Saturday, February 27, 2016

OT: Fuller House

Girl Meets World better step aside for some real gangsters.

What is it? multi-cam half-hour (24 minutes? I actually don't know how Netflix works not having it) all-round family sitcom revival
Where did it air? Netflix exclusive, which means you need a Netflix membership to watch it, but hey, at least you can binge watch the entire season whenever the hell you feel like it!
Who stars in it? Most of the original cast and some new people I don't know
Why are we reviewing it? Well we're not really reviewing it, but Mike has some words about it. It'd be nice to review because it is somewhat related to Boy Meets World in more ways than one, and it really is in many ways the grand-daddy of the shows we normally review from Nickelodeon and Disney Channel anyway.
As some of you may already know, the first season of Fuller House premiered on Netflix yesterday. For those of you who are too young, never watched the series in its original run or have no idea what syndication is capable of, Fuller House is a reboot of Full House. One of the most infamous textbook family sitcoms of all-time (seriously, this show would have its own unit in a family sitcom class), Full House aired from 1987-1995 on ABC and starred a man named Danny Tanner, enlisting the help of his brother-in-law Jesse Katsopolis (Cochran was his last name in season one) and his best friend Joey Gladstone to raise his three daughters after his wife's death. Full House pulled every catchphrase and cliche and cute kid out of its hat and became an immensely popular series. Nobody will ever mistake it for Cheers or The Cosby Show or The Simpsons, but damn you, it was endearing.

The reboot is basically the premise of the original show, but now the oldest daughter is Danny, the middle one is Jesse, and the oldest daughter's best friend is Joey. So there's that. Bottom line is, as a big Full House fan who has already seen bits and pieces of the reboot, I have to get in on the action.

Unfortunately, I don't have a Netflix account and I wanted to do a review where I compare and contrast it to Girl Meets World. It only seems appropriate. So if anyone has any links where I can just watch episodes and not have to sign up for any crappy websites or give out personal information, be more than happy to share it with me. The fate of this review and the blog rest in your hands.

Okay, not really, but you know what I want. Unknown, feel free to get in the discussion if you have anything to say or contribute to the review when (or if) it comes out. 

EDIT: Never mind. I got a friend's account. Don't know when I'll be able to do a review but it's all up to timing, I guess. 

Oooh now i jump in!

I don't have Netflix either but I've heard and seen enough fan reaction on places like IMDb and Twitter, and of course access to the plethora of critical reviews. Out of the gate, Fuller House is as beloved by critics as the original - which is to say, not at all. In fact like Disney Channel's own Jessie, A.N.T. Farm and Austin & Ally before, critics seem to have found immediate use for Fuller House as a proverbial punching bag.

Gawker and AV Club seem equally less-than-enthralled by Fuller House as well (AV Club's review, in fact, is one of the ones that made it into the clip above).

Of course, that doesn't matter - critical praise doesn't pay the bills (see one of my favorite shows of all time, FX Network's Terriers, a legitimately good show that won tremendous critical praise but almost no one watched). Audiences seem to love Fuller House. In fact some people seem to think it's outright kicking GMW's ass and that Micheal Jacobs can learn a thing or two from the Netflix crew. 

I'll watch Fuller House eventually - what that looks like is anyone's guess. Maybe when I actually get Netflix (at this point, actually most likely), maybe through other means that might not necessarily please the guy in charge of keeping track of Netflix's copyright claims on YouTube. But I do know that Fuller House is unapologetically tapping in complete full the nostalgic factor for better or worse down to dated references and catch phrases. Meanwhile, Girl Meets World tries to adapt a formula for a time when maybe that formula is just past its prime. Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages, and quite honestly in the end it's meaningless as both series happen to be on networks that essentially make them both completely sheltered from and invulnerable to cancelation and the type of forces responsible for ending a show prior to when the writers want to make that call (for example - despite the shock of many pundits because quite frankly it's literally their job to freakin' know stuff like this - Netflix has a policy to guarantee their series two seasons minimum no matter what, even if literally nobody bothers to highlight and click a single episode title; the reason why is to prevent The Firefly Effect). But they still remain highly relevant to students of television nostalgia, history, and just basic storytelling decency. So, we'll see.

As for the original - like Mike (frankly I'm shocked he's old enough to even remember Full House) I do have fond memories of the show, though watching reruns of it on Nickelodeon has severely tested that nostalgia (for my modern tastes it's quite honestly almost unwatchable). Of course my 9-10 year old self didn't know better...but I guess that explains why critics hate Jessie and Austin & Ally yet how those shows can spit out four seasons.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

A plea to my readership (like, the five of you who actually bother)

How ya doin? (Yes I'm ripping Christian off here...again).

No, I'm not threatening to quit the blog...uh, again. But I am interested in knowing a few things from you.

For the next set of projects I want to do here for the blog (both this one and the new one, though they're really the same) I really want to know what people think of Disney Channel and Nickelodeon beyond just the reviews we do here. What you think of the shows that's on right now in a broad fashion, why you hate/like them and what about it that makes you love it/sets you off about it. From both the feedback I'm getting here and from Christian and Sean's blog I have a pretty good idea what people love and hate about Girl Meets World, but I'm really curious what you think of other shows. Like Jessie, Austin & Ally, Liv and Maddie, Bunk'd, K.C. Undercover, Best Friends Whenever. Thundermans, Nicky, Ricky, Dicky and Dawn, Game Shakers, Henry Danger, Make it Pop!, The Legend of Korra. Lab Rats, Kirby Buckets, Mighty Med, Gravity Falls. And any other piece of entertainment that's been on broadcast or basic cable (or heck even premium I guess) that's squarely aimed at pre-teens and teens (the specific age range I'm looking at is, say, 10 all the way to 18). 

I'm also very curious what you would look for, specifically, in such programming from the future. From yourselves as audience members and what you'd like for your own children.

Also, I guess with this blog in particular. You like my long-winded off-topic rants where I talk about cellular mitosis, the U.S. higher education system...uhh, I think I even threw in the 1974 Plymouth Volaire at one point? Or do you want me to quit it? What kind of shows you'd like to see reviewed? I'd really like to keep this to shows aimed in that aforementioned age range - "adult" programming is already vastly represented by a practically infinite number of professional reviewers along with joe schmoe random blogs both written and in handy-dandy video format, which essays on children's media doesn't seem to be of much interest - but hey, if you want me to review or write an essay on a particular show I'm game for it, at least for one episode. I've reviewed other programming before, all the way to the beginning of this blog.

And heck, I can do other things as well, though I already write for a number of community blogs about various topics. But I can always cross-link if nothing else.

Don't forget to throw your input in, Mike and Nick!

Oh, and I'd like to get Sean from Girl Meets World Reviewed to do a guest spot on this blog. Nothing that would step on the toes of GMWReviewed, just a one time thing.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A personal message to Mike and some non-personal blog updates

Good news everyone! Remember the new blog I started, Kids' Corner @Kinja? Well one of the members of Oppositelock@Kinja just showed me how to add authors - so Mike, I'm gonna need you to make a Kinja account ( and we can get this started! 

In the meantime expect some further updates.

Alright, I'll definitely get on that in the next couple of days. Hopefully the migration to Kinja helps with our readership. 

