Sunday, 22 October 2017

Episode review: "Shadow Play"

Last year, I was worried that "To Where and Back Again" would be a by-the-numbers, over-serious finale which just rehashes the same plot points the show had been trucking out for years now. To my delight, it turned out to be something else entirely, and it quickly became one of my favourite two-parters in the entire show. "To Where and Back Again" excelled because it was a character-driven story which focused on the human side of the story rather than the rote details, and as such it was refreshingly light on exposition and action.

Turns out all I had to do was wait a year, however, because "Shadow Play" is exactly what I was worried about back in season 6. It's the worst example yet of the show's increasingly dull mythology, and it's filled with backstory exposition which takes itself way too seriously. There are certainly moments of humour here which bring the episode to life, but the plot is just so formulaic that it's hard to be invested in any of it, and enough of the episode takes itself so seriously that the fun moments can't break the monotony.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Episode review: "Uncommon Bond"

Look, "Uncommon Bond" is perfectly inoffensive. It has a decent moral. The core dilemma is moderately relatable. It's not obnoxious, it doesn't have any structural defects, and doesn't feel lazy. But it's slow, safe, and mundane, and it predicates its entire emotional core on a relationship which hasn't been given much development. It's another season 7 episode which doesn't care about anything other than checking off boxes and getting a moral episode. I mean, at least it's competent and not entirely boring.

But I can't stand this formula anymore. My Little Pony didn't become popular by being this slow and forgettable. And this one also has Starlight once again demonstrating few strong personality traits aside from self-pity and a disregard for others, which can only be offset so much by Trixie being funny and the others being sweet. I just don't like her anymore, and she's a dead weight on an episode which already doesn't do very much to elevate itself.

I feel like I've made all of these complaints before. But I'm just so tired of this stuff.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Episode review: "Secrets and Pies"

There's a small list of My Little Pony episodes which I consider guilty pleasures. These are episodes which have enough clever gags and fun dialogue to keep me happy, but which have bad enough plots that it brings down my enjoyment somewhat. Season 2 had the sloppy but energetic "Putting Your Hoof Down." Season 3 had some of the show's best dialogue layered on top of the asinine "Spike at Your Service." I find these two episodes hugely entertaining, and even though their poor narratives kill my buzz a little, it's not enough to overcome their respective qualities.

Joining this short list is season 7's "Secrets and Pies," which combines a threadbare storyline and off-base characterization with a ceaseless, energetic procession of clever gags. While I've often complained about episodes which don't have enough humour relative to plot, this episode is very much the opposite, with hilarious scene after hilarious scene which still can't help but drag as a result of how inane and thin the actual storyline is. But man, it's just so inventive and so madcap that I found it hard to resist, and it even manages to lessen the guilt somewhat by adding some nice insight at the end.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Episode review: "Once Upon a Zeppelin"

Despite eschewing a lot of the tired story structures of the past, season 7 has several familiar tropes of its own. It's heavily reliant on externally driven stories where a main character is troubled by some external force, and many of these stories are written heavily to theme to the point of tedium. However, these formulas don't always ruin their stories, and many episodes transcended those tropes, either with nuance ("The Perfect Pear") or humour ("Parental Glideance"). 

"Once Upon a Zeppelin" is still a little on-the-nose, and its conflict still has too many external actors, but it's the best example yet of how good jokes and a good moral can overcome smaller issues. It's another contender for the funniest episode this season, packed with sharp character-based humour while also giving more personality to Shining Armour and Twilight's parents. Further, it's one of the few episodes to actually explore how Twilight's new responsibilities affect her usual anxieties, and although it's a bit blunt, the moral of learning to draw boundaries is a rock solid complement for "A Health of Information."

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Episode review: "Marks and Recreation"

With the Cutie Mark Crusaders now in the business of solving others' problems, their stories have a lot of potential to expand the lore of what "cutie marks" are, how they work, and what they mean to the inhabitants of this world. Last season, we got "The Fault in Our Cutie Marks," an adorable episode which fulfilled all of that potential and then some, exploring one of the two biggest issues imaginable for the Crusaders. "Marks and Recreation" follows up on the other half of the equation, but it lacks all of the things that made last year's episode such a delight.

To be honest, I'm ready to declare season 7 a total wash. With only two episodes and the finale left, I don't see much hope that it'll step out of its usual formulas and finally pick up some humour or subtext. "Marks and Recreation," like many episodes this season, is didactic and not very funny, featuring only a few very flimsy jokes and a plot which hops from formula beat to formula beat all without providing anything of interest. This should have been a personal story on par with "Fault," but what we've got is yet another of those episodes where a dull new character needs to be taught what's right. I just can't deal with that.


Saturday, 23 September 2017

Episode review: "A Health of Information"

This is the second week in a row where an episode I never had much interest in proved to be a pleasant surprise. "A Health of Information" is kinda simple and rather expository, but it's got a breakneck pace, a strong collection of jokes, and some surprisingly high stakes which lend the episode a lot of intensity. As I've said before, this show doesn't need a strong emotional core or a sharp eye for continuity to impress me. Those things are nice, but before it has that, all I want from it is to be fun. "A Health of Information" is probably one of the 5 most entertaining episodes this season. Not bad for a story which seemingly only exists to set up the finale!

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Episode review: "It Isn't the Mane Thing About You"

It's always the ones you don't expect, isn't it? 

Last season, I was surprised to enjoy "28 Pranks Later," a fairly messy episode that was nonetheless made enjoyable by a handful of solid jokes and a decently creepy atmosphere. From the synopsis, it seemed likely to have a mean-spirited, vindictive tone, but unlike the similar "The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well," it used its plot as an excuse to have some funny visual gags and indulge in zombie tropes rather than wasting time humiliating Rainbow Dash for some anachronistic wrong. It was far from perfect, but it was the season's most pleasant surprise. 

"It Isn't the Mane Thing About You" is less funny than "28 Pranks Later," but it's every bit as surprising. Despite its inherently awkward premise, the episode almost entirely avoids cringe comedy, and while what gags it does offer are mostly pedestrian, the episode's story structure recalls the show's earliest seasons in a good way. This is a story which gives itself time to breathe, which allows itself to be simple but relatable, which seems to understand the show's original charms. If only it were funnier, it would feel like a genuine return to form. Still, this is surprisingly pleasant!