Posts Tagged Comedy

CHILDHOOD REVISITED – Quack Pack

In an unexpected move, Quack Pack smartly undercuts it’s marketing – that is, Disney’s attempts at courting the youth demo masks the show’s commitment to classic wackiness and absurdity.

As mentioned in The Mighty Ducks write-up, Disney Animation was really spreading itself thin at this point. Between Gargoyles, Goof Troop, Bonkers, Aladdin, and others, TV animation was going through the last phases of the Golden Age before falling apart. Disney must have seen the writing on the wall, which meant executives doubling down on appealing to the youth demo, which, according to some metrics which will never see the light of day, meant emphasizing young, cool male kids doing cool things like skateboarding, surfing, rollerblading, and anything else that the X-Games and the Winter Olympics made obsolete. So retooling Donald’s nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, as hip, Y-Gen teenagers seemed like Disney’s sad, embarrassing attempt at Poochie-fication. (By the by, I love that Poochie-fication is now a thing.)

Here’s the thing: the problem with Poochie-fication isn’t that characters are just developed solely to appeal to “extreme” young boys. The problem, as Milhouse complained in the infamous Simpsons episode, is that they never get to the fireworks factory. In other words, it’s one thing to make “cool” characters. It’s a whole ‘nother thing to make them so cool as to never put them through the wringer. Youth-oriented characters ought to explode and be crushed, squished, and popped as often as the lame squares that surround them; just because a character is designed to be cool doesn’t mean they’re absolved of flaws and comedic physicality. Poochie would have made a nice addition to Itchy & Scratchy if the sunglasses-and-backwards-cap wearing canine had a rocket shoved up his ass.

So for all the ads and gimmicks of the beanie-wearing fowl triplets of yesteryear rocking out on surfboards, quads, rafting, and skateboards, Quack Pack is not afraid to show that these extreme youngin’s are, well, stupid as shit. A lot of their ideas are portrayed as problematic and terrible, and they have real, unfavorable consequences. Quack Pack shows these youthful spirits engaging in whatever old, white producers deem is “happening,” and I’m sure it made a good reel to satisfy their desire for market branding, but the truth is a lot more intuitive. Quack Pack is more interested in crazy, absurd ridiculousness, setting up such seemingly “radical” moments that lead ultimately to crazy, typical, classic cartoon shenanigans (and in some ways, they herald in the new approach to cartooning).

This is by design. Producers Kevin Hopps and Todd Shelton were more focused on developing the show much more similar to Disney’s classic Donald Duck shorts, and the more you watch it, the more obvious it is that Quack Pack is more interested in Donald Duck than his nephews. It’s through Donald Duck that Quack Pack truly thrives, presenting an opportunity to not only engage in an homage to the classic Donald Duck filmography, but to also create something different, something so absurd and wacky that all that “extreme” content becomes moot. The “cool” stuff is window dressing. The comedic meat of Quack Pack is in how crazy and ridiculous things truly get.

Quack_Pack_Cast_fit

One of my favorite moments in Who Framed Roger Rabbit is the dueling pianos scene between Daffy and Donald. It’s a great showcase for Disney’s and Warner Brothers’ most audacious, craziest, and careless ducks, but as it serves as a good example of Daffy’s daffiness, it also reminds us that Donald Duck is a dick. I don’t mean that in a personal way; this, too, is by design. Donald is a self-centered, greedy (and, by some classic cartoon standards, a misogynistic) jerk, since the comic angle is in watching Donald be a dick, get his comeuppance, get irrationally angry, and get his comeuppance again. It’s formulaic, but animated shorts are defined by formula, and the only thing changes are the various insane circumstances upon which the formula is placed.

Over the years the image of Donald has softened, not necessarily on purpose (Donald’s classic shorts are easily accessible), but mainly due to various, random forces – the lack of popularity of the Carl Banks/Don Rosa comics, Disney’s tight grip of exposing its classics in the pre-Youtube days, the emphasis of Mickey. Donald has become more of a physical comic presence, comically abused in things like Kingdom Hearts, or his few appearances in Ducktales (his softer side also developed since he’s taking care of his nephews), or that one cameo in Bonkers. Yet Quack Pack is attempting to return Donald to his monstrous side, showing him as arrogant, vengeful, psychopath. It’s somewhat of a jarring experience, but it’s arguably truer to the character than we expect.