We probably won't totally migrate, at least not at first, while I figure out what to do exactly. Most of our stuff will still be here. I'm currently trying to figure out how to add authors, there's been an unexpected hiccup.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Girl Meets World Reviewed - Girl Meets the Bay Window (#2.30, Season 2 Finale)

What is it? Uuugh this is sooooo tedius I'm a gonna staaaaaahp
Why is this ahead of the episode quotation? Again to preserve the context of the original review. Yeah you get the point so I'm going to quit doing this for GMW from now on, since it's our most reviewed show anyway with a related, separate blog entirely dedicated to it (especially since Christian and Sean made it clear they're absolutely not touching anything else by Disney Channel ever again) you should know what's going on.

K, you know what's natural? The way the sun comes in through these windows. And the pillows are warm when you put your head on them. Or the moon glows off the curtain and we don't care that it's the middle of the night because we're here and we're safe and we're protected. Or how Farkle comes in through the window all our lives and says "Ladies!" I don't want that to ever change!

Yes, it is necessary to quote that whole damn thing.

There's a multitude of things that I want to address now, about the episode itself; about the entire series Girl Meets World; about this very blog and sending messages to Mike (since this is the best way I can even contact him, through these very blog posts). But the very first thing I want to address is this whole "you're literally a different person after 7 years" kind of thing. 

That's right, it's time for an episode of "Unknown Gets Set Off Into Another Off-Topic Random Rant Nobody Cares About!"

Very early in the episode (immediately after the quote that opens this review, in fact) Farkle mentions that you're literally a different person than you were 7 years ago by way that the cells in your body 7 years ago cease to exist (or rather, are no longer contained within your body). It's a very useful fact for motivational speakers, but it's also what's known as a canard - as in, the French word for duck, but also something (such as an oft-quoted fact) that ultimately serves as little more than distraction (another key feature of motivational speaking: distract you from your actual problems, hence why canards like this get found frequently there). 

The "7 years a new person" thing is closely related to a philosophical and engineering (that's a combination you rarely see everyday) concept called "The Ship of Thesus." It comes from Greek antiquity and a mythological hero named Thesus (duh), who went off on crazy adventures on his ship, and then the Greeks decided to put this ship in a museum. Considering that iron, steel, and other metals/alloys didn't become commonplace as ship building materials until the last half of the 19th century, Thesus' ship would've been constructed like any other ancient Greek ship - out of wood. Depending on the type of wood used, wood can actually last for a very long time and certain types of wood are actually especially highly resistant to rotting or other forms of being munched upon by animal or plant, especially if chemically treated. However, Greeks didn't have access to these modern miracles of chemistry - not to mention all forms of wood are eventually vulnerable to dry rot, where just as the name implies the wood loses its moisture and shrinks, usually leading to structural damage in the process. If you've ever seen an ancient fence or left balsa wood (which has incredibly poor moisture-retention properties) out to dry after being soaked, you're already familiar with what this is like. So the Greeks had to regularly replace the wood from Thesus' ship and rebuild it periodically even though it's just sitting dry in a museum. One day some wise-guy philosopher (probably Socrates, History's Greatest Wise-Guy) posed the question - if you replaced every piece of wood from Thesus' ship, would it still be Thesus' ship, even though it looks, functions, smells, tastes, what have you, exactly the same as the original ship Thesus actually sailed on? 

Obviously the answer to Mr. Wise-Guy Probably Socrates' direct question is strictly philosophical, but it does have real implications in everyday life - in engineering, in law (for example, the legality of taking a junk car's VIN and using it for a collection of brand-new parts that looks exactly like the old car and calling it the same car can be tricky due to fraud laws and the fact that cars can have greater value either as original or as an entirely new car, depending on the exact situation - yeah, it's complicated, which is my point) and of course in the larger field of philosophy regarding what's "real." And obviously Farkle's little factoid is very related to the Ship of Thesus - the idea that all living multi-cellular organisms including ourselves are living embodiment of Thesus' ship. 

Except there are huge problems with outright claiming that you're literally a new person every 7 years by using that factoid as rationalization.

The first is just freaking common sense as demonstrated by example. Now I know, many philosophers from Socrates again to Einstein (yes in addition to being a physicist Einstein was also a legitimate philosopher) have made much about how common sense is often just an impediment to true philosophical and scientific advancement. But at the end of the day, common sense is just that - freaking common sense. Yes, it can be wrong, but it's not the job of society to throw out the very concept of common sense, but rather modify whatever tidbit about common sense happens to be wrong so that it becomes factually correct. This is the very basics of education, knowledge and logic. Especially when said common sense is demonstrable by example - something which Einstein could attest is supreme in the world of logic and science. Observation and demonstrability trumps waxing poetic that also sounds good for motivational speeches. 

Anyway, you have to consider what a cell actually is, along with the mass of the multi-cellular organism that cell belongs to. 7 years for complete cellular change out is a phenomenally long time as far as time on the scale of cells is concerned. 7 years of cellular time is pretty much the distance in time from now going back to the dawn of humankind itself based on the scale we humans perceive and comprehend. What I'm trying to say is, "cellular" time is rapidly short. If any of you are fresh into high school or college biology, you'll know how relatively rapid the mitosis process is. Well, everything about cellular life is rapid, including life spans. Humans shed tens of thousands of skin cells daily, for example. That's a lot of cells mitosizing in a very short time. 

Now you also have to regard the mass of the living organism itself. You very literally don't notice yourself shedding tens of thousands of skin cells daily - you wouldn't even be able to gather them up into a pile and see that pile without scientific lab equipment. Prolonged exposure to multiple humans shedding skin cells only results in small layers of dust - and much of that dust would also be mixed in from material shed from inorganic or organic processed material (such as cotton fibers) that have been shed from the daily wear process, or other forms of dust such as rock dust from outside sources. 

Or consider a big slab of meat, which is also simultaneously a cross-section of a multi-cellular organism (or if you're a vegetarian, literally any fruit or vegetable will do, but I'd like to keep this analogy closely analogous to the human form specifically). If tens of thousands of skin cells is still invisible to the naked human eye, consider how many cells there must be in that big slab of meat. Now, consider the growth process. Visualize how that slab of meat would grow - new cells would form on the surface of the meat that's touching the plate, and dead cells would be shed on the other side of the meat that's facing away, into the air, at you. As the old layer is shed, a new one forms. As the new layer becomes older, newer layers form under it, with the reference layer essentially "traveling" through that meat slab. When the reference layer dies, it will be on the open-air side of the slab of meat and be shed. 

Now let's say you had a device that could slice that slab of meat in half, extract the one-cell thick reference layer specifically, and then put the slab of meat back together like nothing happened except for the missing reference layer, and the meat keeps on growing and shedding cellular layers. That reference layer you just extracted is now just a useless pile of dead or rapidly dying cells. In multi-cellular organisms, individual cells are nothing. Cells only matter when they're usefully grouped and organized together. The reference layer alone didn't amount to squat - but when it was pressed in with other layers it worked out into a piece of living meat, or to step away from the weird creepy analogy a piece of edible meat that can be cooked into a steak. It's the formation and organization of that slab of meat that matters, not the actual matter and cells that physically constitute that slab of meat. 

Or in other words, regardless of the cells themselves, or how old or original they are, it's the consistency of the slab of meat that's important. You can use chemical or scientific processes to give a jump-start to the cell formation and shedding process and simultaneously force all the cells to mitosize at once and then kill off all the "original" cells. The slab of meat would technically be completely new but the question of whether or not it's a new slab of meat or the same exact old slab of meat is completely immaterial and irrelevant - because it's still the exact same consistency

It's consistency, rather than raw physical matter, that often lends a more useful definition of "real" and "original" instead of providing fodder for outright trolling or wise-guy shenanigans. Unfortunately either most people are just too lazy to understand the concept of consistency, or the allure and entertainment value of being a philosophical troll is too great (I've been to 4chan so I know that allure is very powerful) and so philosophical trolling like this gets oft-repeated as some sort of philosophical theological or otherwise vague/motivational "feel-good" gospel.

