Archive for September, 2017

The Amazing World of Gumball Recaps: “The Laziest” and “The Ghost”

The Amazing World of Gumball S01E06 The Laziest… by Yu-Gi-Oh-the-offical

“The Laziest” – C+

I mentioned this in my last review, but The Amazing World of Gumball will struggle mightily with Richard, perhaps longer than it feels like it should. Richard is the early Homer Simpson, the proto-Peter Griffin: the fat, lazy slob who will only push himself when absolutely necessary or confronted with an absolute obstacle. One of Gumball’s smarted, most slyly cleaver developments will be an adjustment of gender roles. Nicole will lean more on the breadwinner, bill-paying, nine-to-five position, while Richard will be the caretaker and the stay-at-home dad (in incredibly broad terms; the show will blur these lines when the episode calls for it). Right now though, Richard is the laziest person in all of Elmore, and he’s willing to stake a WHOLE WEEK OF CHORES on it.

It’s a fine, if weak, character beat to lean on this early in the show’s run. There have been some bits of character ideas and depth even this early in, but “Richard as the lazy and whiny butt of all jokes” is how they defined the patriarchal pink rabbit, and they’ll utilize that characterization for… perhaps a few seasons longer than necessary. Here, after semi-conning Gumball and Darwin to taking out the trash – a responsibility that was given to him by Nicole – Richard begins a series of competition with his kids concerning the extent of his laziness. First they compete in keeping up with Richard’s unwillingness to move from the couch, then they try to recruit Larry to engage in his past laziness to take their father on. And it’s all fine, cute, and occasionally funny. Yet considering what the show will become – and even compared to the few episodes that we’ve seen so far – it feels all so unnecessary, just a series of gags in which The Amazing World of Gumball takes the lazy dad trope to its extreme.

Except it’s really not to any extreme at all (Gumball will try this idea multiple times throughout the run, and I’d be hard pressed to think of any of them that actually works). The only really inspired, and semi-dark, sequence is the extended scenes in which Gumball and Darwin continually berate and annoy Larry into engaging in their lazy-off with their father, if only due to the insane, wildly-cartoonish ways the episode handles it all. Gumball and Darwin appear in increasingly ridiculous places as their cries of “Please do it, Larry!” become a comically hellish mantra, triggering Larry to lash out at a costumer and his wife, costing him his job and his wife (he loses his car when he leaps out if, unable to escape the sights and sounds of the Watterson boys as well). Larry indeed goes back into his “Lazy Larry” state, but is so lazy that he doesn’t bother with helping the kids. It’s delightfully ironic, an entire bit that the show itself basically declare is a waste of time.

The ironic bits are the strongest elements in the episode – including the bit above, and the also the dick move that Richard pulls at the end. He jumps out of his lethargic state right before Nicole comes home, and she blames the kids for overworking the father while they’re the ones that seem lazy. And that’s… fine, but with no other narrative or thematic to hook that twist with, the end just feels like a mean ironic twist for the sake of it. It feels like the episode is just trying to see if they could get away with that kind of twist, but it doesn’t really add to anything, comedy or story-wise. There is one small bit that worth noting though – the two brief bits that “anthropomorphize” Gumball’s insides, when he’s hopped on sugar and when the subsequent crash hits. Gumball will use both anthropomorphism, exaggerated internal shots, and other cartoonishly perfect metaphors to represent the characters physical and mental states, and this is the first of a long line of brilliant visuals that the show will utilize. There’s elements in this episode that work, but beyond that it’s inessential.

The Ghost – A-

I’m surprised that something as wild and dynamic as “The Ghost” appeared so early in season one. I would have thought this was a late season one, early season two episode. The boldness and specificity of the episode is striking. Hints of body image and dysmorphia, of consent, insecurity, and lack of both underline this episode with quiet but startling clarity. It never quite hones in on any of those topics, but it does brush against them lightly, while also shedding some light into Carrie and exploring the extent of the specificities of the characters. It already did this with Tina, a poor girl who is a dinosaur and lives on garbage and lashes out via bullying, and now it’ll do something similar with Carrie, a young ghost girl who never tasted food or even had a body (the show won’t explain how she died, which is for the best). The show’s gradual development and focus on those classmates will continue with some fantastic episodes, but for now, we’re pretty much on Gumball’s second outing on this approach.

But back to the first point, about the body image and dysmorphia, consent, and insecurity: all those elements are there in the inciting incident of this episode. Carrie envies Gumball and Darwin’s ability to eat and enjoy food, so Gumball allows Carrie to possess his body so she can experience taste again. Well, that’s not quite what happens. Really, Darwin for some reason mentions that Gumball would be totally receptive to having his body possesses, and Gumball clearly is uncomfortable with it. This probably the most “antagonistic” Darwin will be portrayed as, in which his general kindness and naivety is forced upon others. It’s a bit of a manipulation, although one Darwin isn’t often aware of: since he’s nice, then listening to him will result in nice things too. Of course, that’s a clear problem here. Gumball doesn’t want to, you know, lose control of his whole sense of autonomy, but he reluctantly accepts under the guises of being Darwin-nice.