So when we see Donald go to extremes in “The Really Mighty Ducks,” it takes a moment to accept that yes, Donald has become a supervillain hellbent on attacking his superpowered nephews when they refuse to clean their room. There is no reasoning or “coming to an understanding” between a surrogate father and his progeny – he literally threatens the entire existence of the galaxy to win an idealistic battle over a chore. It’s the nephews that have to quell the fight and learn their lesson. Granted, it’s their fault, but there’s no inherent lesson about responsibility, and Donald certainly isn’t here to impart it. He wants a thing done, and will eradicate all life to see it through, not because he’s an overbearing parent, but because he’s Donald, and he’s crazy.

That’s what gives Quack Pack a surprising edge over its “rastification.” It’s pushes past its image and into absurd, overtly wacky territory, with some of the craziest storylines ever conceived – they’re technically storylines out of superhero and/or serial comics, re-purposed for suburbia. They come across disturbed military reprobates, pathetic alien menaces, typical shady businessmen, and a host of mad scientists, among others, and the cast more or less stumbles into the events, pushing through the insane plot with an almost-reckless abandon. And while all the characters contribute to the events in their own unique ways, it’s Donald who truly has the metaphorical floor.

That’s all not to say the other characters don’t have a role. There’s Daisy Duck primarily, Donald’s girlfriend and a reporter for “What in the World” news. Daisy doesn’t really do much plot-wise (except in “Gator Aid,” a particularly interesting episode where everyone is at their most chaotic, reaching an Arrested Development-like crescendo), but she’s a great character just to watch, going toe-to-toe with Kent Powers (a wildly conceited reporter and ostensibly the show’s antagonist), figuring out mysteries, keeping Donald in (relative) check, and just doing things on her own terms (say what you will about the Disney Afternoon, but they create fantastic female characters). And then there are the triplets.

Huey, Dewey, and Louie are clearly the icons in which Disney hoped to build the show upon. They were given everything a desperate executive would give a “teenager” – sports jerseys, backward caps, dated slang, a “love” for all things cool, extreme, and radical. You can’t deny it, and when you see them run off skateboarding, snowboarding, quading, or surfing, one can’t help but eyeroll. Yet, even through all that crap, the writers do bother to give them individual personalities (even if they’re a bit inconsistent). Huey is the “cool” one, most concerned with image and success; Dewey is the smarter one, who usually comes up with the plans; Louie is the jock and meathead of the group. And for all of their focus-grouped-designed ‘tudes, the show does portray them as characters who fuck up, who (more or less) care about Donald and Daisy, who have their own individual desires, and who, when push comes to shove, work together quite well. Louie in particular became a favorite if only because of how some of his stupid ideas/observations matched many of the meatheads I knew in high school. Dewey instantly regrets his “oh so cool” idea of shoving hot-flavored food into the gas-tank instead of enjoying their high-speed ride. And Huey “oh so slick” dating moves only lands him in trouble when he finds out his crush is planning world domination.

Even despite those ‘tudes, one can’t help but admit that, well, they kinda do act like teenage brothers. Louie loves his comics and obsesses over the “radicalism” of vigilantism (“None Like it Hot,” “Shrunken Heroes”). Dewey is caught up in his emo desire to be alone and obsesses over practical jokes (“Ducklaration of Independence,” “The Boy Who Cried Ghost”). Huey is caught up in his self-image and obsesses over TV personalities (“Heavy Dental,” “Huey Duck, P.I.”) And they all learn that it’s all bullshit in the end, which is good in terms of the characters and its audience growing up. The three shoot the shit and often gets into fights – “Pardon My Molecules” is a particularly good one, where the escalating conflict between Huey and Dewey reaches ridiculous heights, involving cannons and mortars – but when they work together, it works the best, reminding those of us who knew them when they wore beanies that they are a team. I quite like their wacky “get one over on the bad guy” schemes, where one of them will call out a plan that they seemingly rehearsed, and execute it flawlessly in cartoon fashion.

