'Toys That Made Us' Season 4 to cover Smurfs, Nerf, D&D — if Netflix renews
Creator Brian Volk-Weiss on how his documentary series evolved in Season 3, and what he wants to learn about Hot Wheels.
The premise for The Toys That Made Us could last forever, after all, it’s unlikely the Netflix documentary series will ever run out of toys to explain. The only question is, will Netflix renew the show for Season 4, or is Season 3 the end of The Toys That Made Us? Hopefully, the show keeps continuing, because its creator, Brian Volk-Weiss, has some big toy-related questions he still hasn’t answered.
“This is something I’ve just recently realized,” the film and TV producer tells Inverse. “If you look at the top 100 entertainment franchises, 98 are either American or Japanese.”
On a planet of eight billion people, countries like France, Germany, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia haven’t produced anything on par to the modern, money-making hits like Star Wars, Hello Kitty, Transformers, Pokémon, and Barbie.
“America, I get,” Volk-Weiss says. “What is it about Japan, a tiny country smaller than Rhode Island, that has such a staggering impact on the pop culture of the world?”
The Toys That Made Us may never answer Volk-Weiss’ question, but it’ll still satisfy his curiosity.
“I’m just curious about toys I don’t know anything about,” he says. “I don’t know that much about NERF. I don’t know D&D. The little research I’ve done into Strawberry Shortcake, I find interesting. I want to know more.”
"I’d love to do a Dungeons & Dragons episode. I’d love to do fast food toys. But you gotta watch us to get more.
Now streaming its third season on Netflix, The Toys That Made Us explores four more toy lines that take viewers out of the late ‘80s and into the early ‘90s: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, My Little Pony, and pro wrestling. But as big as those franchises are in our cultural consciousness, as movies, TV shows, and comics, the show ensures focus on the collectibles that thin parents’ wallets.
“The word is in the title. We keep the focus on the toys,” he says. “That said, there’s no Ninja Turtles without the cartoon. No Star Wars without the movie. We do the most interesting semi-dive into the movie and shows that support the brands and then quickly get to the toys. That’s what the show’s about.”
Looking ahead, Volk-Weiss already knows what he wants in Season 4, but it’ll take some serious binge-watching to make it happen.
“Season 4 has not been greenlit,” he makes clear. “We need everyone to watch and watch again. That’s what Netflix cares about, as many eyes as possible. To get Season 4, we need everybody to watch all 12 episodes at least once.”
Should that happen, “Season 4 would include Matchbox, Cabbage Patch Kids, Smurfs, NERF. I’d love to do a Dungeons & Dragons episode. I’d love to do fast food toys. But you gotta watch us to get more.”
Season 3 gives a lot for viewers to chew on, anyway. This year, the show ditches the scripted reenactments that were a staple from the first two seasons to dive deeper into the real stories.
“We were putting a tremendous percentage of our budget into reenactments,” Volk-Weiss says. “It was taking a lot of the time we had every episode. We wanted to put more time and money into getting the facts.”
The first two episodes explore Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers, franchises that both star adolescent, color-coordinated karate experts who save the world from monsters. “They were four to six years outside my era,” says Volk-Weiss, raised on Star Wars and Star Trek. “Both have a slightly younger fanbase but no less passionate than any other brand. People go to Japan just to stand outside Toei. That’s their reason for sitting in a metal tube for 20 hours.”
From his time diving into Power Rangers, The Toys That Made Us reveals its unexpected connections to Stan Lee and Margaret Loesch — “We’re doing a whole one-off documentary right now just on Margaret,” Volk-Weiss says — and Ninja Turtles created by indie comic sensations Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, Volk-Weiss finds striking similarities of those fans to Star Wars collectors.
“They have a similar love/hate relationship,” he says. “Talk to anyone under 30, they love Jar Jar Binks. Anyone over 30, they hate Jar Jar. With Power Rangers, same thing. They are passionate about a very specific era. Under 35, they’re about the movie. It’s an interesting phenomenon.”
Adds Volk-Weiss, “I’m now a big fan.”
The Toys that Made Us Season 3 is streaming now on Netflix.