Posts Tagged Comedy

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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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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Dexter’s Laboratory took a simple phrase, and trope, to its logically dark conclusion


Dexter’s Laboratory (S1E9) – Doll House Drama… by ClassicCartoonChannel

Dexter’s Laboratory staked its claim in the animation landscape with one simple phrase. It wasn’t a meaningful phrase, and by itself, it wasn’t particularly funny. It’s a phrase that’s pretty innocuous, a nothing of a phrase that nevertheless feels like the culmination of everything the show was trying (and managed) to be. That phrase, you may have guessed, is cheese omelet, or as you would say in French: “omelette du fromage.”

Dexter’s Laboratory is perhaps one of the most important cartoons of the mid 90s, a bold, stark, animated show defined by the direct, specific use of simple shapes, harsh editing, and dramatic visual irony. It’s a show comfortable with a certain “throwaway approach” to character design consistency: characters could change size, even shape, as long as the gags would hit, and hit hard. Dexter’s lab itself always changed, never once looking the same from episode to episode – even how you entered the lab changed through the series (shades of the various, comical ways Perry the Platypus would enter his own underground hideout in Phineas and Ferb). Most animated shows in the post-Dexter’s Laboratory world will mimic or copy the look but not the style, and certainly not the subject, creating a lot of basic, sharp-angled, sloppy shows that more or less were done as a cost-cutting maneuver. Dexter’s Laboratory was (one of the) first, and Genndy Tartakovsky honed his skills here, sharping his timing, pacing, and framing to create iconic sensibilities in the more critically-known Samurai Jack.

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We cannot dismiss what Dexter’s Laboratory was doing when hit CN all those years ago. It’s difficult to think about it now, with so many cartoons on the air these days, but even back then the show was playing smart and coy with what kids animation was doing, and could do. It played into a lot of animation tropes, both Western and Eastern, only to undercut them with a narrative twist, a comically sudden beat, or with something so average, so anti-climatic, that you found yourself wondering if you somehow missed the actual ending. Even back then, cartoons were doing some interesting and crazy things, mostly in terms of narrative commitment, but Dexter’s Laboratory looked backwards towards classic cartoon formatting and style for inspiration. Episodes will be split between several shorts, most about Dexter and his family, but other character and show types, including “The Justice Friends” and “Dial M for Monkey.” The rhythms of the entire show will move somewhat like Rocky & Bullwinkle, an assortment of short animated bits, a format mimicked and copied all throughout the Hanna-Barbera era.

Watching the entire episode – which includes “Doll House Drama,” “Krunk’s Date,” and a brief sequence parodying comic book ads disguised as actual comics – I’m struck by the degree in which Dexter’s Laboratory really engages in that classic format. Not just in the ideas of each episode, but even in the stunted movements and somewhat off-kilter edits. The rhythms would definitely be familiar to those who grew up watching something like The Banana Splits or Yogi’s Gang. “Krunk’s Date,” in particular, utilizes a lazy, “limited laugh track” to ostensibly shore up the comedy, but is obviously used ironically here. Dexter’s Laboratory is more committed to its comic beats here than those shows would ever be, and those first two episodes ends on somewhat odd, downbeat gags that feel different than the “sad trombone” gags of its predecessors.

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Then we get to “The Big Cheese,” an episode that hilariously steers into its one-note gag to an insane degree – only to snatch it away, hard and without warning. Rewatching this episode, I’m also struck with how patient Tartakovsky builds the gag. Dexter puts off his French homework to work on other, “more important” scientific pursuits, although some are really generic chores with complicated names. There’s no “panic” when Dexter realizes he still has to study – he just decides on a fairly normal trope – overnight osmosis. Playing a record that pipes French-lessons into his ears while he sleeps, the record skips over and over when it hits one central phrase: omelette du fromage. By the 90s, we were well in the CD/cassette era, so Dexter using a record for this feels silly, but it is central to the joke, and Dexter has been shown to disregard a lot of basic ideas for the pursuit of higher intelligence. Obviously his arrogance will prove to be his downfall, but “The Big Cheese’s” idea of a downfall is brutal.

