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Series / Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?

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Hang on tight! We've got a very big mission but very little time!
"We're on the case and we're chasing her through history!"

The second game show in the Carmen Sandiego franchise, and the successor to Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? on PBS, Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego? challenged kids with history instead of geography. The action took place aboard The Chronoskimmer, a massive floating Time Machine powered by knowledge and dancing crew members. The gumshoes were renamed "Time Pilots", host Kevin Shinick was their "Squadron Leader", and "The Chief" Lynne Thigpen from World had a much less prominent role. And for the first (and, to date, only) time, a live actress played the lady in red herself.

The format was virtually identical to that of World. Three contestants answered trivia questions to earn "Power Points" (instead of "ACME Crime Bucks") and track one of Carmen's crooks through time. Eventually, the contestant with the lowest score was sent home with a Consolation Prize package, and the remaining contestants played a mini-game that had them place historic events in reverse chronological order. The winner moved on to the Bonus Round, "The Trail of Time", to try to capture Carmen and win the grand prize.


The show lasted for two seasons on PBS and a total of 115 episodes (65 in Season 1, 50 in Season 2) which aired from October 7, 1996 to December 12, 1997 (with reruns airing until September 25, 1998). Just like its predecessor, it was produced by WGBH Boston and WQED Pittsburgh.

We're on the case and we're troping her through history!

