Archive for category Childhood Revisited
Tumblr has been slow the past couple of weeks, but I managed to gather a few nifty ones for this week’s Tumblr Tuesday:
Lloyd in Space is a disappointing show that never allows the audience to connect to its characters. How Lloyd in Space fails to follow in the brilliant footsteps of its predecessor, Recess.
The Lloyd in Space episode entitled “Neither Boy nor Girl” has become somewhat of a rallying cry for the transgendered community. In the episode, an alien reveals that members of its species, upon reaching their thirteenth birthday, get to decide which gender its going to be. The episode breaks through the silliness of designating specific items and activities as “for boys” and “for girls,” showcasing the alien character genuinely enjoying both. It portrays the male and female students battling over which gender the alien should be, up until the point that the alien, politely, tells the other students to shut the fuck up – the decision is really up to him/her. In the end, the alien makes the decision, but doesn’t tell anyone, because its rightfully no one else’s business. It’s clear why the transgendered community has taken this episode as their own, battling to convince an unfortunately bigoted world that their gender is not up for everyone else to decide. It’s a personal, deep, insular decision, and we as a society should respect that.
As an episode for social change, it works wonders. As an episode of Lloyd in Space, it’s representative of an overall flawed approach to a surprisingly weak show out of the minds of Paul and Joe, two creators who had their hands in some of the best cartoons of the 90s – Rugrats, Recess, and Hey Arnold. (They also worked on the 2012 Pound Puppies remake, which I still claim to be one of the best cartoons of the modern era.) Paul Germain and Joe Absolabehere usually have a rich, distinct insight on young people, creating shows and writing episodes with a quick sensibility and a warm pathos that delve into a specific element of growth, not focused on hormonal changes but interpersonal ones. Paul and Joe characters are smart and resourceful, yet deeply flawed, constantly struggling to improve themselves through the wild creative stories they come up with. Paul and Joe create CHARACTERS, so it was tough to see Lloyd in Space and note how lacking these characters were, even for aliens.
When you watch cartoons, beware of what I would call “broad exposition intros,” or BEIs. BEIs are signs of weak writing, and if a majority of episodes contain BEIs, nine times out of ten, you’re going to have a bad show. BEIs occur at the beginning of an episode. Your main characters are sitting around or walking together, without any context of being in their current location, and they witness either another character doing their job/task/daily routine, or maybe they witness an event occurring. Completely unprompted, they begin to talk SPECIFICALLY about that character or event, for no other reason than to alert the viewer that the episode is CLEARLY going to be about that character or event. BEIs don’t count if the characters are actually involved in that character’s life or in the event, but if they suddenly just start heaping praise on the character or event, then things are going to be rough.
BEIs happen all the time in cartoons. Once in a while is okay, but when BEIs go overboard, it creates a problem. The main characters don’t seem to be living their own lives, but instead seem to be vocal catalysts to prompt the direction of the episode. Paul and Joe resorting to BEIs for Lloyd in Space is surprising, but indicative of a weak, single-approach premise at the core of this show. Lloyd in Space lacks real, in-depth female characters, Lloyd’s friends are shallow and kind of selfish, and the stories are frustratingly weak without the humor to back it up. It feels like Lloyd in Space was created as a nothing show, forced into more episodes, where the writers and animators scrambled with create subsequent episodes without properly developing them.
Lloyd himself is an generic character, a green alien known as a Verdigrean who is going through the turmoil of turning thirteen. Using this alien/space set up, Lloyd in Space tries to use its intergalactic premise to metaphorically tell its stories. The problem is 1) the show is so aggressively metaphoric that neither Lloyd or anyone else register as real characters in this space station, and 2) the stories are so drastically simple, lacking the secret depth that is usually present in a Paul and Joe show. The writers seem uncomfortable attempting to let Lloyd and his friends stand on their own, spelling out the lessons directly, as if to say “SEE THIS ALIEN BEHAVIOR IS REPRESENTATIVE OF THIS LESSON” instead of having the audience draw this conclusion themselves. (This causes some real problems down the line.) The stories around these lessons are surprisingly lame for such a rich, potential premise as well, focusing primarily on the improvement of class reputation and wildly shallow love stories.