Really, the very fact that disease like cancer even exists should suggest that the whole "you become a literal new person every 7 years" thing is kind of bunk-y (both in the nonsense sense and the show nonsense, because Bunk'd is indeed a load of bunk, you suck, Pamela Eells O'Connell) without further clarification and understanding of what you're actually talking about. According to the logic within that quip, cancerous cells should just naturally work themselves out over the course of mitosis, and you will automatically and magically become cancer-free if you just manage to live seven years. Because, again, it's consistency, not just raw matter and cells. Cancerous cells themselves continue to mitosize and form anew and die, and in the process they gain their own consistency in the form of a tumor. 

So yes, Farkle is technically accurate. But technically can also be a load of bunk on a practical level. That's why the phrase technicality exists. In the real, observable world that we live and work in, practicality trumps all. You have a bunch of other stuff that's only useful when you start to shrink further and further down (such as in microbial medicine and attempting to extract properties from the quantum world that would be useful in the macro-world, such a teleportation and time-travel for example) and you have a bunch of other stuff that's really only good for feel-good motivational speeches.

Anyway, with yet another long-winded rant knocked out let's return to the GMW Season 2 finale!

On the very basis of its narrative construction, presentation, and subject matter I think we all pretty much have to conclude that Bay Window is pretty glurdgy, by intention. That's a really cheap way of trying to wring out equally cheap sentimentality out of a show, but that's just the prevailing attitude when it comes to little kiddie shows like this. The question is does it work because of it, or does it work in spite of it, or does it work at all?

The little kids they got to play young Maya, Riley and Farkle are adorable, and the skit with Still-Peyton-Meyer Lucas was head and shoulder above adorable, but I'd be damned if I can actually follow along what the hell was supposed to be happening plot/narrative-wise in that skit. 

We didn't really learn anything new about the characters, which again I suppose is to be expected for what amounts to a glorified clip show, only using clips from episodes far before a period in the show where the show actually exists on video (and then very briefly into the far future, again to a point the show very likely won't exist anymore to cover). I guess it's similar in concept to the Phineas and Ferb episode Act Your Age, only in the reverse direction, deep in the past instead of in the far future. Only in Act Your Age, the episode had much ground to cover and catch up on in terms of character development. In fact that episode was all character development, fast-forwarding to cover all the dangling character threads that would've been left out otherwise had the show gone from the previous episode straight to the series finale (Act Your Age happened to be the penultimate episode of the series).

Bay Window mostly felt as if it was treading water, covering already well-worn ground and mostly just wanted to be cutesy and glurdge-y and remind the audience that, again, Maya's home life sucked because she didn't have a father growing up and that a show about two best friends is a show about two best friends. The parts covering how Riley reacted to Auggie's birth might as well have been a snap of Cory's fingers. The entire episode pretty much played out exactly as I would have expected it to.

Is that a bad thing? Kind of. Whatever strengths this episode had rests entirely on the cutesy-ness of the young players plus cheap tugging of the heartstrings. Those Humane Society commercials with the crying cats in the cages may be very much a cheap shot emotionally, but hey it works (that's why it's such a cheap shot in the first place). Especially considering the dual demo for this show - kids who like Maya and Riley are either still relatively young in middle school, and therefore feel as if they're still transitioning in life, or kids who are now thinking about high school and have to go through yet another transition, and their relatively young-ish parents who are both witnessing their own children going through aforementioned transitions or are still fresh off their own transitions from teens and young adults to "full" adults (or the nostalgia crowd like Christian and Sean and myself, who are still young adults) - the idea of life-long best friends who suddenly have to separate due to diverging life paths also presents another cheap yet effective shot to the heart. Other than death, childbirth and matters of romance it's one of the most emotional circumstances someone can go through (and such a departure can involve up to all three). And given the demos I just mentioned, that's something that usually crops up with heavy frequency - so covering both ends of the spectrum like they did in this episode certainly gets all their bases covered

So...hmmm. Yeah. Glurdge away, Josh Jacobs, I guess. Josh Jacobs is gonna Josh Jacobs, as we've seen regarding all his scripts put to network so far.

Episode Grade: A flat B. I'm not entirely not going to see right pass the glurdge-factor of the show (inb4 double-negative nitpickers). It's probably what we should expect from the season finale of GMW's middle season. The two season finales so far have been about change - we saw it in Meets First Date (no, Demolition was not the first season finale, I don't care what anybody says or what the intro credits suggest, use yer brains peeps) and this episode is entirely about change. This episode just handled it in rather static, sentimental fashion.
Episode MVP: I'm kind of torn between the little kids with Peyton-Meyer-Still-As-Lucas or the two adult actresses they got for the close. I have to admit the adults especially were well-cast as believably related to Sabs and Row, at least.
Season Grade:, howabout we leave that to a dedicated entry?

Stray observations:

 - I've noticed that with a few exceptions I seem to have a much higher opinion of the back half of Season 2 than other people. The few exceptions, mainly Commonism, Belief and New Year, I'm for the most part in agreement with everybody else (and even then I liked New Year at least slightly better than most people). I liked Meets Texas Parts 2 and 3 at least slightly better than most people too it seems. Again, I'll cover that more in greater detail in a dedicated entry.

 - This is the first GMW review in a loooong time that wasn't kicked off by Mike first! I hope he's not too busy with anything (well we are approaching prom season and college application season). Speaking of which I'd say for Season 3 we stick to his idea, just review a bunch of episodes at once - unless it turns out to be an exceptionally good episode or an exceptionally bad episode.

- I'm also curious what the rest of you guys think in terms of GMW as a whole or other shows. I'll organize some way to get some sort of mass response beyond just the five readers or so who actually look at this blog.

Monday, February 22, 2016

On The Disney Channel Live-Action Universe, Canon, and Who the Heck Cares

So there is this thing called the Disney Channel Live-Action Universe (link) on this other thing called TVTropes. As the name implies it's the "universe" that all of the Disney Channel live-action shows take place in and, um, thensome apparently. It's a big friggin' giant mess. This blog entry is entirely about that big friggin' giant mess and the whole concept of "canon" that many people talk about when they talk about TV, movies or (comic) books (and how they can turn into big friggin' giant messes).

First an introduction to what "canon" is. No, I didn't misspell "cannon," this isn't about big shooty-thingies. "Canon" is a term derived from Christian (as in the religion, not the guy over at Girl Meets World Reviewed) Theology and refers to what specific teachings and writings are considered the actual, true words of God and Jesus in basically everything the church officially participates in and sanctions. As to why it's called "canon" specifically and why it's only one letter off from being a big shooty-thingie, I don't know, but as an aside it might interest you to know that some of the first cannon shooty-thingies were actually improvised from church bells so, uh, I guess that's a connection right there. But anyway, canon is both one of the most important and most controversial subjects in Christianity, as it concerns the agreement of what about Christianity should actually be considered true, especially regarding the Bible. There are entire sub-books that many people debate as to whether or not they should be recognized or considered nearly the same as heresy, referred to as Apocryphilia. You'll see all these terms again in about, oh, the next paragraph or the one after or so, but the big point is that "canon" concerns what events or stories are "real" and what isn't within the larger context of a religion, mythology, book series, TV show, or soulless multi-national multi-decade sci-fi franchise (yeah you know which one I'm talking about, and of course I'll address that too in about, oh, the next paragraph or the one after or so). 