Make no mistake though, Quack Pack always comes back to Donald, and Quack Pack makes it it clear that Donald is the star. He’s the “protagonist” in a majority of the episodes, and the writers are a hell of a lot more interested in knocking him down so he can, despite all likelihood, save the day, like in “All Hands on Duck,” in which he returns to his Navy days and tries to be impress Daisy but screws up more and more. In “Snow Place to Hide,” Daisy knowingly uses her appeal to nab an interview (another example of Daisy being awesome), but Donald gets so jealous that it manifests itself into a green-suited wolf goading the duck on a rage (and that this wold has its own personality is icing on the cake; a hilarious moment where the wolf casually munches on croutons had me in stitches). And in “Ready, Aim… Duck” and “Long Arm of the Claw,” Donald actively lies and fucks up, drawing the ire of “The Claw,” yet in every moment that he finds himself in a safe place, Donald gloats and ridicules his pursuer with a sadistic glee that would be terrifying if it wasn’t so funny.

The best episodes blend Donald’s incredible behavior with the nephews teenage repertoire; while the show doesn’t exactly engage in the importance of family and relationships, the implication is there underlying the over-the-top breakdowns when such family relationships are in disarray. Donald is borderline evil in “Need 4 Speed,” where he fears his nephews being behind the wheel, but tricks them into building a car just so HE can drive it. “Tasty Paste” is the opposite, where Huey, Dewey, and Louie ignore Donald while they set off on their own, selling a gross-but-tasty goo. “Phoniest Home Videos” have the boys realizing they gone too far when they record their uncle performing stunts for money, especially when the producer tries to cut them out of the deal. “Ducky Dearest” has Donald becoming too upset over his parenting when he sees his nephews sneaking around; he thinks they’re up to no good when they’re just planning his birthday party, which has him going through more and more ludicrous crap to keep them in line. Quack Pack uses the insanity of its stories to show that the four of them work best as a family unit; if that breaks down, then there’s nothing left but chaos.

Which leads me to “Can’t Take a Yolk.”

Quack Pack isn’t afraid to play into insane cartoon tropes to prove a point, or to just have fun with some of its more crazier episodes. “Can’t Take a Yolk,” however, explodes beyond even the most over-the-top episodes into something else entirely, as it plays into the whole “retro” idea with a “before its time” deft hand that propels it to another level. It tackles the various ideas of practical jokes, punishment, and responsibility, where the nephews, after being punished for a silly gag, shirk their work detail via a random salesman. This salesman is not a thematic devil, a Faustian figment like Donald’s jealous wolf; he is simply a catalyst, a reason to introduce an de-aging concoction that Donald applies to himself by accident. And as the teenagers do their cliche teenager things – hit on a cute girl while a nearby bully intimidates him – in walks a younger Donald Duck. But he isn’t simply younger; his physical design and animation has been redrawn to his rubbery, stretchy 1930s designs, complete with sailor suit. The way the episode plays this is brilliant. It seems like a random, almost-another Donald Duck; it’s only as the teens realize its the real Donald do the viewers as well. Young-Donald is jerky, metaphorically and physically – abusing his antagonists and being egregiously mischievous like his old school self, and it’s a remarkable, self-aware, glaringly different moment that makes it a standout way beyond any other episode. Younger-Donald soon transforms into a baby, returning to the show’s current design and resulting in a Mindy-and-Buttons-esque escapade of the triplets keeping baby-Donald safe (and the episode has a weird, Invader Zim-type non-ending), but the middle of the episode is worth noting, suggesting a Quack Pack much more in-tuned with its premise and execution than one may believe.

