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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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The Amazing World of Gumball Recaps: “The Third” and “The Debt”


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

“The Third” – C+

I forgot how “introductory” these early Gumball episodes are. They’re quietly structured around introducing new characters and locations and “things,” like the infamous Dodge or Dare game, which they boys immediately give up on playing. This episode introduces the “school” setting, and a few of the various students in the class. We see most of them – Tina the dinosaur, William the floating eye, Joe the banana, Bobbert the robot, Leslie the flower – but we’re only provided closer looks at Tobias and Alan, and even then they’re mostly one-note at this point. (Tina and Bobbert don’t even have names at this point.) This is a solid episode for introducing the sensibility of the show, which is composed of such an assortment of character and character types, characters who just are what they are and have to exist within that space. This will be more important later, especially as the jokes get deeper and crazier and the show gets more sincere and more satirical. Right now, it’s enough to marvel and be amused by the world opening up a bit.

It’s not that great of a story though, and I can chalk this up to early show “jitters” and the show’s lack of a clear viewpoint this early in the run. “The Third” doesn’t quite know whether it wants to approach its “is Gumball losing Darwin as a friend to Tobias” sincerely, or if it wants to ridicule such a dated and lame trope. The Amazing World of Gumball will get so much better at balancing and bridging those two lines – sincerity and irony – sometimes in the same episode. But for now, this feels like a test. I don’t doubt that “The Third” sees Gumball and Darwin search for a third friend as inherently silly, since it’s instigated because the boys are bored one morning. Later in the episode, when Gumball asks what Darwin wants in a friend, he lists a number of superficial traits: rich, athletic, and “colorful,” as well as “good at listening.” (The last trait, which often is noted as the most important trait in friendship, is clearly tossed off here.) But Gumball’s mad dash to get back his friend feels a little more heartfelt, and even though it’s populated with dumb gags, like breaking through concrete with the power of friendship, it still wants to be honest about it. The issue is that it’s unearned. There’s no realization or cathartic change of heart from Darwin over what he’s done. He just misses Gumball. When he arrive, they hug it out. It feels like something got lost in the narrative.

Still, there are some things to like about this episode. It stands to reason that Darwin would take to Tobias since he did represent all the traits Darwin listed, for better or worse. I’m amused that the show never calls too much attention to Darwin literally buying Tobias’ friendship, even at the expense of Gumball’s own money. The gags are dumb but mostly land, mainly due to how well the show manages the timing of those gags. Bobert’s slow wind up before punching Gumball back is heighten by not showing the actual punch but the hilarious aftermath. The mad dash to Tobias’ house also has a lot of insane bits of visuals, and as I watched it, I’m struck by how well the use of color, backgrounds, and layouts work to really make the show pop, even at this early stage of the show (the hills are a particular highlight). The denouement is the weakest part unfortunately, as Darwin suddenly seems to miss Gumball for no reason, and Tobias lacks any reaction to this point. This also kills the final ironic beat when Darwin and Gumball reject Tobias’ request to play. The blunt, selfish irony of that beat gets lost in the dud of the climax. But it’s practice now, as the show will get much better at this soon.

I want to say one more thing about this episode, but this will be very important for the show as a whole. Gumball’s final race for Darwin is filled with an assortment of obstacles both familiar (biking through wet concrete) and outlandish (a talking wall, and a talking manhole cover). As the show continues, it will slowly start to incorporate a lot of “cartoon-ness” into its worldbuilding, in which its characters-as-cartoons must survive a world in which cartoon tropes, concepts, and meta-concepts are as much obstacles and advantages as anything else in potential narratives. I sort of get into it in this piece about Gumball I wrote years ago, but I’ll explain this in clearer terms as the show gets really comfortable. All you’ll need to know now is this: The Amazing World of Gumball is a cartoon about cartoons; this will make more sense as time goes on.

The Debt – B

Introductions continue as we’re introduced to Mr. and Mrs. Robinson, and (briefly) their son, Robbie. With Mr. Robinson, The Amazing World of Gumball will set up a Dennis the Menace/Mr. Wilson dynamic that will run through the course of the show. I’ve always be a bit aloof about this dynamic. The show doesn’t explain exactly why Gumball (and in the future, Darwin) is so smitten with his neighbor. It sets this up mostly because they know that it will create some hilarious comic scenarios over time – and to be clear, they are hilarious. The situations that bring Gumball to be his most annoying, and Mr. Robinson to be his most frustrated, will create some of the funniest gags in the show’s run. They won’t create many of the more meaningful moments, though, not until they calm Gumball down a bit. One of the things I’m curious about is watching Gumball’s changing level of maturity, if not necessarily his age. That’s one of the limits of this cartoon about cartoons – being “stuck” within a situation and the trappings of cartoon structure (later episodes will make this point more explicit) – but still affecting certain layers of personal growth and change.

