This Great Evil

Month: April, 2013

Community season 4 so far

I don’t have much to say about it as a whole. It started off shaky, but has the potential to be something worthwhile, if not quite the same as it used to be.

In my other job as a writer, I recap episodes the day after they air. As part of that ongoing series, I’ve been keeping a running tally of the quality of each episode. Here’s what it is so far:

History 101: C, Tried so very, very hard only to accomplish very, very little.

Paranormal Parentage: C+, Intermittently good, poor sense of timing and pacing.

Conventions of Space and Time: D+, Abysmal, redeemed only slightly by some game performances.

Alternative History of German Invasion: B-, Awful direction, but a decent core idea for an episode.

Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations: B-, Tying the Shirley B story and the Jeff’s dad main story diminished both.

Advanced Documentary Filmmaking: C, Varying shades of good to decent until the stinger, which is like a jab to the eye.

Economics of Marine Biology: C+, Unassuming is the best thing I can say about it. It’s not trying to be much, so its insubstantiality doesn’t really hurt too much. Didn’t care for the Dean’s writing, though.

Herstory of Dance: A-, Best yet of the season. Good mix of the funny, the sweet and the genuine. You could see the ending from a mile away, but that doesn’t lessen its power.

Intro to Felt Surrogacy: B-, Confused episode. Terrible music numbers, surprisingly good production values.

Intro to Knots: C, Weird decision to parody Rope never quite pays off.

Basic Human Anatomy: A, Very intelligent handling of a terrible high-concept cliche.

Heroic Origins: B, Mostly fine, could have been better.

Advanced Introduction to Finality: B-, Mostly fine doesn’t quite cut it for a season/series finale.

Season as a whole, so far (not an average): =61 (B-)

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I went into the abyss

The horror, the horror, the horror…

mlpI don’t like to condemn from a position of ignorance.

So, for my sins of antagonizing bronies, I gave myself a mission: sit through at least one episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. If it turned out that I do, in fact, enjoy this show, I said to myself that I would, without another word, simply walk into the nearest lake and drown myself.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

Watched: 1.01 episodes

You know what? After watching a little more than one episode of My Little Pony, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make fun of My Little Pony again. That’s not to say that it’s any good – God, no – but…well…I pretty much had the same reaction to this as I had to the Twilight novels.

The show isn’t that bad. All of the criticisms lobbed against the show are kind of just…unimportant, I guess. I was kept mildly entertained for 20 minutes by a gang of hideous animated…things, so I can’t really hate.

I realize now that projecting all my disdain for the brony movement onto the show was wrong. What I should have figured out was that I needed to ascertain why people, men in particular, formed such a close bond with the show. Then I can finally make peace with myself and the universe, and evolve into a higher form.

The issue is that after “Friendship is Magic: Part 1,” I still have no idea why bronies exist. Admittedly, a little over one episode might not be sufficient material, but the level of quality attained in this one episode does not suggest greatness. Let’s break it down:

The narrative: Something about someone trying to do something with some people. I imagine that actually sinking more time into the show and understanding its characters would make things more involving. But what if I don’t want to blow that much time? What if I’m an incredibly successful, handsome, rich, charismatic stallion of a man (shut up, just bear with me for a moment) who wants a good quality half hour of television without any other prior knowledge necessary because I’m too busy receiving fellatio from supermodels whilst driving my Ferrari whilst saving the free world from radical North Korean Whedonites? After all, Gravity Falls and Nichijou managed to get across their appeal in one measly episode.

On the strength of this single episode, My Little Pony left me rather cold. A bunch of weird shit happened involved prophecies, a purple dragon (Barney?) and a huge pony brigade, but everything was too disconnected and scattershot to elicit any significant response. I got bored. My cursor hovered over the timeline several times throughout.

Characterization: I gathered from my limited discussions with bronies that character work is a big strength of the show. I can kind of see that, from this one episode. The show does a good job of introducing large casts of almost instantly identifiable characters and giving each of them a personality. Some of it just goes with the terrain – giving each pony a different color and different tattoo was smart – but a lot of the credit goes to some tight writing and conceptualization.