Quack Pack is a smarter, funnier show than its reputation, but it’s not necessarily a better show than its reputation. That statement may seem at odds with itself, but it’s good descriptor. Not to say its a show filled with brilliant, subversive ideas within every cel, but it’s self-aware enough to understand what, exactly, it’s up against when it comes to its three “too cool for school” teens. It presents Huey, Dewey, and Louie as Poochie-fied as they come, only to poke and prod at all those “cool” elements, searching for ways to make them look like the immature fools they are (or, at the very least, attempting to give their behaviors some kind of base of humanity to build from, although that doesn’t always succeed). But it’s Donald’s show, and Quack Pack makes sure viewers know it: he wouldn’t have it any other way.

[PS: There are two elements I wanted to note. First, Quack Pack seems to be the second Disney Afternoon show that utilized title cards (the first being Timon & Pumbaa), which goes to emphasize Disney’s desire to go more cartoony and broad with its output. The second element is a bit more subjective, but Quack Pack seems to be the first Disney Afternoon show to have distinctive A and B-stories. Most of the shows I’ve watched had one main conflict that all the characters more or less had to deal with; here, there’s a distinctive line between the main conflict of an episode and whatever secondary conflict that another character would be involved with. I just thought that was interesting.]

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Tumblr Tuesday – 07/22/14

In surprising (lazy) news, today’s Tumblr Tuesday has been released on Wednesday! Did I just blow your mind? No? Well, maybe these Tumblrs will.

GEX is awesome and we need to see more of him again

The best depiction of Princess (Peach) Toadstool in the history of Super Mario Bros., ever

Spongebob Squarepants tackles sexism

 — More Cats Don’t Dance concept art (I will always post Cats Don’t Dance stuff)

And a hilarious short joke from Dark Place

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CHILDHOOD REVISITED – Men in Black: The Series

Men in Black: The Series combined X-Files with Doctor Who, by way of a… 1970s crime procedural? The stranger thing is that it mostly succeeds. Until…

Cast of Men in Black: The Series.

The Men in Black live action film was released in 1997, pulling in almost $600 million at the box office. The film, like the animated series, was based on a comic written by Lowell Cunningham and illustrated bu Sandy Carruthers, published by Aircel Comics back in 1990. On the off-chance that no one knows the details by now, Men in Black focuses on a team of suited agents dedicated to controlling and regulating the flow of aliens and alien technology that makes its way to earth. The comics, in particular, were more broad, dealing with all sorts of paranormal activity. Think of the original Men in Black as Doctor Who’s Unit team as run by Constantine-clones, which also implies the original comic was not afraid to go to dark, creepier places.

Of course the movie would be family friendly, and there’s nothing really wrong with that. The animated series, which by all accounts was based on the movie, ultimately had a choice – to cull the tone of the movie, or maybe reach for something larger. Creators Duane Capizzi, Jeff Kline, and Richard Raynis were able to develop a slightly more richer, heavier adaptation. While the show has a typical lightness to it to appeal to kids, there is a surprising weight and pathos to this series early on, a dramatic tinge to the adventures of Agents J and K (and L), particularly in the first season, which I will get to. Men in Black: The Series only has a passing resemblance to the film, instead opting to weave its own intrigue tales of rogue aliens, culling from well-known series such as X-Files, Doctor Who, and 70s cop dramas like The Rockford Files, Dragnet, and Cannon. Even though it gets silly, the show maintains an underlying commitment to its plots, keeping the tension and mystery moving to the very end – at least at first.

But first, I want to talk about that intro.

What surprises me here is how both stylistic and aloof it is. It kind of cuts into the nature of the show yet doesn’t showcase the content of the show, more the feel of it. The harsh, visual cuts coupled with the surreal-but-insanely-catchy hip-hop theme is purposely unworldly, but not off-putting. It’s very 90s, but it’s a “good” 90s. There’s only vague reference to what the show is about, alluding audience to the show’s mysterious aesthetics over the specifics of the show’s premise. It’s a ballsy theme, with the “narrative” not even concluding, as the giant, grotesque alien surges above them, with K only giving a quirky look at J and his “cricket” gun. What happens? That’s irrelevant; it’s about the calm and cool (and comedy) within the extraterrestrial chaos.