Why "canon" (and therefore, the concept of what's "real" and "truth") is important when it comes to TV shows can differ from show to show, based on how much of its own act it can get together. Many, if not most shows show some form of internal consistency that satisfies the viewer enough such that the subject really doesn't come up. The Hunger Games, both the books and the movies, exist in a linear enough form that any apparent inconsistencies are chalked up to bad storytelling, not a failure of how the universe itself is put together. And since both the books and movies exist in parallel and tell the same story, there isn't really much of a conflict between which one is more "canon" - it just ends up boiling down to a debate over "well I liked the book better" vs. "stop being a pretentious douche trying to make that phrase lose all its meaning." Where the whole issue of "canon" crops up tends to be with franchises where you have multiple, branching storylines that aren't meant to exist in parallel or in some weird alternate universe, but actively co-existing at the same time. Think about how you and your friend might have a tennis match, and you and your friend tell different versions of it - verses how you're having a tennis match at the same time your friend is having a track meet. The two events don't somehow cancel each other out just because they're different events, they just take place in different places at the same time. Now imagine if you can't even get a straight story out of your friend as to who won the track meet that your friend was at and actively participating in - and that's pretty much why "canon" is problematic in a nutshell. And when you have multiple track meets, and everybody has their own version, and someone start shouting that aliens are involved, and someone keeps talking about how there aren't just track meets, but now you have to include basketball and soccer games, and you end up with messes like the DCLAU - and Star Trek.

Oh, I know what you're thinking, that there's just the TV show and the movies, and everything should be pretty clear-cut, and if there's any apparent inconsistency then it's just bad storytelling from a franchise that's for lamers anyway and you should get a life. But aside from that, shortly after the original series ran its end, Paramount commissioned a number of "continuation" novelizations that would continue the series right where it left off in novel form. I believe at least a few of these were even written by series creator Gene Roddenberry along with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy (genuinely written no less, not ghostwritten as is often the case - both Shatner and Nimoy are/were accomplished writers in their own right). These were accepted as being as "true" as the TV show itself - until Paramount said, nuh-uh, not anymore. The reason why is because in the 70s Paramount was working on a new Star Trek TV show (that would eventually see light a decade later as Star Trek: The Next Generation - one of my favorite series of all-time BTW and yes I'm such a nerd) and the novels represented a bit of a problem. If the novels represented canon, then it would not only mean that the writers of TNG would be locked into what those novels said were true, but would also have to keep referring back to events that took place in the novels. The audience of TNG would likely be familiar enough with the original series, despite 20 years in between, to catch up on what was "canon" in the TV show, but statistically it's highly unlikely they would've bothered to read the novels by the show's premiere (the typical "audience" for any given novel is about 10% what a theoretical TV show based on that novel would be). The obvious solution would be to simply use those novels as the basis of episodes themselves, and indeed a few were recycled into scripts or at least borrowed ideas from them, but to adapt every novel into an episode is problematic due to rights issues - long story short, not every author really agreed to let their novel be adapted for one reason or another. So Paramount decided to go with the easiest solution of all - declare the novels "non-valid" and just start all over, giving the writers of TNG a completely fresh break aside from what was already laid out by the preceding series and movies. 

And then you have that other Star movie franchise (hue hue how clever he thinks he is, the buttmunch is probably what you're thinking) that's even worse for reasons that alone could and have filled entire websites, message boards and blogs but boil down to extreme apathy for anything but the almighty dollar by everyone involved. As soon as it became clear that there wouldn't be any movies after Return of the Jedi Kenner/Playmates (they used to be a toy maker, for readers who aren't old enough to remember pre-9/11 life) went up to George Lucas and said, "hey, we want to make Star Wars toys" and old Georgey Boy said, "only if you pay me a butt-load of money" which took about two seconds to do. Of course Kenner/Playmates had been making Star Wars-themed toys since shortly after A New Hope - but with the end of RoTJ a new problem arose: how the hell were they going to sell Star Wars toys when every girl and boy in the country already has a Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Han and Chewbacca? Why would people keep buying Darth Vader, for that matter, when Darth Vader is now dead? The solution was the same one Paramount used when Star Trek ended: continue the story anyway, just this time with toys instead of books. Don't worry about Darth Vader being dead because we'll just create a new villain and make all the girls and boys buy this brand-new figure for Luke and Han to fight! Kenner/Playmates then promptly hired a bunch of writers to throw an extended universe together, in the process accrued a bunch of ancillary original property rights themselves, and got the Hell-proof Sisyphusian-snowball from Hell rolling. 

Kenner/Playmates weren't the only ones sorely missing new Star Wars stories, and George Lucas himself commissioned two projects that many readers might be very familiar with. The first is known as the Thrawn Trilogy, the exact titles being Heir to the Empire, Dark Forces Rising (not to be confused with the video game Dark Forces) and The Last Command. They were meant to continue on the storyline as left off by RoTJ, and look at what happened to the galaxy after the death of the Emperor and Darth Vader. They were more or less treated like movies but only in novel form - but that's not to say they were necessarily canon, though when published they were certainly treated like such. Moreover, they didn't necessarily follow what Kenner/Playmates had already pioneered - LucasFilm Licensing, the specific sub-branch that specifically dealt with commissioning new projects, hired a sci-fi writer named Timothy Zahn, and Zahn quite frankly had his own ideas (many, many of which LFL ended up turning down to ensure he never step on Big Boy Lucas' toes but nonetheless he was able to create whole swaths of Star Wars Universe out of his own imagination and dictates). George Lucas had no direct control over it other than handing out the dollar bills, and the guys and gals at LFL cared about the end narrative probably about as much as you'd care about how the final result of your 8-hour work day turned out as long as you got your paycheck. That's not to say they didn't care at all (they picked Zahn specifically because of his skill), and the Thrawn Trilogy is still regarded as some of the best Star Wars books ever written.But they probably didn't care about the ramifications and effects it would have on the rest of the franchise.

The second project commissioned by Lucas was a little thing called Shadows of the Empire, especially unique as it was to take place during the movies. It was intended to be a multi-media project that would encompass various things but it's mostly remembered for the novel and the Nintendo 64 game, both released around the time the first round of Special Editions were re-released in theaters. Again, they sought out and picked a writer (not Zahn, don't remember who) who again had his own ideas. Both the Thrawn Trilogy and Shadows of the Empire were runaway successes and at that point LFL pretty much had to churn out Star Wars novels, to which they did. And then things started to spiral quickly.

Two naturalistic laws came into effect. The first was a result of just the general apathy and problematic logistics of commissioning so many Star Wars novels with so many different authors in regards to how consistent they would all be. It would be inevitable that they would contradict, as not every author could simply keep up with what the other authors were doing, or were putting out so many novels that he or she couldn't even keep up with his or her own very work. Or other authors would simply just flat out not like what another author is doing and either undermine that other work or just ignore it. The second naturalistic law is actually a very specific one, Sturgeon's Law (yes just like the fish). Coined by someone with an extremely unfortunate last name, it's just the law of averages applied to fiction and narrative - that by mathematical and statistical certainty, you're going to end up with fiction that's going to be very great, fiction that's going to be very horrible, and most of it will just be, well, average. And even then, "average" is going to be a relative term - because books require a bigger personal time investment than other forms of rapid-fire media, people were just as hesitant to risk their time on a meh-tastic book then as they are now. The end result is that, I don't know, maybe 10% of the Star Wars "Expanded Universe" was considered great (like The Thrawn Trilogy), 10% was considered outright garbage (*cough Kevin J. Anderson cough*) and the remaining 80% was considered "better than garbage but still not really good enough to actually bother to read as opposed to watching yet more cat or fail videos on YouTube." 