Right now though, Gumball is young boy whose fascinations and determinations and energy levels seem endless. It’s the very thing that keeps “The Debt” moving along despite the fact the episode is utilizing one of the older cartoon tropes in the book: the vowed life debt. Gumball perceives that Mr. Robinson somehow save his life (by not running him over with his car, in a situation where Gumball’s life wasn’t even at risk), and swears to watch Mr. Robinson at all costs until he saves his life. It’s an old bit for sure, and Gumball lampshades the idiocy of this story by the non-threatening inciting incident. But it doesn’t do much more than that, still going through the typical beats you’d expect in other cartoons: every time Gumball tries to protect Mr. Robinson, he only makes things worse.

Two things keep this story moving though: the bits they do pull up are very funny, and there’s a weird-but-informative streak throughout the episode that keeps one’s interest piqued. Gumball’s booby trap is just a sudden bit of physical, surprise comedy, and as much as you may cringe with watching Mr. Robinson getting hit in the groin, you might cringe just as much as Gumball is hit in a head by a brick. Anais and Darwin feeling bad for Gumball is kind of out of character, in the sense that Gumball shouldn’t be doing any of this in the first place, but their secondary plot to fake an assassination attempt on Mr. Robinson is great, because it develops its own set of gags and problems, mostly centered around Anais trying to explain the plan to Darwin. And then there’s Mr. Robinson’s final performance, and it’s just so ridiculous, a sort of “release” in case viewers were getting too sympathetic to Mr. Robinson. All that prep, and you’d think Gaylord would have a hidden, glorious singing voice, but it’s just his gruff regular voice, and some 80s aerobic dancing to misplaced fogs and lights. It’s the kind of chaos and misdirection that Gumball is good at, and it’ll get even better.

Gumball does save Mr. Robinson’s life, which is kind of sweet in its own way, up until he pushes Gumball aside to bask in the applause of two old people. Mr. Robinson is a bit… delusional; that and his woes with his wife and son will grow clear and more distinct over time (leading to the darkest moment of the show’s run by far). Still, “The Debt” is a fun watch if not exactly a necessary one, but worth engaging in to see the origins of some the show’s most comedic dynamics – just like “The Third,” really. We’re still getting used to the show’s cast, vibe, and aesthetics, and there’s a value in watching this work in progress.

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The Amazing World of Gumball Recaps: “The DVD” and “The Responsible”

I’ve been wanting to do episodic recaps for The Amazing World of Gumball for a while now. I’ve tried to convince a few of of the websites I freelance for to cover this show, but it never catches on. In the past year or two, the show has been gaining massive popularity – somewhat unfortunately, in the “I can’t believe they went there” fashion, but there are those who recognize it for its boldness, brilliance, cleverness, sharply dynamic animation, and flawed, enriching characters. Since mainstream critics won’t call attention to it (while frustrating, I do get it), I decided to tackle the show myself. I’m looking forward to it, especially as the show breaks from its original basic setup into a harsh, powerful, dramatic satire of a surprisingly put-together world.


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

“The DVD” – B+

The Amazing World of Gumball will take some time to get to that point. It won’t push boundaries, or raise stakes, or truly commit to the honest, raw, and genuine emotional state of its central characters until some point in the second season. By that time the animation will have changed, and with that, a clearer observation of who and what the characters and the world of  The Amazing World of Gumball can be. But we shouldn’t discount what occurs in “The DVD.” The basic, core characterizations are here: Gumball is the awkward kid who’s blindly committed to bad ideas, Darwin is the nice brother who cowtows to Gumball’s whims while simultaneously tries to talk him out of it, and Nicole, Gumball’s mother and the show’s early and continuous standout, is the stereotypical mother figure with a hilariously overbearing, militant streak. The show will complicate those attributes further overtime. But for now, “The DVD” is a basic fun lark, a taste of things to come.

One fascinating thing is that the characters feel fully realized, if not fully formed, in the early going. The opening exchange, that very first joke of escalating passive-aggressiveness between Gumball and his mother, immediately provides the early glimpses of the specifics of the characters, and even a sense of the type of show The Amazing World of Gumball will end up being. The final line, in which Gumball suggests that this entire issue with the DVD is Nicole’s fault for having kids in the first place (and before Nicole showcases her iconic, individual strength by punching through a wall), hints at a level of adult humor that the show will grow more and more comfortable in utilizing as the show goes on. I’ll need to make a point though – “getting away with adult jokes” is not at all what Gumball should be recognized for.

