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The Amazing World of Gumball Recaps: “The Quest” and “The Spoon”

The Amazing World of Gumball Season 1 Episode… by gumball-amazing

“The Quest” – A-

This may be the first episode of The Amazing World of Gumball where the show brings in that raw emotional honesty that I’ve been harping about for the past few reviews. It’s not the full, jaw-dropping dramatic revelations that will come later, but “The Quest” seems like the first episode to explore its characters a bit deeper than a bunch of computer-animated figures in a ridiculous cartoon world. A lot of Gumball’s narrative strengths really come together here – its jokes, its pacing, its slick, smart visuals, and its heart. The first time you saw Tina the dinosaur, it was a joke – a giant, female dinosaur as the school bully, literally and metaphorically (at least at this point in the show). In a surprising move, we get a bit of insight into her and her life. I don’t know how many people were expecting to then see Tina sleeping on a literal pile of trash in the middle of a dumpster; Anais says it’s really sad, but “sad” really doesn’t cover it.

It takes a bit of set up to get to that point, but it’s endearing to watch. A few kids tease Anais by tossing her beloved doll, Daisy, around, and Anais demands/guilts Gumball into getting it back for her (for good reason – Gumball brought the toy onto the bus in the first place!). The Amazing World of Gumball will deal with this sibling interplay quite a bit. The Gumball/Darwin bond will always be front and center, but the Gumball/Anais relationship is a prickly one, bouncing between affection, neglect, manipulation, altercations, and forgiveness. It’s in effect a deeply exaggerated form of older brother/younger sister relationships, heightened even more by Gumball’s selfishness and determination, and Anais’ brilliance and loneliness. But “The Quest” shows that it’s a relationship that’s, underneath all that, built on love and family loyalty: Gumball yelling out “That’s why you don’t mess with the Wattersons!” at the end is truer and more significant than we realize at this point.

Gumball reluctantly agrees to help his sister, which has him running around the school trying to get Daisy back. We get some quick introductions to some other classmates: Hector, the giant, and Juke, the walking boombox (the future episodes involving these two are something, particularly Juke’s episode, but we’ll get to that). The build up during the early scenes are just so good – just an easy confidence that makes everything seem so effortless. I have to admit, rewatching these episodes make me kind of miss the low-key narrative build-ups that the more recent batch of episodes lack. And throughout it all are all the kind of sibling manipulations and control techniques that we’ve seen before, given a bit of heft that only Gumball can muster. Gumball and Anais battle over using big-cute-eyes faces and guilt-trapping passive-aggressiveness. Gumball provides a fake Daisy doll only for it to explode. Gumball tries to use his inability to catch against himself, only for him to actually catch the doll, to which he immediately tosses off to Darwin (I also love how his inability to catch is telegraphed early as a weird visual gag when he’s unable to snag the doll in the air after Hector flicks it of his buttock). Gumball is a dick of a brother. But he is committed to his sister (and, in the overall scheme of the show, whatever’s on his mind) in a way that keeps him from being intolerable. And the show itself is keenly away of his awfulness (unlike some other shows).

The entire final section is worth talking about though. From the reveal of Tina literally sleeping on trash, to the hilarious attempts to getting the doll from her grasp, to the phenomenal Jurassic Park-esque chase sequence that follows, “The Quest” takes a big step forward in its commitment to the visuals and aesthetics of a scene versus just establishing various signifiers of the parody. The slow fade in and camera dolly that opens up with the kids staring into Tina’s room/warehouse; the bleak, dreary atmosphere in which the scant lighting only adds to the horror; the dynamic camera angles and change-of-directions of the characters as they give chase and get chased – the level of details is a step further than the already great chase back in “The DVD” (and props to the physical interaction between the 2D-flat Watterson characters and the 3D-rendered dinosaur; that in itself is impressive gold). The parody is clear but “The Quest” is clearer that the kids are in real danger. And despite all that, when they finally stop Tina and gloat, the show pulls back and reveal Tina to be a broken, poor bully who never had a toy before. It’s a sudden switch, especially since you don’t expect Gumball to “go there,” but it’s heart-breaking even this early in the show’s run. There’s more to the Tina story, and we’ll definitely get to that, but we now know that Gumball will bring more to its cast of characters than stock tropes, and what they reveal about Tina will allow them to explore its cast and world even more, and believe me, it’s a trip.