  • Accidental Misnaming: In Season 2, Episode 44, Kevin Shinick quickly gets frustrated when Thomas Edison comes onboard the Chronoskimmer and repeatedly refers to the former as Wishbone. Without asking the obvious question, of course. How in God's name does Thomas Edison know about ''Wishbone'' years before even the invention of the television?
  • Acme Products: Sort of. Acme Timenet appears to be a spiritual successor or branch of the Acme Detective Agency.
  • Adaptational Villainy: In most media, Carmen Sandiego is a Fair-Play Villain who's more interested in the thrill of the chase and generally avoids hurting people. This series is the exception, where Carmen is maliciously altering time and her henchmen are given orders to attack the Time Pilots.
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  • Ambiguous Syntax:
    Jacqueline Hyde: I was just playing catch with my uncle. (switches to Hyde mode) Boy, is he hard to throw!
  • The Announcer: Lynne Thigpen.
  • Anti-Villain: Jacqueline Hyde's good side, while loyal to Carmen for unknown reasons, doesn't actually like crime, acts friendly and helpful toward the ACME agents, and is pleased when the loot is recovered from her grasp. Her evil side, on the other hand, is a Card-Carrying Villain.
  • Artistic License – History: In the episode where Jacqueline Hyde stole the sewing machine, she says she's in 1920, when, she says, immigrants in New York had to work in sweatshops. By 1920, sweatshops in the United States were in obvious decline for almost a decade, with the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 having set higher factory standards.
    • The episode with Sir Vile stealing the Statue of Liberty has an Ellis Island official changing the names of immigrants just because she can't understand what they're trying to say. In reality, records show that immigration officials often actually corrected mistakes in immigrants' names, since inspectors knew three languages on average and each worker was usually assigned to process immigrants who spoke the same languages. As for the immigrants themselves, they changed their names of their own volition years after going through Ellis Island.
    • In the episode where Sir Vile stole the ancient Greek theatre, Kevin claims that 1613 was during the Elizabethan Age. In actual fact, Queen Elizabeth I had passed on ten years before.
  • Bad Boss: The episode where Jacqueline Hyde stole the unions was motivated by Carmen worrying what would happen if her minions revolted. Jacqueline must have been pretty damn loyal to go through with something like that without question.
  • Black Boss Lady: Lynne Thigpen as the Chief.
  • Bonus Round: "The Trail of Time". The contestant went through six stations and answered a question at each one. For a correct answer, the door opened and the contestant moved on to the next station; an incorrect answer meant that the contestant had to open the door manually using a pulley, a pump, or whatever was there.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": In the show, each contestant is referred to as a "time pilot".
  • The Cameo: One episode had the World Chief suddenly appear on the ship as it traveled around 1991, and as you'd expect she wondered where Greg Lee and Rockapella were. Thigpen wore her World costume and even got to speak with her equally confused future incarnation. (Considering that the whole reason Time existed was because World's budget was slashed, this cameo may fall squarely into Biting-the-Hand Humor and/or Self-Deprecation.)
  • Camera Abuse: Sometimes when the henchman of the day assaults the fact fuel, the camera shakes violently for a few seconds while Kevin explains that "We need another Data Boost!".
  • Canon Immigrant: All the Season 2 villains appeared in the 1997 version of the video game, along with four additional villains (Baron Grinnit, Jane Reaction, General Mayhem, and Dee Cryption). Note Baron Wasteland isn't in the video game, but they put a different character with the title "baron" in it.
    • Baron Grinnit was originally going to be Baron Wasteland, but the character's name was changed to Baron Grinnit in the manual, so the one line by Rock Solid confirming his name ("Bravo! We've nabbed that ecological offender, Baron Wasteland!") was cut from the game.
  • Cardboard Prison: Implicit: whether or not the winning time pilot captures Carmen and her crook, they're both free again at the start of the next episode. You'd think they'd have fixed it by now with all that fancy technology.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Carmen, as portrayed in the show's opening, as well as all her crooks. Very much the opposite of her portrayal in the Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? cartoon. (She didn't have any characterization to speak of in the World game show, aside from being annoyed by her crooks' incompetence.)
  • Cartoon Bug-Sprayer: Carried by Buggs Zapper. Perhaps a way to give him some kind of weapon in lieu of an actual gun. He is a gangster, after all.
  • Catchphrase:
    • "At ACME Time Net, history is our job! The future is yours!"
    • Carmen: "There's something very special I want you to steal." This was usually followed by:
      • Season 1: "This Info Beam will give you all the details."
      • Season 2: "Bring it back to me in this Loot Orb when you have it."
    • The Chief: "Time Pilots, [a member of Carmen's gang] just stole something from the past! You've got twenty-eight minutes to get it back, or history will change forever!"
    • Kevin: "Let's warp to the time of the crime!"
    • Libby: "Want some?"
  • Celebrity Paradox: In the episode on computing, one of the items in the reverse chronological order game is the debut of the first Carmen Sandiego computer game in 1985.
    • Another episode had a clue about what year did "Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?" debut (even having Lynne Thigpen past and present see each other). It was 1991.
  • Couch Gag:
    • What the thief-of-the-week says after being summoned by Carmen at the start of the show.
    • In the second season only, the goofy thing Kevin is doing in his bedroom before he's summoned on stage.
  • Darker and Edgier: Compared to its predecessor. The villains in World would often pull their thefts for silly reasons (for example, Patty Larceny swiping the Lascaux Cave Paintings to pass off as an art project), and the crimes were treated very lightly. In Time, though, it was made clear that the villains messing with history would have serious consequences in the present; Carmen was often inspired to steal particular things to do genuinely underhanded things (such as preventing the existence of organized labor); the VILE crooks would often attack the Chronoskimmer to try to stop the time pilots; and Kevin would frequently remind the Time Pilots that if they didn't succeed in their mission, the world would change for the worse.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Kevin had some good lines about the villains.
    Kevin: [on Medeva] Wow. She's like a cross between Dr. Seuss and, like, The Exorcist.
  • Delayed Ripple Effect: Each episode starts with a theft of a major piece of history. ACME has a window of 28 minutes to retrieve and return the loot before they can no longer reverse the damage.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: At times, Kevin is met with In-Universe Values Dissonance, especially in the Cluefinder sketches involving someone from the future. Among other people, we meet a 13th-century barber-surgeon who uses leeches and bloodletting to cure people, a Proper Lady from 1892 who thinks her sister is practically naked for wearing bloomers, and an Ellis Island official from c. 1900 who complains that she can't understand what the immigrants are trying to say. At other times, when particularly horrific historic events are covered (such as the Trail of Tears), Kevin will calmly remind the viewer that studying these events is the best way to avoid repeating them.
  • The Dung Ages: In the episode about perfumes, the Cluefinder from the future is a French lady from the 17th century whose husband bathes only once every few weeks and only sometimes uses soap, while the lady herself uses perfume to mask her body odor. Kevin is disgusted, but tries not to tell the lady.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Early contestants on the Trail of Time wore elbow pads and knee pads in addition to their helmets.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Sir Vile has a code of honor despite being evil. As a few examples, he would never partake in Grave Robbingnote  and he is horrified by the evil of the Tiananmen Square massacre and the events of "Trail of Tears."
  • Evil Is Hammy: V.I.L.E. liked to ham it up. Kevin and the Chief's evil counterparts from a parallel universe, even more so.
  • Expository Theme Tune: "Chronoskimmer, engine's hot, V.I.L.E. villains, evil plot! Our brave squadron leader will help us defeat her and bring back the loot to its rightful place in time!" That pretty much sums it up.
  • The Faceless: Carmen's face was always partly hidden by her hat.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: The "Global Pursuit" round always ended with Kevin telling the Time Pilots the crook left the final location just before they got there. Occasionally, Kevin would lampshade it by complaining that it always happens to them.
  • Fantastic Racism: In Season 1 Episode 5, Dr. Belljar accuses the International Olympic Committee of this when he learns that he cannot compete in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics because not all his body parts are human.
    Dr. Belljar: Is it my fault the world's bionically challenged?!
  • Five-Man Band:
  • Fully-Clothed Nudity: In the episode where the sewing machine is stolen, the "clue finder" is a tailor who accidentally steals Kevin's clothes, leaving him in Goofy Print Underwear.
  • Game Over Woman: When the clock hits zero in the Trail of Time, the viewers were treated to a scene of Carmen escaping with an Evil Laugh.
  • Game Show Host: Kevin Shinick.
  • Golden Snitch: The reverse chronological order game. The contestant with the most Power Points got to choose who went first, but it was just a matter of luck and memory as far as who won. So a contestant could do poorly on the trivia rounds and still make it to the Bonus Round by winning this game.