Tartakovsky is fully aware of the trope in play, in how most shows would have its main character work around his situation to avoid being caught in one-phras-only mode. So Tarakovsky immediately has Dexter get caught. It’s by his sister, Dee-Dee, and she begins a comic repetition of her own: “That’s all you can say!” she sing-shouts, over and over, and at this point, it’s amusing. There is also a forewarning nature to it, specifically when she pops up during the montage, a sign of bad things to come. But before that point, that montage is a doozy. Montages are a dime a dozen in cartoons, but here, Tartakovsky escalates the absurdity of the situation with some impressive decision. He even starts the absurdity with a test with one single question, then ramps things up in more and more ridiculous ways. Some are a bit obvious, like omelette du fromage being a French town somehow, and the girls in the class being smitten by his use of French. The potential bullies suddenly being scared off by Dexter’s use of the phrase, however, is such a random development, precisely because unlike the previous gags, this one completely lacks any reason to have occurred.

The combination of “maybe this could happen?” and “no way this could happen” results fill up the rest of the montage. Dexter brings world peace. He becomes TIMES Man of the Year. Parades are thrown in his honor. He has a number one hit song that’s composed of, one assumes, just that phrase. It’s so dumb, but there’s a perverse comic value in seeing all the ways Tartakovsky takes this singular bit, pushing and pushing and pushing it to hilarious lengths. And it’s all pretty fantastic… up until the final moments. (I do want to point out that before Dexter enters his home, he kisses a baby, then drops it, as cameras flash. I feel like that’s a key visual sign for the next scene, but I think I’m really over-reading what amounts to a simple, hilarious joke-within-a-joke).

Dexters_Laboratory_3

It’s in those final moments though that things turn against Dexter – the karmic, schadenfreude moment that takes thing perhaps too far. Outside his lab, the young scientist learns that his solitary word usage isn’t the password to enter his lab. His computer not only locks the lab up tighter, it begins a self-destruct sequence. Dexter, panicking and in literal tears, shouts in desperation, but only “omelette du fromage” can escape his lips. And then his sister pops up. She begins reciting in comically dark fashion the very phrase she’s been repeating all day, “That’s all you can say.” Unhelpful and useless.  And if you were expecting a saving grace, a final reprieve that saves Dexter’s lab and allows the child to learn a lesson in the relative clear… it does not come. The computer says “one.” The lab completely explodes. Dexter and Dee-Dee are visible through a massive hole in their house. Fade to black. THE END pop on screen, “That’s all you can say” echoing silently in the background.

It’s pretty ridiculous in a sense. It’s a cartoon, and developing sympathy for Dexter and his lab, particularly after an episode where he skates by on a French phrase through success after success, comes across as a little weird. Dexter doesn’t really hurt anyone (except that baby, which maybe is worth discussing), and other than his hubris, there’s the question of whether the karmic destruction of his life’s work is proportional punishment to his behavior. It really isn’t his fault that he got famous off the phrase. There’s a lot to be said about the public’s infatuation over such a dumb, singular concept – and I should remind you that this episode took places years before social media and “going viral” was a thing. [I really want to do a piece about how cartoons portray crowds and public reactions; there’s a difference between mob mentality and blindly following a large group for gag purposes.] This is reminiscent of The Simpsons’ “Bart Gets Famous,” in which Bart experiences the highs and lows of success brought about by his own oft-repeated motto “I didn’t do it,” but that show had the time to draw into the reluctance and complexity of Bart’s feelings towards his entire “fifteen minutes.” With “The Big Cheese,” Tartakovsky had three minutes to get to his point, and he focused on the perfect visual display of the rise and fall of success – the fall embodied in a dark, destructive moment that shocked a young generation.

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Perhaps “proportional punishment” isn’t really a thing. Sometimes you find yourself so caught up in something that you fail to realize how far you are from the things you once held dear – and they’re gone in an instant. Tartakovsky made his point clear, and it left many people with only “omelette du fromage” and “that’s all you can say” dancing in their heads, in the midst of a dark, music-less void. The very premise of the show, Dexter’s Laboratory, was gone in an instant, leaving kids to wonder if, and why, such a bleakness was warranted. As an adult, we wonder about it still.

NEXT: Rescue Rangers’ uses a badass Gadget Hackwrench to contemplate the value of religion in “The Case of the Cola Cult.”

 

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