“The Spoon” – B

Right of the bat, you can tell the animation in “The Spoon” is different. I don’t know if the animation studio was different, or if a different director was in charge here, but there’s an intense exaggeration to the expressions and the energy that isn’t as specifically channelled through something familiar – like a parody or what we’ve seen before. Once again, Gumball is utilizing a cartoon trope to springboard into a different story – but like “The End,” it’s just another cartoon trope. In this case, it’s the father forgetting his wife’s birthday and needing to find a gift, but it’s tossed aside for a nutty adventure involving Gumball and Darwin mistaking a thief for a CEO for charity for bald people. “The Spoon” undercuts all of that by more or less ditching that first trope (once Nicole comes home, Richard comes clean about the forgotten gift almost immediately), by contextualizing the second trope in a dangerous way (Gumball and Darwin are sent to a gas station in what is implied is a dangerous part of town), and by bringing in a heavily over-the-top animation style for most of the episode. When Richard hilariously reminds the kids of their mother’s birthday, only to realize he forgot her gift, his expressions and body language goes absolutely bonkers, in a way never quite matched in previous episodes, and we’re off to the races.

Really, “The Spoon” is a B- episode in overall quality. The jokes are kind of bland, being as trapped as it is in those tropes, and no amount of undercutting or subverting can overcome it. The only thing that stands out is the animation, with some impressive movements and facial expressions being pushed in wildly insane ways, and a final chase sequence that goes all over the place (Gumball just does chase sequences and action so well, I would love to see this team do an action series at some point). Gumball, Darwin, and the fingerprint thief make as many ridiculous expressions as Richard does, there’s some judicious use of emoticon faces throughout (Gumball doesn’t use them often), and even that final sequenced with Gumball and Darwin riding a flying air tank was fantastically well done, if not exactly a new, original, or inspired animated bit.

But it’s a funny bit, and really just a lot of fun to watch. At this point, Gumball and Darwin are still functionally, mentally children, clueless to the kind of world they live in and the kind of nasty characters that populate it. The Amazing World of Gumball in some ways will revisit the idea of the playful, innocent children suddenly brushing up a real threat and dealing with the fall out – that episode ends with Nicole exacting delicious revenge on the culprit as well – but while that episode is a bit more… existential, “The Spoon” caters to a Nickelodeon, “kids rules” approach. Once Darwin and Gumball realizes they’re in trouble, they manage to run and escape the spoon-wielding criminal, while also besting with a series of Home Alone-esque traps. This episode also introduces Doughnut Sheriff, a stereotypical baffoonish cop who is literally a doughnut, but like all the other characters, he too will be contextualized and explored more than the ineffectual goofball he is here. “The Spoon” is a fine episode, propped up by its visual silliness, but it is a slight in the overall flow of the show.


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We Bare Bears’ Cuteness Masks a Shockingly Cynical View of Humanity

In “$100,” a friend that often visits the young bears’ home dons a ski mask and tries to rob them of their new-found $100 bill. In “The Road,” the bears share their box-home with a hitchhiker, only for the hitchhiker to steal their box the following morning. In “The Fair,” a loser carny exploits the bears’ cuteness to earn more customers to his rigged game. In “Pet Shop,” after failing to attract potential owners, the pet store cashier boxes up the bears and puts them in the trash. In “The Island,” a potential island friendship is ruined when we learn the dude has been gaslighting and manipulating the living fuck out of the woman also stuck on said island. These episodes involve the bears as young, even cuter versions of themselves as hapless, adorable, orphan wanderers, and perhaps the show finds amusement in their constant struggles. But, damn, those struggles really come off vicious and bleak, a pretty cynically dark take on humanity.