Lloyd and his friends – Eddie the human, Kurt the Blobullon, and Douglas the Cerebellian, are way too concerned with being cool, finding ways to be cooler, and reaching the top of the school’s caste system. (Eddie in particular instigates so many of the conflicts with his behavior that he’s actually a really fucking bad influence instead of the occasional troublemaker). Part of what make Paul and Joe shows work is their commitment to characters pushing through bullshit caste systems and abstract ideologies, allow characters to connect as people, not ideas, or concepts, or metaphors. Yet here’s Lloyd in Space, doing exactly that. “Neither Girl Nor Boy,” in this light, is less a symbol of transgenderism and more a re-iteration of how shallow the characters are, and even episodes that address exactly that mean nothing as everyone returns to their usual shallow selves.
Lloyd in Space begins with an episode where Lloyd turns thirteen, which begins a pretty straight-forward “what does it mean to be a man” type episode, which is typical for a pilot. It allows viewers to get used to the cast and gives the show a generic plot to follow as all the major players are introduced – Lloyd’s sister Francine, his mom Nora, his friends, his schoolmates, his teachers, his grandfather. The episode is focused on Lloyd’s belief he’s finally grown into an adult, but ultimately realized he still has a few years ahead of him. His teacher, Miss Bolt (and the most notable character in the show, voiced by the GREAT Tress MacNeille, cribbing a bit from Miss Krabappel by way of Bender), makes him write an essay on what it means to be a man, and the episode ends with him gaining some insight on what that is, yet doesn’t explicitly say. There’s a case to be made that the meaning is personal, that “being a man” isn’t something one can merely say but encompasses the entirety of growth, responsibility, learning, and relationships, but in reference to the whole series, it comes across more as if Lloyd in Space simply doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t really grow in that respect in subsequent episodes, nor does the show dismiss the disingenuous designation of “being a man” in the first place. For a jumping off point, Lloyd in Space barely moves an inch.
As the show chugs along, Lloyd in Space’s weaknesses become more pronounced, which in turn inspires some insipid, misconstrued lessons. The second episode, “Double Date,” involves Lloyd developing a crush over a two-headed female alien, where one head is nice and sweet, while the second head is mean and crude. “Double Date” WILDLY misreads this situation. The second head treats Lloyd like shit and the first head allows the second head to continue its verbal vitriol. Finally Lloyd stands up to her, telling the second head to shut up and yelling at the first head for ignoring this behavior. Please, note, Lloyd reaction is correct. And yet the episode has the audacity to imply, somehow, Lloyd was in the wrong. How? Well, cause when you date someone, you have to accept the good and bad sides of that person, or at least that’s what the episode claims. Yet there’s a marked difference in connecting with a person that has flaws, and a person who demeans your character. Lloyd in Space here tries to metaphorically represent this dual-headed female as one person, but this metaphor completely falls apart, and that’s mainly due to the obnoxious behavior, but also the one-note characterization. If we knew about Trixie’s life as a dual-headed alien, if that concept kept her at arms length from people for years, if the episode treated that dual-head as one “humanized” character, then we’d have something. Right now, we have a poorly established feminine unit that ought to be respected because, apparently, explicit verbal abuse is the same as having a bad side. No one is buying that space trash, guys.
Female characterization is a huge sore point on this show. Granted, most of the characters are poorly developed but here, females get an uncomfortable amount of asinine, one-note traits. Women are only important in how they are romantic eye candy for other male characters. The growth and understanding that Lloyd goes through is established often through really shallow, poorly done love stories. In “You’re Never Too Old,” Lloyd is forced to hang out with his grandfather at his retirement home. Of course, Lloyd grows bored of the place, but episodes like this tend to really work by connecting their young protagonists to their elders through a commonality, through something strong and unspoken which allows the characters to see each other in a new light. Lloyd in Space opts for Grandpa Leo to have a childish crush on another elderly person. Like, he runs and hides from her when she gets too near and everything. I’m not exactly sure how old Leo is supposed to be, but that’s pathetic. Also, it’s boring! Lloyd’s only insight into his grandfather is that he acts skittish around other girls? That’s just depressing.
