Saturday, September 26, 2015

Dog With a Bog Reviewed: "Stan's Secret is Out" (3.24, Series Finale)

So long!

What is it? Multi-cam kidcom, half hour (24 minute) length
Where did it air? Disney Channel
Who stars in it? G. Hannelius (Sonny With a Chance, the DCOM Den Brother; after the fact, History Channel's Roots remake and High School Musical 4), Blake Micheal (the DCOM Lemonade Mouth) and Francesca Capaldi (aside from a few guest roles this is her first "big break," later she voiced, appropriately enough, the Redhead Girl from the Peanuts CGI movie) with Reagan Burns and Daily Show/DCOM veteran Beth Littleford rounding out the parental roles. Of course the "real" star is Stan the Dog himself, played by Kuma (early episodes) and Mick (later episodes)
Why are we reviewing this? Because, again, Disney Channel. Also this episode happens to be the friggin' series finale.

First of all a bit of a style note: while I'm not going to change it, I'm more than a bit disappointed with my first review (Best Friends Whenever "A Time to Rob and Slam"). It came off too much like a traditional review which is...a little boring. One of the reasons why I like Christian and Sean's reviews is because they're almost strictly commentary and opinion, they don't waste time and words re-summarizing the episode you just watched. So I'm going to try to emulate that style which means I'm going to try to quit providing episode summaries (I say "try" because my habit is to ramble on when I write - as if you haven't noticed). Unlike Girl Meets World Reviewed which caters almost strictly to people who are already fans of that show, I'm betting that maybe only up to 40% of my blog will be read by people familiar with the show (so basically, I'm betting you other guy who watches with your pet isn't familiar with them) but the Disney Channel episodes are so accessible (both through the Watch Disney Channel service, which is immediate and free to everybody not unfortunate enough to subscribe to the worst TV provider in history, better known as Time Warner Cable, or through YouTube) you'll either watch them yourself, or you just won't care to in the first place. 

Anyway, on to the review! Since it is the series finale, I'd be remiss for at least not going over the entire series real quick. Dog With a Blog has probably been one of the most polarizing shows in Disney Channel's history. People either get it or hate it, and a lot of these opinions seem to have been formed during the show's first season which, granted, wasn't the best (there's an unwritten rule of Disney Channel shows that either the first season is great off the bat and the series dies a very slow death from that point on - see Jessie and Austin & Ally - or that the first season is awful but vastly improves as the writers work out the kinks - see Girl Meets World, Liv and Maddie and especially Dog With a Blog). I thought the first episode was actually pretty great - it was funny, had great humor, and didn't pretend it was somehow above its own ludicrous concept of a dog with obvious CGI mouth movements. It wasn't afraid to revel in that ridiculousness or make certain sacrifices to plot or character that other perhaps more "adult" shows would avoid in order to make a punchline work, but didn't go overboard in doing that either for the sake of a weird immature sense of humor (see A.N.T. Farm Season 3, Jessie Seasons 3-4). But after the pilot, the show started hitting rocky territory and lost the plot.

Much of the first season was pretty dry - you can find a few comments on its TVTropes page about how the humor was dated circa 1962. I think a lot of it has to do with how the writers maybe weren't sure what kind of show they wanted it to be - did they want an over-the-top gag-based sitcom like most of Disney Channel or something more subdued and dialogue-driven like what the major networks carry? In Season 2 they seemed to have found a pretty good balancing act between the two. The show also took a more surrealist turn, perhaps as close to dadism as Disney Channel will ever see (barring the dadist homage from A.N.T. Farm's ANTagonist - I'll have to review that one some day, it was one of that show's best). If there was something stupid the characters wanted to do, they went for it, and the rest of the scene or whole episode would revolve around those consequences. Those consequences would be mined for more humor but also the lesson of the episode you'd expect from a kids' show, and by Golly they made it work. Much of the dialogue-driven gags still fell flat (really, it's hard to make a dialogue-driven gag work as evidenced by most of the network) but the physical comedy became an increasing focal point of the show, letting you completely tune out what didn't work. Perhaps the best episode of the entire series was "Karl Finds Out" which, oddly enough, is a clip show. It's probably the only successful clip show in history, made possible by a combination of arranging short clips into a new narrative and dubbing over others to come up with half-new material. It was legitimately a new episode and not just the writers or network being cheap.

Did "Stan's Secret is Out" carry on this tradition? Ehhh...kind of. The funniest bits were between the puppies which have completely stolen the scene since they arrived on it. Most of the show was just all the obligatory bits you need to cram into a series finale like this - the parents finding out that Stan could talk (accompanied by callbacks to the first episode which worked because, again, they were callbacks to the best parts of that pilot), government agents (and made scientist/Stan's former owner Ian, the closest this show's had to a regular villain since Karl quit being it) finding out that Stan could talk (and through an inattentive slip-up by Stan, which was actually kind of clever) and then the climax of how Stan, the Bennett-Jennings and Karl got themselves out of this mess and in the process making Stan a celebrity (supposedly had there been a Season 4 approved the show would've focused on Stan balancing celeb and home/family life, which I have to wonder how that would've worked and if it would've just been as awful as Jessie's Season 4 is). Also obligatory are the big emotional moments that come when you end a series and as far as behind-the-scenes is concerned, break up an extended family and close down a small business. There is a point where Stan decides to sacrifice his talking ability for his family, the family counter-acts by sacrificing their family bond for Stan...and it wraps up quickly and cleanly so we can have a Benny Hill-type chase scene (the show is really big into Benny Hill homages, BTW). That and the obvious final scene that's telling you this is the end as directly as possible without saying "There isn't going to be a new Dog With a Blog next week" are the episode's most emotional moments, pretty much everything else was gag humor. The dance number where Stan reveals his secret to the world was...meh. Not exactly as amazing as the awards host says it was, Really, the episode is just wrapping up the series and putting a nice little bow on it - it's not the best or funniest half-hour the show's ever had, but it's hard to put a cap on a series like this without either just throwing out a regular episode (even one that would be superior, but not really work as a series finale) or just completely screwing the fanbase over and getting a big fat solid F-grade out of sheer and pure personal spite. 

Grade: C+
Episode MVP: Everybody was just pretty much themselves so it's an even playing field without any real standouts. I think I'll just give it to Genevieve (or G. as she's simply credited) Hannelius and give her series MVP while I'm at it - the show may have had the dog as the title star but it's always been her show. She's first credit, it's her star vehicle, and this is going to be the big space in the demo reel that's going to determine her adult career. Although Blake Micheal and Francesca Capaldi have been big break-outs on the show, G's still made it her own and most of the viewer feedback seems to most positively praise her, and without reason. She's a legitimately good actress with good comedic timing, which I suppose isn't too surprising since she's been on the network (starting with Sonny With a Chance and the Disney Channel Original Movie Den Brother) since just before she hit double-digits. Francesca Capaldi is in the same exact position G started out with and I'd be shocked if she isn't being held in reserve for a future starring role of her own (maybe when creativity and originality truly have died she can be the main star of a Jessie remake) and Blake can probably make it out on his own fine enough, but G stands to reap the most benefit from her DWaB starring role and I'd say she's certainly made the most of it.

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