The episodes that focus on the bears as adults aren’t much more optimistic. The last new episode that aired on Friday, August 11, (“Summer Love”) contained a scene in which Panda was forced to pay a bribe to some bubble tea cashier to get information on a girl that left her phone behind. Later in the episode, he runs into trouble with some guy who goes crazy when a girl he liked became an astronaut. (The portrayal of dudes being obsessed over women, which includes Panda here, is an issue all on its own.) There’s an episode where the bears go to a crowded beach but for some reason every human there is some form of shit stain – a litterer, a loud music player, some woman who brought ribs (“Private Lake”). At the beginning of the show’s run, there was a chance that the show was attempting to channel that human behavior towards something specific, in their behavior towards the bears themselves, in treating them differently or aloof because they were bears (I weirdly got pushback for mentioning this, only for the very creator to more or less post a confirmation on Twitter). Basically, if you were to watch an episode of We Bare Bears with the thinking that, thematically, the show is about how subtly but clearly awful humanity is, you might be horrified by how distinctly the show believes this.

There’s the episodes with Nom-Nom, voiced by Patton Oswalt, who hates the bears and only cares about his social media following, and any moment that showcases a smidge of humanity from the cute koala is undercut; lessons are rarely learned. There’s Charlie, the show’s worst character, who’s pretty annoying by default and whom the bears only hang out with because they either feel sorry for him, or he has something they want (I find it remarkable that the show never realizes how insanely shallow this make the bears seem). Chloe is the only character that feels like she genuinely likes the bears, and whom the bears like in kind. Her early approach towards the bears, which was entirely academic and aloof, became something genuine, something shared between her and the bears. Both understood what it felt like to be outcasts, and their connections (and episodes) feel like the rare time the show exhibits some hope.

There’s a “but” coming, though.

Before that, though, I do think that episodes with Chloe suggest that We Bare Bears is not actively trying to be nihilistic. It’s a brightly colorful show with soft, cute character models by design, and it utilizes a light touch with a good amount of its narrative beats – its song cues and montages, its portrayals of its emotional moments, its honest depiction of its central brotherly bond. The issue is that, to get to the ultimate point of those latter two, it has to chart a streak of abject meanness and callousness in its world and its cast of characters. We Bare Bears hides its harshness well, and there’s a chance that it’s intentional; perhaps Daniel Chong finds humor in the contrasts of its characters’ awful, self-centered behavior and the lowkey, soft aesthetics of the show. But Chong isn’t Dan Harmon or Raphael Bob-Waksberg, or even a Ben Bocquelet. His show doesn’t seem to have a larger thematic point beyond that contrast. If he’s aiming to say that despite a hopeful sensibility about the world, the only people who can really trust are family, then… fine, I guess. It’s a bleak outlook for sure, but I don’t think he actually wants to say that, which is why We Bare Bears is a really muddled claptrap of a show.

Really, most episodes place the bears in a situation where each bear has to deal with some inane, contrived obstacle – a person being obtuse, a machine that fails to work, a thing in the way of progress. These episodes aren’t particularly funny or noteworthy, although Ice Bear’s blunt, contrite statements are good for solid laughs. Grizz’s heart tends to be in the right place but will most likely go overboard. Panda writhes between being hapless and pathetic, but he remains endearing enough so he rarely gets annoying. The bears’ problems are mostly situational, almost like bits in a sketch show, escalating problems that come together at the resolution. And that’s fine; at its best, the show’s escalation tinge with pastiches of a clear love of style, like Ice Bear’s vengeful mission in the very good “Icy Nights.” A sweet two-part episode called “Captain Craboo” also indicates a very clear understanding of the kind bittersweet storytelling that warms the cockles of one’s heart. See, also, “Yuri and the Bear,” a story in which Ice Bear and a tough Russian man named Yuri start as mismatched enemies but end up as friends.