And that's not even touching the video games, board games, freakin' Epcot Center at Disney World rides (yes, seriously, the frickin' amusement park rides had frickin' canon status, I'm not making this up - if you want proof, it's where the passenger transports from Star Wars: Rebels come from. Seriously. Not making this up. You can do a GIS right now if you don't believe me.) Those present all sorts of practical problems regarding canon integration. Video games have to make concessions to playability and gameplay mechanics. Board games have to make concessions to being flat pieces of cardboard. Epcot Center at Disney World rides have to make concessions to the fact that they're fucking amusement park rides. All of these can badly damage the internal consistency of a franchise if they're forced to have canon status, so it should be no surprised that the Star Wars "canon" was pretty much just a big giant tumor at one point.

Now the solution might seem pretty obvious - actually have a canon policy that cracks down on this nonsense - but don't underestimate the combined powers of marketing in pursuit of the almight dollar and...well. Sigh. 


And I don't mean that disparagingly - I'm a bigger nerd than anybody reading this blog, guaranteed - but there's a certain mob mentality that's exhibited with blind purchasing power when it comes to fandom and franchises that know how to coldly exploit that fandom. Blindly saying "hey, guess what, everything's canon" is just an end result of the belief that it will get people to buy more things.

Of course, it's also inevitable that there was a huge ball of chaff and dreck that was threatened by the prequel trilogy when Lucas finally got around to that. How did he solve that problem? With a solution that's both at once related to Paramount's solution with the Star Trek novels, and pretty much the exact opposite.

He simply pretended there was no problem to begin with, and just did his own thing. Meanwhile, all the other creatives involved in the Star Wars Expanded Universe - the authors, the game developers, the scriptwriters, the people who write the info on the packing cards for the action figures - were simultaneously allowed to also do their own thing without any regard or damn given to how this huge mess would mesh up. 

Ok, so that's not entirely the case, but to a casual observer it can sure seem like it. If nothing else, the sheer mass of the franchise made it so impossible it wasn't worth even starting to bother, as long as it didn't get in the way of the big money-makers, the movies themselves. And so it was for years and even decades with a canon policy that was an ungodly mess, with nerds debating and even getting into downright bitch-fights over what's "true" in the Star Wars universe or not. Entire websites and web communities were dedicated just to debating and bitch-fighting about what was "real" in Star Wars. I kid you not. I should know since this is pretty much how I pissed away high school (told you I was a bigger nerd than anybody reading this blog). 

Then Disney bought Star Wars. Spoiler alert: Disney cares as much about canon policy as George Lucas does, which is to say not at all except just scream everything is canon! because again they think it will make more money that way. There's only one big problem. Disney didn't just want to make Heir to the Empire into a movie. They wanted to control all the content and intellectual property rights themselves, much like the Evil Emperor. They wanted to call all the shots on the new movie and all merch stemming from that movie down to young adult novels. The current existing canon, with partial rights still held by their authors, was a massive roadblock. George Lucas didn't just hand them a franchise, but a massive tumor strangling that franchise slowly and insidiously.

So Disney had to do what anybody would do to a tumor: slowly rip it out.

And thus, eventually, Disney had to do the exact same thing Paramount had to do: declare nothing canon (but the movies) and start anew. All previously non-movie material was now Apocryphal. Except there wouldn't be any room for debate as handed down by "god" itself - the material still physically exists, and you can still go back and enjoy it as a creative work, but it no longer has any bearing whatsoever on the lives of Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie. They exist as matter, but officially, they do not exist.

And now we come down to the canon of the Disney Channel Live-Action Universe, which as far as canon goes is the biggest clusterfuck I've ever seen in my goddamn life. And given that I pissed away the entirety of high school debating Star Wars canon, that says something.

As this blog post is becoming incredibly long-winded as it is, I better just link to the TVTropes page again explaining how the DCLAU formed in the first place and what kind of canon policy ended up naturalistically forming from there. Long story short, That's So Raven, Hannah Montana and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody had a crossover. The crossover wasn't a dream sequence. Logically, therefore, these shows must co-exist. There was a crossover with Wizards of Waverly Place, Suite Life on Deck, and Hannah Montana. Logically, therefore, Raven Baxter can theoretically rock out in the Wizard World with Alex Russo. At the end of the day, it's theoretically possible for Perry the Platypus and Dr. Doofenshmirtz to throw a party and rock out with Jessie Prescott, Liv Rooney, Teddy Duncan, Bree Davenport and whatever other girls they want to rock out with while onboard a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier with Star-Lord and Tecton as DJs.

Man I wish I could draw as well as Sean over at Girl Meets World Reviewed.

It was a mess, but it was a (barely) manageable mess. 

Then Girl Meets World came.

Then Monstober 2015 came.

And now it's entirely within the realm of possibility for Perry the Platypus and Dr. Doofenshmirtz to throw a party and rock out with Jessie Prescott, Liv Rooney, Teddy Duncan, Bree Davenport and Sabrina Spellman and, uh, the girls from Step by Step and whatever other girls they want to rock out with while onboard a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier with Star-Lord and Tecton and Urkel as DJs.

Except it doesn't even fucking end there because there's this thing called the St. Elsewhere-verse. Which means exactly the same as that last scenario - except said S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier can now fly over Gilligan's Island, and Perry the Platypus and Dr. Doofenshmirtz can be like, hey guys, wanna get off this island and rock out with all these superheroes and  vaguely legal-aged girls? And then they can go and pick up the cast from virtually any TV show ever made from there. 

You can see this manifested in the long-ass list of TV shows "related" to the DCLAU, except they're not related to the DCLAU at all beyond in-jokes and marketing. 

This is further complicated in the same way the Star Wars canon got complicated by George Lucas - the people in charge flat out don't care. In fact, well...nobody cares. In fact I'm almost willing to make an actual bet that I might be the only one in the entire world who actually cares about the canon status of the Disney Channel Live-Action Universe. We do have lives we need to get to after all. Well, except me.

...actually, I would promptly lose that bet because there's an additional element in play here, and that is people do care, or at least someone else in the world besides me does. Someone, in fact, cares enough so much that he or she is willing to track and nail down every connecting instance between the DCLAU shows to each other and shows from completely foreign networks and production teams, shows that have been staggered in production by in some cases decades and entire lifespans. 

And while my inner nerd has to have complete admiration for his or her's a bit of a clusterfuck, don't you think? I mean, you can see it there on the TVTropes page.

So I'm proposing a few ideas here to refine the make-up of the DCLAU and throw out some potential canon policies, since it's highly unlikely Disney Channel itself cares enough to ever, ever make an official statement either way. They don't even care to give Jessie an actual proper non-insulting finale not buried under Girl Meets Texas FFS.