Speaking of aesthetics, the show’s entire look, particularly in the first season, is hyper-stylized, reminiscent of the MTV cult cartoon Aeon Flux. Lots of sharp, angular points on characters make everyone look alien by default, which gives the show an extra layer of creepiness, but allows the alien menaces, in particularly, look truly terrifying. The style doesn’t allow for aggressive movements, which is to the show’s benefit and determinant. It’s forced to emphasize mysteries and mood with its plotting, keeping the tension and suspense moving up until the very end reveal, which is a great development, but it leaves any character-action sequences flat and stilted. There’s a lot of stationary stand-offs and quick-thinking reactions to end action sequences quicker than they begin, but this allows MIB: The Series to emphasize their clandestine organization as a secret working behind the scenes and not an army prepped for urban warfare.

MIB: The Series attempts to balance their secrecy by culling the mysterious, “trust no one” sensibility of the X-Files through the universal, dangerous/goofy conception of Doctor Who. It’s an obvious combination that works well enough by default (and the series does it better than Torchwood ever could), but it needs a template through which to filter the characters; Mulder and Scully are too dour and “romantically” linked; the Doctor is a god. The show opts to channel 60s-70s police procedural, where Agent K is the monotone, “just-the-facts” lead, with Agent J as the audience surrogate, through which the MIB organization is explored. It may surprise you to note that MIB, in fact, views itself as a policing unit, not like the FBI or the CIA or the DOD. They use typical cop terminology and enforce the “law” with stuff like stakeouts, investigations, following clues, etc.

All of this is distinctly prominent in the first season, which builds the MIB organization and its “world” beautifully and darkly. It’s obvious there is a distinct plan in place, that the writers are building towards something. The line “not everything is as it seems” gets tossed around too frequently for that to be a coincidence, used mostly as a theme about mystery and secrecy but also gearing up as some foreshadowing to some big internal revelations. Even in the pilot, “The Long Goodbye Syndrome,” there are hints at something beneath the surface. The hilariously stoic reactions MIB give to the hit place on J by an alien race is telling – Agent L (more on her in a second) tells him that it’s due to everyone knowing 100% that K will save him, but there’s an implication that the agents are easily expendable and that death happens so often that they joke about it. We’re even given a moment where J, not in on the “joke,” contemplates his life and his decision to join MIB. “Regrets?” Agent K asks him. Agent J doesn’t answer. It’s a small moment, but one that resonates throughout the show’s season of withholding data, of disinformation and privacy. (Apropos of nothing, the day is saved pretty much the exact way the Doctor saves the day in “The Wedding of River Song.”)

The first season indeed bounces back and forth between revelations and mystery, between doling out bits and pieces of characters and MIB lore while touching upon the kind of sacrifice this line of work leads to. The show’s biggest and strongest story arc begins with “The Alpha Syndrome,” where we learn of the first agent and founder of the MIB, Alpha, and how he became corrupt with the powers and promises of alien technology – so much so that he literally changes his body, stealing body parts and grafting them onto himself to “evolve”. It’s real, grotesque stuff, and Alpha’s VO artist, David Warner, oozes the perfect amount of slim as he reads his lines. There’s history between him and Agent K, and even though K tries to make it personal, J showcases his value as an asset as he saves the day. The movie emphasized that J outside of the MIB was particularly talented enough to join the MIB ranks; here, we’re shown why.

The first season continues to play around with secrecy and history, and the darkness of involving oneself in this world. “The Neuralyzer Syndrome” uses an accident to take a sad look into K’s ill-mentioned past; that K would rather say his father died rather than face the fact he can never see him again speaks volumes (even sadder – when K’s memory is restored, Zed wipes J’s memory of the whole incident, adding a scarier layer of secrecy to the organization, a la S.H.I.E.L.D.). “The Inanimate Syndrome” plays with a potential alien romantic relationship between K and Eileen, a relationship that is doomed from the start. “The Head Trip Syndrome” is a favorite, culling the most “Doctor Who-esque” plotting, where a deranged, paranoid human blames the MIB for the existence of aliens, and begins to systematically take out the five original founders of the MIB one-by-one via time travel. (The psychological toll of such work is another theme strongly presented in the first season, like in “The Psychic Link Syndrome,” where a deranged alien attacks humans taking his pictures because he believes cameras drain him of his essence, a dark reference to Dr. Strangelove.) Then there’s “The Take No Prisoners Syndrome,” where a sinister alien named Dr. Lupo uses a clone to stage a riot at the MIB prison. Dr. Lupo, who also has history with Zed, is eventually captured, but the real story behind Lupo and Zed is kept to secrecy.