  • Hidden Eyes: Carmen's eyes are always hidden by her fedora. Justified as she's portrayed by different actresses in each season.
  • Hidden Depths: Season 2 Episode 49 reveals that Medeva is a reggae fan, even giving a clue relating to Bob Marley.
  • I'll Never Tell You What I'm Telling You!: Frequently, the villain-of-the-week breaks into ACME communications to gloat about how the Time Pilots will never find them. By describing the time period where they're hiding in great detail. Might also count as Criminal Mind Games.
  • Indy Escape: The Elephant Guy is one of the providers of clues for the time pilots in Season 1. His name comes from the fact that every time he shows up, he's being chased through a jungle by an elephant. In the episode where Jacqueline Hyde steals sugarcane, Kevin even runs alongside him for a bit.
    • Justified when there was a Data Boost round after that clue, as those were caused by the crook attacking the Chronoskimmer, implying such gloating was likely trying to bait the Time Pilots into a trap.
  • Ironic Name: The Chronoskimmer's engineer is named Fumbles McWhoops.
  • It Runs on Nonsensoleum: The Chronoskimmer runs on "fact fuel" generated by kids answering history questions (right or wrong provides the same amount of power). It's a game show. Just take it.
  • Jekyll & Hyde: Jacqueline Hyde switches between sweet and scary in every sentence, though both sides of her are loyal to Carmen.
  • Kick the Dog: In the Mirror Universe skits, the ACME members did things like pouring acid on flowers.
  • Large Ham: Pretty much the whole cast.
  • Laughably Evil: All of Carmen's gang, especially Baron Wasteland.
  • Lethal Chef: Libby, a robot chef built into the wall of the Chrono-Cafeteria with head spikes like the Statue of Liberty, serves such wonders as:
  • Long Bus Trip: Baron Wasteland, replaced by Buggs Zapper in Season 2. They were played by the same actor.
  • Losing Horns: The time buzzer in the Trail of Time round was a type A. Carmen herself laughed as well.
  • Millennium Bug: The episode where Dr. Belljar stole the first music box took this even further when he was worrying over it:
    Dr. Belljar: Bad news, Carmen: My processors think 1999 will be followed by the year 0!
  • Mirror Universe: In one type of skit, the ACME Agency was evil and V.I.L.E. was good. Kevin always announced the skit by saying, "Oh no! We're being pulled into a parallel universe!"
  • Monumental Theft: It wouldn't be Carmen Sandiego without one.
  • Nintendo Hard: The Trail of Time wasn't this in theory, but it became this in execution. The time pilot would stand in one of six gates and be asked a history question with two answers (Example: It's 1939, what epic movie has its premiere in Atlanta: Gone with the Wind or The Ten Commandments?) If they got the answer right, the gate opened, but if they didn't, they had to perform some time-consuming manualtask such as pulling up a rock with a rope. It became downright maddening when they decided to scatter the gates in a big mess, without any type of trail on the ground (lights would flash on the appropriate gate, and the Engine Crew would point the pilot there with airport flashlights). It's led some to believe that PBS deliberately made the whole thing confusing to avoid paying out the grand prize.
    • A number of the questions relate to some of the clues given in the main game. So, it's possible to win with a lack of knowledge if you've been paying attention all game.
  • The Omniscient: Omniscia.
  • Punny Name: It wouldn't be a Carmen Sandiego game without it, although a couple of the puns on the villains' names were less obvious in this show than in World. Buggs Zapper, Baron Wasteland and Jacqueline Hyde were obvious enough. Dr. Belljar and Sir Vile were more obscure, and Medeva was an interesting three-layered pun of Madea, Medieval and Diva.
    • The guides in the computer game were even worse: Ann Tiquity (for adventures in ancient times), Ivan Idea (for anything involving inventors), and Polly Tix are just a few.
  • Real Time: The Chief's dire instruction "you've got 28 minutes to get it back or history will change forever!" referred to the remaining runtime of the episode itself - it was on PBS, so there were no commercial breaks.
  • Rimshot: In the episode about mystery and horror books, the '70's girl says she's going to put on some ABBA records. Kevin says, "ABBA? And I thought Stephen King was scary!". This is followed by a Rim Shot.
  • Rogues Gallery
  • Rhymes on a Dime: Medeva. "Parsley, Rosemary, Thyme and Sage... What's up, boss? I got your page."
  • Running Gag: A lot of Data Boost rounds have questions involving Angela Lansbury as a possible answer.
  • San Dimas Time: The entire point of the series. Every episode has The Chief tell us, "Time Pilots, [name of Carmen's henchman of the episode] just stole something from the past. You've got 28 minutes to get it back or history will change forever!"
  • Screen Shake: When the Chronoskimmer got hit by something.
  • Self-Deprecation:
    • In the episode about Expositions, during a clue, Kevin is prompted by a woman about the new technology of Television. Kevin then describes possible shows one could watch on this new device, including "....a host and three kids chasing an imaginary crook through time." After the Q&A, Kevin laments that if they don't stop the criminals antics, the show "might not exist."
    • Robot Chicken did a spoof of the show, with Kevin actually doing the voiceover of his character having marital problems while taping an episode of the show.
  • Shoot the Fuel Tank: The V.I.L.E. villains would sometimes do it to drain the Chronoskimmer's "fact fuel". Of course, it wouldn't explode (history facts are generally not known for their flammability).
  • Shout-Out:
    • Whenever an episode focuses on pop culture, this is inevitable. For example, Angela Lansbury gets multiple mentions throughout the series.
    • The theme song lists "Newton's apple" as one of the things Carmen's crooks are stealing from history. At the time the series was made, Newton's Apple was a Science Show that aired on PBS.
  • Speed Round: While not timed, the "Data Boost" segments served this purpose. They consisted of either/or questions on the buzzers at 5 points each, up or down (10 points for the final, "Ultimate Data Boost"). Similarly, the "Global Pursuit" segment, which was triple choice for 5 points up or down.
  • Stock Footage:
    • Pretty much anything that wasn't unique to a particular episode was recycled over and over, from the Engine Crew singing the theme song (both in the Engine Room and on the Trail of Time), to the Chief directing them to start up the Chronoskimmer.
    • A couple of downplayed instances were present as well where there were several different but fixed pre-recorded shots to choose for use in certain semi-regular instances, such as Carmen initially calling her henchman of the episode, the Chief informing the audience of said henchman's theft, or any number of ways the Chronoskimmer might be affected after it was attacked and required a Data Boost. If you've seen multiple episodes, you'll probably pick up on at least a few.
  • Stylistic Suck: The Cold Open for Season 2, Episode 13 has this dialogue:
    Carmen: Blast. Nobody's buying my new album: Carmen Sandiego Sings the Phone Book. They'd much rather listen to good music...
  • Superpowered Evil Side: Jacqueline Hyde's evil side has the power to throw fireballs.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute:
    • Buggs Zapper, who replaced Baron Wasteland in Season 2. Justified, in that they were played by the same actor.
    • Being a teenager and a Token Good Teammate (well, when her "good" half was dominant, anyway), not to mention having blond hair in season one (it got redder in season two) and wearing a somewhat similar outfit, Jacqueline Hyde is one for World's Patty Larceny.
  • Take That!: In Season 1, Episode 47, Sir Vile wants to see Beauty and the Beast, but the show is sold out, and he laments that he's stuck seeing Cats instead. Kevin in turn thinks that no one should make fun of the latter musical and get away with it.
  • Techno Babble: A lot of it. What exactly is a "temporal sequencer"?
  • Temporal Paradox: "You have 28 minutes to get it back, or history will change forever!"
  • Timed Mission:
    • The "Trail of Time" bonus round was played in 90 seconds. Between the fact that each question chewed up six seconds of your time and you had to work off any wrong answers by opening the gate manually, you needed 4 out of 6 to even have a fighting chance, and that's if you could work the device quickly enough. Five or six, on the other hand, more or less guaranteed a win...although see Nintendo Hard, above.
    • The contestants ostensibly had 28 minutes to recover the object. Given that that's the length of an episode, it's more of a Continue Your Mission, Dammit!, because the structure of the show guarantees that they'll recover the object with enough time to spare to put it back, then attempt a Trail of Time campaign.
  • Time Machine: The aptly named Chronoskimmer, much larger than the version in Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?
  • Time Police: ACME Timenet
  • Time Travel
  • Title Theme Tune: "Tell me where in time is Carmen Sandiego?"
  • Transatlantic Equivalent: A French-Canadian version aired in about 1998 or so, which amusingly replaced their version of World.
  • Two Guys and a Girl: The Engine Crew.
  • Voice of the Legion: Jacqueline Hyde's evil side.
  • When Things Spin, Science Happens: In the first opening sequence, two of the things The Chief orders the crew to do to get the Chronoskimmer running involve making something spin. In at least one case(starting up the engine), a crew member is strapped to the spinning object. Because... well, why not?
  • World of Ham: Hoo, boy... A fun game for those at home might be "Pick the Hammiest Actor".
  • You ALL Look Familiar: Recycling the actors created this. It was especially jarring whenever Lynne Thigpen played a different character. Less jarring with the crooks since they were so worked over in post production.


Video Example(s):


ACME Timenet

They stop Carmen Sandiego from stealing history's treasures

How well does it match the trope?

4.67 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / TimePolice

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