What results is some hilarious and wildly insane bedlam. Carrie’s possession of Gumball is both creepy and hilarious, resulting in a wild, Go-Pro-POV, sped-up shot of possessed-Gumball going on a vicious binge of eating endless amounts of food. It’s a remarkable series of animated bit, both exhilarating and disturbing, especially when it leaves Gumball waking up in a pile of trash with hazy recollections of what happened. The Amazing World of Gumball often skirts that perfect line between comedy and discomfort, and it’s fascinating to see the show really working to emphasize this – from Darwin’s misguided understanding of what it means to be nice, to the desperation Gumball goes to weasel out of it (per his father’s advice), and in particular how the most pointed advice – just saying no (per his mother) – grows into legit danger when Carrie doesn’t accept it.

“The Ghost” has a number of various lines that get hit the point with very little nuance. Richard laughing at a bloated Gumball, only to realize he himself rocks a muffintop, cries, “It’s only funny when it happens to someone else’s body!” which is a direct critique of easy weight-related jokes. Gumball voices a sincerity when he mentions Carrie having “a real problem,” and the loss of what to do about this creates a tension that in itself rivals the back and forth that occurs between Gumball and Carrie, both outside and inside his body. Yet as disturbing as all this is, “The Ghost” doesn’t seem to delve into the full, dark, volatile nature of what exactly is happening. It touches upon all the awkward ways people can manipulate and control others, and also how weight, body image, and dysmorphia can be damaging, but it keeps things on the comic side (which is fine, and preferable at this stage in season one), but it never quite brings those two points together. The ending, in which Carrie just possesses Richard instead, undercuts the depth of the topics in the wrong ways, and even though the show is aware of the irony of the ending (Darwin’s “Another happy ending” declaration is clear), the fleeting nature of the humor overpowers the seriousness of the events. No matter. The Amazing World of Gumball is still testing the waters. It’ll be diving into those topics with full force soon enough.


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The Amazing World of Gumball Recaps: “The Pressure” and “The Painting”

The Amazing World Of Gumball S01E05 The… by Yu-Gi-Oh-the-offical

“The Pressure” – B

In previous reviews, I mentioned missing the more low-key, easy-going pacing of the early seasons of The Amazing World of Gumball, but I have to admit that what I really miss is the childish interplay between the school kids. A lot. As The Amazing World of Gumball gets more satirical, poignant, direct, bold, and ambitious, it does begin to move away from this particular dynamic of its school kids being school kids – gossipy, confused, bossy, embarrassed, silly, immature, and awkward. Gumball will do a series of episodes that focus on each individual character in the class – a remarkably simple idea that not even The Simpsons has done – but it will sacrifice a lot of the specifics of the classroom setting as it reaches for loftier goals. Those goals are indeed worthwhile, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but these straight-forward, low-key, classmates-being-classmates stories are pretty fun in themselves.

I somewhat get why the made the move away from it though: Masami is usually the progenitor for the conflict, who is introduced here as the stuck-up, manipulative “mean girl” who always wants to be the best and have everything go her way. I will have a lot to say about Masami in the future. For right now though, it’s good enough to notice that she’s the one who takes “control” of the treehouse situation, changing the topic of conversation from the design of the treehouse to boys, and, in order to one-up the various girls’ make-believe boyfriends, sets her sights on Darwin and “forces” him to be her boyfriend. It’s really because she knows he’s easy to work, using her feminine wiles and his panicky sensitivity to maintain an appearance of them dating, just to win that first kiss. It’s all silly, basic stuff, but it’s the show’s easy-going, confident nature that keeps the episode moving.

At this point in the show, the Gumball/Penny relationship (or, more accurately, burgeoning relationship) is a bit of a weak point. Gumball being goofy and nervous in front of Penny has been one thing – the generic awkwardness of a young crush – but here, it feels like a lot of that awkwardness is forced to the side, such that Gumball and Penny come together relatively easily (and, even weirder, without a single other person, girl or boy, really saying anything about their mutual crush). This is mainly done so that it can lead to the point where Gumball and Darwin kiss each other unknowingly, off-screen, but that’s a flat resolution, especially since we don’t see it, and especially after “The Dress,” which really up’d the grossness of a Gumball/Darwin “connection,” way beyond what a kiss would do.

There are some other flaws here too. Darwin needing to come up for air in the pool is just a straight-up writer’s mistake. That Gumball, Darwin, and Tobias are on some kind of friendly-speaking level feels sudden, and while The Amazing World of Gumball is generally on-and-off with how Tobias and Gumball relate, seeing this so soon after “The Third” creates a weird whiplash feeling. The show is still in an “episodic” mode, so there’s some leeway here (The Amazing World of Gumball actively subverts ideas of episodic vs. serialized storytelling; in fact, it subverts and deconstructs storytelling in a whole bunch of ways, but we’re not quite at that point), but it still feels a bit off. Still, “The Pressure” makes the ridiculousness of the situation clear: the whole boys vs. girls dilemma is portrayed as stupid as it is merely by having Tobias and Banana Joe the “villains”. The strained writing and lack of a bigger “point” really holds it back. (I should mention that there is one section that feels a bit sharp: when Rocky mentions how when he opens up to women, this causes them to runaway. It’s a pretty brief but dark reveal, a shade of Gumball’s cynicism skills, but it’s really set up to contrast how other shows uses simplistic “just tell her how you feel!” advice to solve its problems. Here, Musami just manipulates the situation further. Gumball can be, and will be, more sincere and optimistic, but it will not suffer fools lightly – characters will have to commit to that mindset for the show to accept it.)

The Painting – A

And that’s pretty much what they do in “The Painting,” the first fantastic, fully-committed episode of The Amazing World of Gumball’s first season. It’s not a perfect episode. It’s a bit clunky at times, and some of the individual stories feel a bit out of whack, but Gumball’s first season’s inconsistency is actually used to its advantage here. Underneath all the hemming and hawing, the insanity and wacky behavior, Gumball does believe in an authenticity – a true affection towards its central family, despite its broken, dysfunctional nature. And what makes this work is that Anais is indeed being honest here, but also that The Wattersons aren’t simply an anomaly of brokenness. The Amazing World of Gumball makes it clear that the various characters in the world of the show are just as broken, ridiculous, and shitty as our central family, so who the hell are these random people to say how this family should be? Everyone has to live through the same nutty, cartoony world that makes or breaks these characters, and that makes “right, wholesome living” impossible.

There’s quite a lot going on in this episode, and those depths are along the outskirts, just underneath the surface if you know where to look. You’ll notice how Principal Brown immediately comes to the worst conclusion of Anais’ home life after seeing her painting, perhaps a commentary on how school officials overreact to student’s artistic and creative outputs. You’ll notice the constant dismissals of Anais’ objections, which feels both ageist and sexist – that the very creator of the artwork is never given a chance to explain herself. This is also supported by the general idea that Anais is the gifted one in the family, the smartest one with the best chance of success, yet for some reason her work is “art-splained” by others. Yeah, there’s a sense that the environment that Anais lives in may not be the most supportive of her gifts, but honestly, neither is the Amazing World itself. Gumball will do a lot of great work developing Anais, and the reactions to her and her abilities, but the fact that the show is already doing great work this early on provides it a stable foundation to build upon.

For Anais to thrive, Brown more or less guilts The Watterson into becoming a better family, but while we know that’s doomed to fail, we get to see why and how. Not everything is The Wattersons’ fault. Take for instance Richard’s story, who can’t even get through the automated door. It causes him to be late, and he’s immediately fired. Richard has absolutely no desire to work – he screams at Brown for nearly a minute at the mere suggestion – but he will do it for his daughter. That he failed isn’t so much because he’s too stupid to do it; it’s because the “world” literally is preventing him. Think this is an exaggeration? They make this entirely literal in a future episode, and oh boy will we get to that – but for now, understand that despite Richard’s idiocy and laziness, he does try. (In all honestly, The Amazing World of Gumball will have some… problems in how to make Richard work a lot story-wise, and we’ll talk about that a lot too when that comes up.)

Nicole’s story is, admittedly, a bit bland. It makes sense for her as a character, at this point in the show at least, a reflection of her prowess as the homemaker and the breadmaker, although I don’t think it’s clear that Nicole is the only one paying the bills at this point. She destroys the house partly to give her something to do after cleaning it to a spit-shine, and partly because she’s going crazy after being so bored with her situation of domesticity. (Gumball will push that point further later on.) The Mr. Small/Gumball/Darwin storyline splits the middle, with a number of soft but amusing bits in which Small tries to get the boys to focus their anger energy into different outlets, despite them not making sense or actually hurting the kids. The interpretive dance stuff is nonsensical, although Darwin is won over by it, and the paint scene is hilarious if only because the paint actually gets into the boys’ eyes. Mr. Small is an overwrought, ridiculous hippie character, but at the very least a portion of what he teaches does work, so he’s not wholly useless. The entire endeavor is useless, though: Anais finally gets to speak her mind, and she reveals that while, yes, her family has serious issues, she loves them unconditionally. And it’s sappy, but it’s earnest, and even she gets to join in the chaos of dysfunction as part of the Wattersons unit. Principal Brown may not understand it, but it’s not up to him. Anais is happy, and the Wattersons are happy, and that’s what matters.


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