Then there’s “Nora’s Big Date, ” which only reduces Lloyd’s mother, who is the tough leader and respected commander of the space station upon which Lloyd’s lives, into, yet again, a skittish, doe-eyed victim to some random visitor. One of the most profound realizations a child can make is acknowledging that the adults in their lives are not just authority figures but people with feelings and flaws, people who once were young and grew up in similar albeit temporally different environments. That the writers here can only call attention to this acknowledgement via “adult crushes” is incredibly disappointing, indicative of material that they cared very little about. This is apparent in “Lloyd’s Lost Weekend” – note Lloyd doesn’t come to understand his family on their own terms, but only in how he fails to connect with his friends’ families, for obvious reason. Rarely do we see Lloyd come to terms with his family at a personal level; it’s always through some other contrived situation.
The best the show can manage are a few surprisingly nice moments between Lloyd and his sister, Francine. “Babysitter Lloyd,” “Lloyd Changes His Mind,” and “Francine’s Power Trip” all work in some part to subvert the “annoying younger sister” dynamic, showing Lloyd taking responsibility in keeping his sister safe and acknowledging how scary the world must be to someone so young and unaccustomed to change. The problem (and it’s a bit obvious that the writers realize this) is that giving Francine telekinetic abilities was a HUGE mistake. It seemed like it was intended to be a one-off, comical advantage that she would have over Lloyd, adding to the elements that would drive her brother crazy. That they would have to work through it to develop a sibling connection really throws them off. They do their best, but it always comes off half-assed because Francine has such good control of her powers – up until she doesn’t. The extent of her abilities is arbitrary, and since every episode reverts to the status quo at the end, any connection the two have are thrown out the window, as if it didn’t happen.
Then there’s the school. I don’t want to get too much into Lloyd’s class situation – that’s worthy of a blog post all by itself – but overall it’s just shallow and underdeveloped. Beyond Lloyd, Kurt, and Douglas, the only other “real” character is Brittany, a stuck up socialite who is the most popular girl in school. (There’s also Rodney, who seemed like someone the show would delve into more, but he’s pretty much dropped up until the point they need him.) Other characters are randomly name-dropped for the sake of various gags and throw-away plot points. Some characters are even introduced as A BIG DEAL even though we’ve never seen them before! (Looking at you, “Go Crater Worms.”) And the less said about the “unrequited love” between Lloyd and Brittany, the better. Lloyd in Space tries to suggest that they liked each other at some point, but the strict popularity lines of sixth grade rendered it moot, and everything about this is awful (there’s even a Love Potion episode, and yes, it’s cringe-worthy.)
That’s just it though. The characterization in Lloyd in Space is shallow and marginally sexist, so of course an non-gendered alien arriving to call them all out their awful behavior comes off satisfying. Too bad the show never lets such points stick, continuing wildly misguided and awkward lessons go unabated. The various creative alien/space concepts and designs are marginally interesting, but nothing really is allowed to stand on its own; the show constantly wants everything to be connected to a real life concern, sacrificing subtlety for simplicity. Since everyone and everything is a metaphor, no one is a character. No one learns, grows, or even seems to exist on their own terms. The few times the show Lloyd in Space reaches some kind of dramatic “truth,” it feels unearned. With no reason to grow attached to anything, Lloyd in Space floats ably along in uncomfortable mediocrity.
[Episodes of Lloyd in Space are available online via a quick Google search, but they’re hosted on a questionable website. Be forewarned if you wish to seek them out. Also the series is available on DVD, which is obviously the safer route.]
Tumblr Tuesday’s back! Full blog posts are still on hiatus, so lets read what other (crazy) people wrote!
— A bit on how strangely gross TMNT got:
— A Super Mario Kart metaphor to explain White Privilege:
— Pretty great trivia on Bugs Bunny being based on It Happened One Night:
— 900% of Young Adult Lit:
— Real life look at the practicality of female armor:
— Buster Bunny poses for various animation studios:
— And a stupidly accurate breakdown of laughter text abbreviations: