
Sadly, the other women of Griffin Rock don’t get the same treatment.
Most of the women who have speaking roles are undeveloped female archetypes: Blond Bimbo, Trophy Wife, Crotchety Spinster, Good Mother, Greedy Businesswoman, etc. Even Dani, Chief Burns’ daughter, falls into a stereotype. As the EMT and pilot, she’s always drawn in her flight suit and is generally shown as a tomboy. While that may be likely for girl who’s grown up in a family of guys (we have no idea what happened to her mother), it’s disappointing when taken into account with the other treatment of women.
The show does eventually pass the Bechdel-Wallace test, though it doesn’t happen until midway through the second season.
Even with the diversity issues, this show is a solid one to me. The science seems plausible, family and friends matter, and kids get to see real heroes at work.
Also, the theme song is catchy as hell.
Bottom line: watch it, enjoy it, and maybe use it to talk about gender representation with your kids. Even saying “I wish there were more girls in this” might get your kids to start paying attention to things like that themselves.
See also: Criteria of a Good Show