So here we go:

Option 1: Two-Canon Policy

We split up the ungodly mess on TVTropes into two categories: one category will be naturally called "the DCLAU," and the other category will be naturally called "Into the trash it goes!" Or more specifically, we recognize that the DCLAU and TGIF/St. Elsewhere-verse are not connected canon universes and that any connection between them is invalid. I'll admit this is a tough sticking point because the bridge between them isn't just a single crossover or even a single TV show but two whole TV shows put together along with every episode ever cranked out between them - Boy Meets World and Girl Meets World (you know that show Christian and Sean review). You can't deny that Sabrina Spellman isn't a part of Cory Matthew's world any more than you can deny that Austin Moon is a part of Riley Matthew's world now. So here's my sub-proposal to this proposal:

Any instance that links TGIF to the DCLAU is valid in the DCLAU, but any instance that links the TGIF to St. Elsewhere is not valid to the DCLAU. It should just be considered an in-joke or a throwaway (which is exactly what the original authors intended in the first place, but I digress). However, since the St. Elsewhere-verse is more of an informal in-joke than an actual canon policy, it doesn't necessarily mean that the vice-versa is true. Which means if you somehow want canon justification that, uh, the guy who stars in Hangin' With Mr. Cooper - we'll call him Mr. Hangin' With Mr. Cooper - visits New York and has a steamy love affair with Christina and Morgan Ross' red-headed nanny, have at it. But if you want canon justification that it's possible for The Skipper from Gilligan's Island to have a hot steamy love affair with Sonny Monroe from the perspective of Sonny With a Chance canon - nuh-uh, ain't gonna happen. Or to put it in another, more clear and non-pervy way: Jessie Prescott exists as a character on this Hangin' With Mr. Cooper thingie, but Gilligan's Island is just a TV show Sonny would watch in her dressing room between takes of So Random! This would effectively reduce the St. Elsewhere-verse to status of "head-canon" (which it more or less officially is anyway). 

Option 2: A complete severance

Same as above except it would sever any link between the TGIF, DCLAU, and St. Elsewhere-verses beyond what can't be undone. Boy Meets World would exist in the DCLAU and solely in the DCLAU; any connecting events between it and the rest of the TGIF lineup would be ruled invalid and not canon (based on my understanding, this actually isn't hard to consider anyway). Mr. Hangin' With Mr. Cooper can't have a hot steamy love affair with Jessie Prescott because Jessie exists solely on his TV screen, and vice-versa. 

Option 3: Scorch Earth-Everything!

Decompose the construct of the DCLAU completely as a canon entity. The crossovers would effectively exist as their own weird little sub-canon stuck in permanent limbo, or even completely disregarded as non-canon events (I'm sure we wish we can all do that with Monstober '15 anyway, especially the GMW fans). A bit hard to do with The Suite Life of Hannah Montana as that crossover had ramifications for the entire rest of the SLoD series, but fine then, HM and WoWP exists in the SLoD canon and only HM and WoWP (and Jessie too I guess). In this case, it's simply not possible for Perry the Platypus and Dr. Doofenshmirtz to throw a party on a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier with Tecton and Star-Lord as DJs and rock out with Jessie, Liv, Teddy and Bree. The best that can happen is that you have an episode of Good Luck Charlie where Teddy watches an episode of Jessie where Jessie watches an episode of Liv and Maddie where Liv watches an episode of Mighty Med where Tecton watches an episode of Lab Rats where Bree watches an episode of Guardians fo the Galaxy where Star-Lord watches an episode of Phineas and Ferb where Perry and Dr. Doofenshmirtz watch an episode of Good Luck Charlie with Teddy get the point.

Option 4: Doing Things the Ally Paramount and George Lucas Way

That is, just not give a damn. Who cares anyway? The very people writing these shows, and the very network airing these shows, don't. Essentially, it's anything goes. It's canon that Liv and Maddie just exists as a TV inside the Girl Meets World universe. It's canon that Boy Meets World exists just as a TV show inside the Girl Meets World universe. Nevermind that it doesn't make any sense, anything goes! It's canon that Spider-Man has a steamy love affair with Batman. Let's not let licensure get in the way! It's entirely canon that after the events of Meets Texas, Riley and Lucas rode in a rocket together where they met Meep from Phineas and Ferb who then threw a wedding between Ferb Fletcher and Vanessa Doofenshmirtz on that asteroid they landed on in that one episode where they thought it was a star but it turns out the alien bar that was on that asteroid had its neon sign too bright. But they forgot someone to officiate the wedding, so they went back and got Emma Ross to do it, and in the meantime they also got Yogi to serve as the traditional sacrifice to be performed by Maya (of course).

And I know that sounds flippant (and, well, it kind of is) but it also illustrates that strictly speaking there's technically nothing stopping you from adopting your own canon outside of the events of the shows themselves. You can, for example, declare it canon that after the events of the crossover suddenly Maddie Rooney decided to be really into Jessie Prescott instead of Diggie, and while there are certainly legal complications if you keep incessantly sending this "proof of canon" off to Debby and Dove (don't ask me how I know) there's nothing preventing you from formulating it in your own mind.

And that's my presentation on canon and the DCLAU. The eight of you who have read this can no go back to your lives. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Gravity Falls Retrospective and Review

*Insert quote here* - no, I'm not even being quippy, I just want to go back and find a good quote.

What is it? Animated action-comedy cartoon, half-hour (24 minute) length, although the last three episodes which we're touching here were edited and stitched together to essentially form a pesudo-DCOM of sorts well after-the-fact.
Where did it air? Originally Disney Channel, then it "channel-hopped" to Disney XD, although second-runs were still on Disney Channel. This review originally concerned the first Disney XD premiere if you're curious, and if it makes a difference.
Who stars in it? Uhhhh, the voice actress who does Mabel also does what's her face on Bob's Burgers. Grunkle Stan is voiced by Alex Hirsh, the actual creator of the show itself. Apparently the character at least was based on a skit he did in his college days (a lot of the show, in fact, is based on or formulated from events and people he experienced in college).
Why are we reviewing this? Because it's the finale of what's probably one of the top three cartoons not only in Disney Channel history but for at least 21st century Western animation period, up there with Kim Possible and Phineas and Ferb.

I don't know if a show like Gravity Falls would've been possible on Disney Channel 10 years ago, or maybe on any network period. When it premiered in 2012, it certainly represented a gamble, even as that network was on the tail-end of a massive shift itself. I don't know if Disney Channel execs are even convinced that gamble paid off (the success of that network-wide shift seems to be waning at the very least) but strictly from a quality standpoint and critical praise, Gravity Falls was a resounding success. From the perspective of an audience member like myself, that's the best you're going to end up observing anyway.

And it's not like Disney Channel had been slouching on television animation in the past 30 years either. To its credit, Disney has been as dedicated to TV animation as it had been on the big screen, translating much of that Disney animated magic from the 80s-90s "Renaissance" era into Chip n' Dale's Rescue Rangers, Tailspin, Duck Tales, Darkwing Duck - I mean, you name it. And even in that candy-coated era of television, they even gave us Gargoyles on top of it, so it's not like Disney is a stranger to darker-themed animation on TV either. And let's not forget Kim Possible and especially Phineas and Ferb, or brand-spanking newcomers like Star vs. The Forces of Evil (I've been told Sean and Christian are big fans of that show) or, heck, even Pickle and Peanut which I like for the same reasons I liked Aqua Teen Hunger Force I guess.

So let me just say it: Gravity Falls is way better than all of that. Yes even Darkwing Duck, Gargoyles, Kim Possible, yes even better than Phineas and Freakin' Ferb.

Gravity Falls may be the greatest animated series in the entire history of Disney Channel/Disney XD and one of the greatest series on those networks period. Maybe even one of the greatest Western television animated series, period. 