The first episode’s vague plot proved to be a good way to introduce Twilight Sparkle (and, by extension, us) to a decent number of Ponyville’s inhabitants. Oh my God. I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence. I’m going to need a drink.

Calmed down now. So, even though I don’t remember almost anyone’s name, I think I’ve gotten a decent sense of who these ponies are, a remarkable achievement for a single episode.

Adorableness: The characterization is good, maybe even impressive, but the actual story hasn’t been anything close to compelling. Guess what? That’s fine! Because the target audience is of an impressionable mindset, so anything involving cute little ponies will be enthralling as all hell. Right? Right?

Right?

WRONG (and, again, shut up).

The issue here is that I could not find anything in Ponyville to be even remotely visually appealing, let alone adorable. The show’s sense of cuteness and aesthetic merit is like that of a gonzo porn star. Everything’s lathered in such dense makeup, pageantry and excess that the end product isn’t sexy at all. I mean cute. At all. Fuck. Forget that just happened.

Wrapping this crap up: After all that, I’m still no closer to figuring out this show’s crazy appeal. I can see how the characters might become compelling enough that even mediocre plots will be somewhat entertaining. However, nothing in the show’s appalling art and weak storytelling could sell the show. It’s one thing to have a set of interesting characters, it’s quite another to do something worthwhile with them. You can limp through a weak season on the strength of your ensemble (see season 4 of Community), but you can’t hide that gaping hole forever.

It’s easier, I suppose, for children’s television, but why, then, have so many grown men, many of whom have good taste elsewhere, becoming so enraptured by this particular show?

I had a pet theory. I hypothesized that maybe My Little Pony was not so different from 50 Shades of Grey. Much like how the latter novel enabled overly modest women to think about and talk about S&M, My Little Pony liberated the feminine within the minds of men. Suddenly, this show and this fandom burst on the scene, telling guys that it’s okay to temporarily shun masculinity and indulge in liking something expressly made for little girls. Do you know how fast a boy would get beaten up at elementary school if he copped to liking pretty ponies and such? Here was this movement that said it was okay to cast away those fears. Come, set your weary self down. It’s safe here. Warm. Inviting.

But, as I put these thoughts to words, I realized something: I am such a massively pretentious prick. Why the fuck do I have a right to understand something people clearly take great joy and solace in? Why do I have to make sense of and render mundane and unmagical the pretty ponies?

Fuck that shit. I do not want to be the kind of crank who shits all over other people’s likes to feel smugly superior, as if my taste was objectively better or  nobler.

If you like My Little Pony, then great. I will never, ever in a million years understand you, but, please, shine on you crazy diamonds.

If you don’t like My Little Pony, then take a seat at the bar. We can toast to our mutual befuddlement, crack a joke about /r/clopclop and maybe find a little bit of happiness for ourselves out of all these glittery weirdness.

Francis Lawrence believes in tripods

Thank god.

 

Netflix Binge

Several oldie Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon shows recently got put on Netflix. In honor of the occasion, I’m rewatching/catching up with some of the  ol’ goodies.

Samurai Jack

Watched: 2 episodes

Wow. If I saw this show as a kid…well, I don’t think I would have liked it very much – it’s more of an art film than a kiddie show. Ostensibly a tale of killing some evil demon king thing, Samurai Jack’s really all about the drop dead gorgeous art design. My mouth was agape through most of the first two episodes, especially throughout that bravura silent training montage in the first episode. How did this ever get greenlit?

Ed, Edd ‘n’ Eddy

Watched: 2 episodes

I remembered watching and liking this show a lot as a kid. Going back, I’m surprised by how surreal and flat out creepy most of the show is. Think a Beavis and Butthead interpretation of Charlie Brown by way of Malcolm in the Middle, David Lynch and Harmony Korine. When I watched it originally, I had no idea what jawbreakers were, leading to a lifelong misinterpretation of the candy as those giant, spherical boulders from this show.