No, the juicier material lies within the entire scenario in which Gumball and his brother Darwin attempt to avoid “the consequences of their actions” and attempt to return a fake DVD and ensure their mom never learns about it. It’s cartoony basics here, with jokes like a fake cardboard DVD, Darwin speaking a long line in Chinese that’s translated as a simple “No,” and an amusing scene in which Gumball finds himself deeply allergic to makeup. Yet Gumball will also get a bit harsher with its satire, like the scene in which the two lower-middle class brothers beg on the street next to an an actual homeless man. It’s a dark, pointed gag, in which the homeless man not so subtly points out the insanity of the situation. It’s also pretty fucked up that the implication is that Gumball and Darwin received more change than the person who actually needed it (symbolized by a ridiculous beatboxing scene, where the two siblings once again get change over the homeless man). Karma comes quickly once the man takes the change buys a scratch-off, and wins; when Gumball then asks for his four dollars back, the formerly-homeless man feigns no longer having any change on him. It’s brutal, especially once it becomes clearer that the Wattersons aren’t quite wealthy in their own specific ways, and Gumball will get incredibly more direct on this point later in the series.

The ending sequence is also a perfect taste of what Gumball will improve upon as the show goes on as well – an epic chase scene in which Nicole runs – and I mean runs – after her children in anger from the lies. Even this early in the animation, it’s a visual masterpiece, with an action-movie sensibility to the aesthetics, and props to making it clear that Nicole’s rage, while epic, can be on occasion hindered. It ends on a couple of generic but hilarious gags and tropes – Larry watches the DVD and sees a terrible Sweded version of Alligators on a Train, Nicole hears the confession and declares her love for them is universal, and she pays the $25 fee for the DVD. But then the Gumball goes for what will mostly be its signature move, the ironic ending, the narrative switch that will keep viewers on its toes: when the late fees add up to a whopping $700, Nicole, nice, calm, and loving, tell her children to RUN. It’s perfect, a symbolic freeze-frame shot that sums up the show in a nutshell.

“The Responsible” – B

“The Responsible” introduces Richard Watterson and Anais Watterson. Both characters will go through some changes and deepening over the course of the show, particularly Richard, who will take a quite a while to make into a more workable character. Richard here is portrayed as the bumbling idiot, the comic relief who hates pants and whines like a manbaby. The Amazing World of Gumball as this point is still in its infant stages. It won’t really grasp its identity as a firm, (hyper)realistic, (dys)functional family until later. Right now, it’s mostly separate characters that are a family in name and gags only. Richard is a joke and Nicole is a machine, and Darwin and Gumball are the two who get into various scrapes. In this case, it’s how they take care of their baby sister, Anais, after Richard screws up in ordering a competent babysitter.

Anais is more solidified as a character. She will get even better, more or less contrasting her underrated genius and strategic thinking with her abject loneliness, youthful desperation, and the limits of her self-reliance. Here she has to struggle with her idiotic brothers as they go overboard with their protectiveness. She can’t watch TV (or specifically, commercials) because they’re corrupting, so she gets to witness Gumball and Darwin bash the TV set to death with bats. She can’t read a book, because she might get paper cuts, so Darwin jumpkicks it out of her hands. She can’t eat solid food (what her siblings pass as food anyway), so they chew it up and give her the chum. Rightfully, she knocks it back into their faces.

“The Responsible” is a fine, even visually great episode, with some great little details to keep your attention. It’s a great showcase, for example, when Darwin swims in the flooded house with ease, reminding you that he is indeed a fish (who enjoys his fishchips now and then). A steady shot in which Darwin and Gumball chase Anais around the living room is fantastic, mostly because it allows the space to be utilized in a lot of fun ways, sans cuts or edits. It doesn’t get a chance to get much deeper or exploratory though, mostly as an episode to enjoy the fruits of its animated labor. Its most cartoony moment is when they three pop out the chimney in a geyser and land hard on the sidewalk below, with only scratches. Yes, this is a cartoon, so this is a difficult line to walk, but while at this point The Amazing World of Gumball is more Looney Tunes, it’ll gradually pull away from that tone just enough so that stakes and threats will be harsher and more dangerous, eventually mastering it perfectly.

“The Responsible” also gets into Gumball’s narrative self-awareness, as this episode is all about the value and importance of responsibility (similar to “The DVD,” which is also why it’s a step down since it’s more or less a thematic retread). The lesson is learned, after a hellish experience, and the point is made when Gumball eventually accepts taking responsibility for the chaos… only to be unable to commit to it after staring into the flaming eyes of his mother. Gumball undercuts its lesson learning as every character ends up blaming something else for the disaster, eventually settling on the internet, which is part and parcel of the show’s ironic endings. But as the show goes along, that kind of undercutting will end up reaching some real, raw revelations that go being childish lesson learning, revelations that will be twice as significant as the basic ones. Claiming the internet is at fault is the show’s way of exploring the tendency of people to absolve themselves by pointing towards others who messed up (whataboutism), but The Amazing World of Gumball in time will provide much more bite to those kinds of endings. Which leaves this ending okay for what it is, especially this early in the show’s run, but once Gumball gets a firmer command on its voice, the perfect interplay with biting cynicism and genuine optimism, it’ll truly become one of television’s sharpest, most hilarious, most biting, and most effective programs.

 

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