A big reason why has to do with the concept of mythos, and Gravity Falls has it in spades. Hell, the whole concept of mythos is worked into the very premise of the show. What's "mythos?" In the sense that's usually bandied about for TV series, it's...well, since we're on the subject of animated TV let's have Dr. Doofenshmirtz explain it:

Mythos kind of sort of is backstory just like Doofenshmirtz is used to, except applied to the entire show itself. Or to be more precise, it's all of the things that add up to make for a consistent, continuous story beyond just individual episode plots. It's the background information of the show itself and all contained therein - the characters, the setting both of place and time, etc. - as well as general dangling plots or stories that clearly add to the overall story, plot or "feel" of the entire show or are themselves important story arcs that the show has clearly centralized around. Nearly every piece of storytelling or narrative ever created and concievable has some sort of mythos, but some tend to have bigger and more involved mythoses than others. The mythos of Game of Thrones, for example, is pretty damn important to understanding that show to begin with (fortunately it does a pretty good job of introducing it). Likewise Gargoyles. A show like, say, Pickle and Peanut or Aqua Teen Hunger Force more or less has its mythos scattered to the wind - the guidelines and understanding of the show as it pertains to the episode are whatever that individual episode dictates, and also likely dictated by some interesting drug choice on the creators as well. But there's still some element of mythos - Pickle and Master Shake still have definitive consistency in how they act as characters, for example. For something like Girl Meets World, the mythos involves the entirety of the background of Boy Meets World up to and including the show Boy Meets World itself. The "legend" of Mr. Feeny and Shawn Hunter, if you will, for example. For something like Liv and Maddie, it involves the larger community of Steven's Point and how it's integrated into the show, or Liv's background as a child star, or Parker's odd proclivity towards being live-action Phineas Flynn. For something like Jessie, it would be the world Jessie Prescott herself left behind in Texas, or the worlds the children left behind when they were adopted (especially for Ravi and Luke where they delved the most into with this sort of thing). If you've noticed, shows that tend to have the most involved mythoses tend to have a noticable jump in quality, though this is not always the case. It's possible to get completely bogged down in mythos to the point of boring your audience, which is the mistake most failed GoT and Tolkien clones have made, and why most failed sci-fi and fantasy writers end up failing. A good science fiction novel or show is supposed to be a good science fiction novel or show - not the last D&D campaign you played translated into book or TV form (though there have been several successful sci-fi/fantasy novels and even TV shows that actually started out exactly like that including works written by none other than yours truly - but again, it's the skill of how they're translated and what parts to translate specifically). 

Now, there is a difference between a show steeped in its own mythos - like Game of Thrones or Gargoyles - and a show that's nearly entirely about its mythos. That is, all the backstory isn't just necessary to understand what's going on - somehow, the backstory is actually central in creating the plots themselves. Perhaps the one example people are most familiar with that's the easiest to explain is X-Files - it's a show about a pair of characters exploring and investigating paranormal mysteries, and they're just as much in the dark as the audience is. The whole plot of the show isn't just steeped in mythos, it is the mythos of alien visitation, supernatural phenomenon and what the government is conspiring to cover up.

Naturally I bring this up because this is also what Gravity Falls is. In fact it's pretty much X-Files mashed with Phineas and Ferb, which is probably why it's so great. Dipper stumbles upon this book with a bunch of mysteries in it, and the duration of the series from that first episode on is about Dipper and Mabel either getting caught up in the mysteries of Gravity Falls or directly hunting them out and investigating them. That alone probably would've created a great series, but there are further ingredients that went into making it not just truly memorable but to stand head-and-shoulders above a very long list of great animation from this network. 

Again, it's about the mythos, but in this case the specific details. It's at least believable that Alex Hirsh had at least large swaths of the plot and mythos mapped out well before actually storyboarding the first episode. Many shows, even great shows, may have expansive mythoses but not necessarily well-mapped out and consistent ones. Back with X-Files, it's almost the whole point that the mythos is inconsistent and poorly understood by anyone, including the creators themselves (so much so that it even has a trope on TVTropes named after one of the writers/producers of The X-Files, called the Claremont Coefficient - you can look it up yourself). But with Gravity Falls there's clearly a very consistent line of reasoning behind it all. We get glimpses of a very far future that's involved through Time Baby and Blendin Blandin. We have very clear alternate dimensions and a villain in Bill Cypher. And of course what probably helps is that there's a bible right there in Dipper's own hands, which alone goes a long way towards forcing certain rules and consistency to be adhered to, even an informal one.

Beyond even that, though, is that Gravity Falls also brings with it great characters and even a great and touching human element that a lot of live action shows both on and off the network could learn a thing or two from (not the least of which is GMW). Dipper and Mabel come off as very realistic, believable and relatable twins/siblings. Grunkle Stan is a very relatable older relative and adult figure. There's a plot element concerning Dipper's infatuation with a flighty, enigmatic and older girl, again something that's certainly as hell relatable for many viewers (both who would be currently experiencing that and older viewers remembering such romance from their own past). And many of these adventures concern real, relatable flaws from the characters in some fashion, either brought about directly by these flaws or they come up organically in the process of exploring them. Yes, these are typical human flaws, but explored more intimately than in just the general Star Trek/Twilight Zone broad sense. They're more than just human flaws, they're flaws that Dipper, Mabel and others have specifically as characters that they're learning to grow out of. They might not necessarily learn the error of their ways by the episode's resolution, but the adventures they go on at least make them aware of that or even embrace their flaws.

And beyond that, the series is just damn fun to watch. It's legitimately creative, but also a great comedy even without taking in and appreciating the dramatic moments. It's a very rare combination of dramatic and comedic elements relatively few shows even try (at least in such even doses) and many shows simply fail at. As far as mainline Disney Channel is concerned, it's even more of a rarity given how that network has all but banished animation to XD and the dominance of multi-cam sitcoms that with rare ventures aim squarely at pure sitcom-style comedy (though with exceptions as I'll get into eventually - I just wish there were more of them.

...and more involving redheads....)

Series Grade: A+, obviously. Given the arcing nature of the plot, it's best to appreciate the series as a whole, although most episodes can certainly be appreciated stand-alone as well. For highlights The Time Traveler's Pig and Fight Fighters comes to immediate mind - for "lowlights" probably the Mermando and Sock Puppet ones, though those certainly weren't bad episodes by any means (probably a B+ at worst).
Series MVP: It's tough to give this to an animated series since you have individual talents working multiple characters at once. Series creator Alex Hirsh himself is Grunkle Stan, Soos, and a number of recurring characters male and female. If I had to give it to an actual person as a voice actor, I'd either give it to him, or the talents behind Dipper (something Ritter or other) and Mabel (that woman who does the voice of that girl on Bob's Burgers who just really sounds like Mabel now). If I had to give to actual fictional characters on the show, it's a tie between Dipper and Mabel - again, the twin dynamic is what makes this show rise above the rest.

You know how I've been talking about migrating to a new blog?

Well it's finally here! Kind of, sort of.

We won't be "migrating" per se since it's so difficult to move everything from Blogspot to Kinja, especially in regards to giving Mike authorship. But we'll be having a "shared" blog with me as the sole author for now while I figure out how to extend author privileges (which, I've been told by the Kinja Boffins, is probably...uhhh...never). I'm not sure what kind of content will be shared back-and-fourth the two blogs for now, but the new blog will be mostly hosting essays for the time being as opposed to reviews or casual observations. BTW, the new blog is Kids' Corner @ Kinja (not officially affiliated with Kinja or Gawker Media, but they are kind enough to host things for us). 