The Kids from Room 402 

Watched: 3 episodes

Charlie Brown for the ADD generation, this show moves at a ferocious clip. Often times, dramatizations of K-12 education makes all the boring and self-righteous day-to-day stuff palatable by exaggerating and intensifying standard plots to operatic levels. The Kids from Room 402 gets around this by jamming an impossible amount of stuff into each episode. Each day of school passes by in like 3 minutes. I was fucking shocked by how fast time whizzes by in the show.

Otherwise, the show is mostly notable for its characters – a weird mix of pop-culture stereotypes. There’s Vinnie, who might have wandered in from an off-Broadway performance of The West Side Story Jr., the utterly insufferable jingoist Polly and Nancy, with her Hairspray hairdo  and equally retro glasses. The show is at its best when utilizing Polly and/or social shame like a WMD. You just know that the story’s going to end with Nancy forced with Polly or Jessie getting shamed in front of the whole school, but the damned intentions on this road to hell make the endings very cathartic.

Angela Anaconda (CANADA)

Watched: 4-fifteen minute “episodes”

This is one of the few shows on Teletoon that was produced by Canadians. Go Canada!

I didn’t remember how absolutely and utterly creepy this show was. Here I was, thinking that children’s television was going through a mini-renaissance with Adventure Time and Gravity Falls, when all the stuff I watched as a kid turned out to be fucked up fever dreams. Okay, so Angela Anaconda is about Angela, an overly verbose grade school girl with an incredibly overactive and often grotesquely violent imagination, who goes to school with her friend Johnny, a thick-headed numbskull whose uncle is pretty much a composite of all the guys whacked in Goodfellas, to be in Mrs. Brink’s class, a sadistic, overweight exhibionist. Oh yeah, and everyone’s modeled with black and white cut out pictures. Enjoy the nightmares!

Johnny Bravo

Watched: 1 episode

Douchebag Looney Tunes. Yep, that about covers it.

Courage the Cowardly Dog

Watched: 1 episode

I’ve always thought of this show as the Spongebob take on the Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror episodes. They tackle dark and lurid stuff with the zany, ironic bent of Mr. Squarepant’s undersea adventures. Courage manages a tricky balance of spineless and endearing – he’s always whiny and big ‘fraidy-cat, but those bursts of courage at the end feel genuinely earned and weirdly uplifting. The show suggests that the world can be a dark, twisted place, but that a bit of courage and resolve, more often than not, will set things right.

Also, the soundtrack is extremely catchy.

Codename: Kids Next Door

Watched: 1 episode

Yeah, this is really generic. I had some really fond memories of this show, but, after watching one episode, I can’t fathom why. This lazy genre pastiche would have had more novelty as a live action show.

Dexter’s Laboratory

Watched: 1 episode

Can we take a moment to talk about how awesome the title sequence is? Not only is the music insidiously catchy, but the little sequence is a perfect encapsulation of the show’s standard Dee-Dee screws up Dexter story arc. It’s also pretty funny, even after repetition.

The rest of the show has aged pretty well. I love many of the smaller flourishes, especially Dexter’s faux-German accent, and a lot of the gags are gut bustingly funny. However, the stories are fairly gosh darned samey – there are only so many times you can watch Dee-Dee beat Dexter because of Dexter’s hubris – and all the empty, bubble-headed characterization of Dee-Dee is a bit icky. It’s the butt of the joke a lot of the times, but you can’t help feeling like Dee-Dee’s got some serious brain and/or psychological damage throughout.

Powerpuff Girls

Watched: 1 episode

Another fantastic title sequence.

I’m immensely impressed by this show because I can never get a handle on how much piss it’s actually taking. Paired with the amazingly sardonic narrator and the comical juxtaposition of superpowers and the very young protagonists, Powerpuff Girls ends up being a show that doesn’t really take anything seriously.

That South Park reference also doesn’t help.

Ren and Stimpy

Watched: 1 episode

What else is there to say about Ren and Stimpy? It’s more than a show; it’s a cultural institution.

Cow and Chicken

Oh fuck off.