But (there it is) there’s the sense that while Chong and his crew understand story structure, they don’t really have much stake in the characters and/or world that supports that story. Chong knows the proper beats to tug at the heartstrings, but fails to apply actual heart or meaning to anything outside that storytelling modus operandi. It’s all mechanical, which results in an assortment of characters who are one-note and dickish, until they aren’t, and that’s only when the story needs the emotional heel-turn. Outside of that, characters are mostly some form of asshole, indirectly or directly, masked behind millennial trappings like gourmet coffee, vegan food options, and excessive-to-obsessive mobile/social usage. (The show, to be fair, nails that modern sensibility but offers little to no exploration of why people are so engaged in those sensibilities, which makes them come off bubbled; Panda orders a fairly over-wrought drink (a gluten-free, chai-coconut milk boba tea) but I’m not sure if we’re supposed to laugh at that or understand it as a reflection of who Panda is.)

I look back at Daniel Chong’s tweet, and I look back at my own AVClub review, and I think about the show’s very early interest in maybe, sort of, exploring the uncomfortable treatment between the bears and the humans, in the very human world surrounding them. I think that, had the show kept that as an undercurrent, the sheer cynical approach to said humans (and to the bears) would have had context, something rich and consistent to better reflect Chong’s vision and thematic approach. We Bare Bears eventually dropped that human/bear tension (which I why I got shit for mentioning it in the pilot), but kept the broad sense of hostility, which results in a show that may understand story structure but has a deeply dim view towards humanity. Watching We Bare Bears is pleasant until its over; the aftermath leaves a weird taste in your mouth. That taste? A darkly negative view, underneath a tasty boba tea.


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The Amazing World of Gumball Recaps: “The End” and “The Dress”

The Amazing World of Gumball S01E03 The End… by nexusdog1997

“The End” – B

It’s still very early in the show’s run, but The Amazing World of Gumball is starting to show early signs of the kind of confidence and cleverness that it will use to eventually become one of the sharpest and smartest shows on TV. After its introductory episodes, it’s starting to embrace its role as “cartoons about cartoons,” in a way, still focusing on its characters within an animated space and forced into animated plotting. In “The End,” we deal with a classic trope – the belief that the character(s) will be dead within twenty-four hours, so they end up doing all the things that they’ve always wanted to do. Unlike other cartoons, which goes through hoops to “justify” the misunderstanding, or go overboard with those bucket list goals, The Amazing World of Gumball just leans into the sheer stupidity of it all.

I mean, Gumball and Darwin ultimately fall for the mistake by flicking some channels, mistaking a sale sign that says “The End is Near,” and learning about what ancient Mayans thought about solar eclipses. Thus begins their venture into “end of world” fire sale actions, but there’s a number of unique twists to their endeavor – complete with 24-hour countdown clock (and this won’t be the first time they have to deal with that). Darwin wants to actually do good deeds, which is the show’s way ribbing plotlines like this and the selfishness of these characters, particularly with Gumball constant putdowns of Darwin’s selfless desires. Instead, the blue cat finds himself on the verge of going all out, but always being cut short: badmouthing and splashing his teacher with water, for example, forces him to waste three hours of detention. He tries to marry Penny, but she quickly puts short work to that dream. He gets a perm. That’s… it. And there’s something hilarious low-key in how the episode portrays all this – refusing to escalate the intensity of everything Gumball wants to do, it’s creates the opposite affect of what you’d expect. You’d think Gumball and Darwin would be rushing to complete their lives, but everything gets caught in the way.

This even happens when they bring in Richard. Of course he’d believe the boys’ ridiculous claims, but still, the show pulls back from rushing things on purpose. They “need to go faster” in the car but the handbrake is on, and then they crash it, and have to hustle to the store on foot. They’re not even allowed to run in the grocery story! Speedwalking like loons, “The End” just has fun with the idiocy, including a prolonged bit involving a self-checkout machine, and it’s just solid jokes all the way through, even with a porta-potty in the end. There’s a sweet layer to Gumball and Darwin’s final moment on the roof, undercut by the moon literally mooning the sun, in which the two learn the lesson of living life to the fullest. Later in the show, it’ll take that lesson into deeper, more significant places, but here, and in the next episode, Gumball is starting to toy a bit more with its sincerity, its irony, its timing, and its satire.

“The Dress” – B+

Particularly in “The Dress,” The Amazing World of Gumball is really aiming to work on it’s satirical prowess, using a “fame going to one’s head” and pushing it to some wild and hilarious degrees. It never gets personal, nor does it hone in on a specific target like its later episodes, but it does utilize the ol’ “mob crowd” to ridicule how easily people get caught up in… well, anything. “The Dress” leans on a relatively dumb concept – somehow Gumball in a dress is beautiful enough to fool everyone he’s a cute girl from Europe – but the show has so much confidence and commitment to this premise that ends up being kind of weird and wonderful and hilarious. It’s one thing for Gumball to exploit his new-found popularity by forcing his friends to do stuff for them. It’s a whole ‘nother thing to have Darwin fall madly in love with him. His own brother. He’s adopted, sure. But it’s still freaking weird and a bit disturbing.

That “The Dress” invests so heavily in this storyline is part of Gumball’s slow, overall build into something juicier than “funny takes on cartoon tropes.” This feels almost South Park-ian or American Dad-ian in scope. Gumball can’t wear his regular clothes since they’ve been shrunk in the wash by Richard, so he begs Gumball to wear his wife’s wedding dress. Here, there are two growing implications that will build over time: 1) the family’s difficulty with money is implied here (or else, why wouldn’t they just buy new clothing?), and 2) the weird, heighten, psychotic desire for the parents to prove to themselves, and to others, that they are “good” parents in a “wholesome” family and are absolutely normal. Both these points will be so, so important to the overal narrative of Gumball, especially as the show delves into the raw, intense feelings and truths that both those points will expose. Right now, they’re just quiet undercurrents to the show. In the future, they will become immensely significant, so it’s good to see the early bits of that showing up here.

Back to the episode at hand, “The Dress” mostly contorts its weird dumbness into a hilarious story that’s told in a straight-forward, low-key way, just like “The End.” Nothing too over-the-top occurs, in terms of pacing, but Darwin’s growing obsession with fake-Gumball does enter into full-on creep territory. It’s also the funniest part of the episode, although Gumball’s growing awareness of his power as a cute girl – as well as the realization that its gone too far – is also a highlight. I think it’s arguable that Gumball is attempting to make a gendered point about how the world will bend over backwards for attractive women – how his classmates treat him, how his teachers treat him, how Darwin treats him – and I love that at first, Gumball can’t even grasp that concept until Anais points it out to him. That’s when Gumball decides to exploit it, up until Darwin makes a move on the roller coaster, which is so messed up in so many ways, incestuous implications aside. Gumball ends up going through so many things that women have to deal with when it comes to creeps (particularly young women, who find themselves so concerned with “their feelings” instead of their own), and yet in true Gumball fashion, he comes up with an insane plan that gets out of hand.

After a pretty wild fantasy (Gumball trapped in domestic hell with cat/fish surrounding him, with Darwin-as-breadmaker bursting in, demanding more kids), Gumball fakes leaving forever by bus, but his balloon counterpart escapes, flies into the sun, and pops, right in front of everyone. Explaining it doesn’t do the scene justice, but it is such a comical visual that it sort of overcomes the lack of bite the episode has towards it overall thematic point towards the end. That’s okay, though. It’s still testing the waters there, and Darwin immediately falling for a fire hydrant wearing the same dress shows how overwrought the whole venture is in his mind. Gumball is eventually caught with his pants down (or gone, in this case), so he gets his karmic payback in the end as well. “The Dress” is both a play on a classic cartoon trope AND a light dip into blunter satire. It does the former better than the latter, but it’s overall still quite funny, and it’ll get even more confident over time.


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