In the meantime expect more reviews of Girl Meets World, Gravity Falls and other stuff I have to catch up on.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Girl Meets Commonism (Girl Meets World)

Everything makes sense when I get in trouble for it.

I just want so desperately to be proud of you.

You see, son, we're part of a wonderful system. It's the glorious orgy of American capitalism. I get a snazzy new title and a bigger paycheck. Then I give my money to your mother who spends it on speeding tickets.

You know, there is a reason why certain topics are never addressed on kids television. First of all, many writers are incapable of translating messages related to these topics in ways that kids can understand. A lot of it will fly over their heads because they are complex and have several different factors that go into them. It's also done unnaturally most of the time. Whenever these characters address topics like this, it comes off as the network mandating the writers to get serious for 22 minutes. We had that many years ago. They were called very special episodes and after-school specials. They no longer exist for a reason. 

And the execution is usually lazy, pandering to children, broken down to its lowest fragments and then blended into a smoothie. Just because your programming is for kids, does not mean you should talk down to them. You insult your audience and yourself because you legitimately believe in it as quality entertainment. What I'm saying is, kids shows avoid these topics for a reason. Most of them are incapable of handling it well enough for children to get it while still informing them, and unless you're an exception like Arthur, you will fail nine times out of ten.

That's what is so repeatedly frustrating about Girl Meets World. Since its pilot, it has tackled topics such as bullying (twice), forms of government, Asperger's, voter turnout, broken homes, feminism, religion, and now communism. All of this would be fine, but a lot of the time, it feels like GMW does not want to actually take the time to understand topics well enough before delivering the message. And if the writers do understand the topic, they just sanitize it so kids will understand it. But what if the kids don't care? If GMW was witty and socially aware enough to handle these topics, they could do these episodes all they want. But whenever they come up, it's just a way to check off another topic from the clipboard. 

So let me try breaking this down: Maya cheated on Farkle's test, Riley sticks up for Maya, Maya ends up proving that she learned something, Riley, Maya, and Farkle become communists, Cory makes them see that communism sucks, and we end on some kind of 'Murica thing. Sweet, beautiful capitalist 'Murica. The last quote I used was from the American Dad episode "Red October Sky." In it, Stan starts to think that his new communist neighbor that he once devoted his life to finding is now turning Steve into a communist as well. The episode wasn't really about capitalism vs. communism as much as it was about Steve wanting to do something with his father. We root for Stan the whole way because in spite of him being an overly drastic fool at times, he is still the protagonist and we care about him along with the relationship he has with Steve. There was an underlying story amidst the whole capitalism vs. communism aspect. It wasn't just the writers telling us what we already knew. Plus, it was a lot funnier. But that kind of episode isn't something that Girl Meets World can do so..........

Remember when "Girl Meets Farkle's Choice" was shelved for several months last season before airing near the end of it? This is pretty much the same thing, but done ten times worse. "Farkle's Choice" was an entertaining episode from when I first saw it and had a reason to exist, at least. Here, we have Farkle back to his pre-"Yearbook" self, and Riley looks considerably younger as well. It makes the episode more awkward to watch, especially since it feels like nobody does anything outside of the Matthews and Maya. The pacing is so sluggish here, it's hard to get invested in anything.

So the ending is probably one of the worst endings that the show has ever done. I'm talking "Game Night"/"Gravity"-level terrible. We see that Maya has started becoming more like Farkle now that she has adopted his studying methods even though she cheated on one test. Then the characters realize that communism makes everyone the same in every single way and free society works. Then Riley places her hand over her chest while looking at the American flag and Cory says that he's proud of her. For what? For learning the extremely obvious lesson that communism failed for a reason? For believing that communism means that literally every person had no original thoughts without knowing that it involved the elimination of private property? This episode taught me absolutely nothing. This wasn't appealing to the shippers who weren't tempted into learning about communism after watching this. It didn't appeal to people who already knew what communism was, and it didn't even need the communism aspect to be a good episode. Have that tie into the episode's plot like Cory's lessons usually do.

Here's what I propose: Maya proves that she learned more from cheating off of Farkle's paper than studying, and pretty soon other kids (like Zay) start utilizing the same method until the lesson is learned that it's not the best way to go when some kids are unable to retain the information. I feel like the internal struggles the characters faced were never addressed. Riley did all she could to let her friends go free, Maya will still never try in school and Farkle exemplified just how much his character has improved since "Yearbook." Instead of focusing on that, let's just teach kids about communism in as hackneyed and stale a way as possible. Girl Meets World has been on a serious cold streak recently and it almost refuses to stop. I don't know what's going on here, but season two has continued showing similar problems to season one, only now it is more frustrating because you would think they would try to work out the kinks between seasons but the problems are still there. Season three's not looking good, and we haven't even gotten to it yet. 

Episode Grade: D+
Episode MVP: Amir Mitchell-Townes (Zay was a really phenomenal character in this episode and the lone bright spot in an otherwise pedestrian outing. From his opening scene with the sandwiches to him confusing communism with exorcism, he continues to be the go-to comic relief that GMW really needs at this point.)

-The opening scene really gave me high hopes, along with the scene after that. Riley wanting things to resolve themselves and then throwing the paper airplane into the air was a brilliant fourth wall joke, I almost lost it. 

-There was a subplot in there that I should.......address. Auggie appears to be having a mid-life crisis of some sort and cannot figure out what he wants out of life. He decides to be a lawyer like Topanga and it doesn't work out. By the way, the scenes in Auggie's class are painful to watch in terms of acting. I don't even want to go after these poor kids for just doing their job, but it all comes off as awkward and with pacing as slow as a turtle with a limp. They call each other by first and last name multiple times, including the teacher herself. The teacher does this for some reason even though the name she uses probably isn't the kid's actual name. NOBODY TALKS LIKE THIS.

-I feel like I'm missing a joke or something here, but Riley mentions John Lennon and Topanga states that John Lennon was a Beatle. Then Riley states that Topanga shouldn't call John Lennon a bug. I ask this seriously, how stupid is Riley honestly? How stupid is she? How do you quote a guy who was part of the most well-known band of all-time and then not know what band he is from? I don't care if that was a joke, it just makes Riley look like an idiot. She's funny when she's naive and dim, not when she's dumb. I wouldn't have a problem with that, if Riley didn't directly quote one of Lennon's songs seconds before Topanga mentioned him.

-Speaking of character development, Lucas is back to his classic self. He believes Maya and Farkle should be punished for what they did, gets a 100 on his test, just stands there and sits around not doing much.......he is so uninteresting here. 

-Disney Channel is screwing up the production order badly, I see that now. They really don't seem to understand that these episodes have to be aired in a certain order or else the continuity will be screwed up. This isn't like Family Guy where you can air literally any episode you want because the episodes almost never affect each other. There is an ongoing story involving Riley, Maya, and Lucas that has yet to be solved and has been running since October. These filler episodes are not helping anybody, and it is especially annoying when the filler episodes aren't even engaging or funny. I really hope season two goes out on a high note, I just feel like I'm at my wit's end now.

-Hope everyone had a great weekend and checked out the Grammys last night. Kendrick Lamar, am I right? 

...I haven't actually had a chance to watch this episode yet. Or the Grammys. So I'll have to take your word on Kendrick Lamaar.

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