It’s clear there’s a lot going on, with a lot of potentially-rich stories building up between J, K, Zed, Alpha, and Eileen. Even the side characters like Agent L, U, the Worms, Frank, and Jeebs, while mostly there for comic relief, serve a purpose and possess their own agencies. I could easily imagine there being episodes delving into the various characters backstories, explaining more about the full history of the MIB (particularly how Alpha could be K’s mentor when K was one of the founding members of MIB), and examining how an organization like MIB can change/destroy you from the inside, in how it leaves you so removed from any form of a social existence. Then the second season starts.

The second and third seasons are active give-and-plays between creative forces and executive demands. You can tell there were issues behind the scenes, and while the writers more or less acquiesced to those demands – more use of the Worms! less complicated plotting! fewer references to killing and death! – I will give them credit for retooling it in such a way to tell a different kind of story. The X-Files/Doctor Who elements are toned down, while the Dragnet-by-way-of-Scooby-Doo is toned up (action sequences are even scored with a old school, heavy bass-and-drum cue). So while any chance of learning about the history of the MIB is gone, and the theme sacrifice and the psychology of secrecy is moot, MIB: The Series does start to have a little fun with itself. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the movies are a far cry from The Americans. But, as the case with most cartoons, there’s a line between silly and stupid, and MIB: The Series terrifyingly walks it.

The heavier use of the Worms isn’t the main problem, although they are as annoying as you’d expect. It isn’t that they’re overly goofy, it’s that they’re useless, and are just there for coffee jokes (and the same exact kinds of coffee jokes – no one seems to bother to explore the world of coffee to mine that humor). At least Jeebs and Frank are better characters as comic relief, as they represent two sides of the same stool pigeon coin, and at least offer the core MIB cast information. No, the biggest and most uncomfortable change is with J. First season J had a slight awkward streak but was attempting to maintain his social humanity within a world defined by self-privacy, and at the very least he was growing as an agent. Now he’s just an arrogant caricature of his former self. He’s still a capable agent, but the show now works to put J into goofy scenarios instead of maturing him. Again, this isn’t so bad, but as the show progresses, particularly in the dire fourth season, there’s an uncomfortable social stigma that arises from it.

I will say that a good 70% of the second and third season works really well though. The return of the bugs from the first Men in Black movie make for a dangerous set of villains, especially when they go after L for killing their brother in the film. There’s a pretty great “we work as a team” moment in “The Big Bad Bug Syndrome” among J, K, and L as they confront the various bugs who are attempting to capture them to bring them to their queen. Speaking of which, we get to see her in “The Mine, Mine, Mine Syndrome,” who is ready to give birth to a swarm of bugs to take over the world, and it’s a particularly good one to see the entire MIB team in action (an element that unfortunately gets swallowed up by K, J, and the worms). Villains continue to be a highlight, as they continue to be threatening and sinister – alien terrorists, mobsters, and all-around monsters, like the fire-spewing Drekk and the sonic-energy-powered alien Aldoosi. Alpha also makes sporadic appearances, continuing his hunt for body parts in delicious fashion, always staying one step ahead of J and K until the last minute. “The Out to Pasture Syndrome” is a great Alpha episode in its own right, and tight give-and-play between the agents and Alpha himself, with J as the pawn – who steps into his own at the end.

Yet you can see the writing on the wall. The plotting is broader – more of the various victim characters are silly, and a lot of the stories are really elaborate ways to place the characters in goofy situations. “The Little Big Man Syndrome” shrinks J down to a tiny size. “The Bad Seed Syndrome” jams J with a truth serum. “The Baby Kay Syndrome” transforms K into a fighting baby! K and J, who used to use their wits and skills in a specific, protocol-like context, become almost magically, karate-master fighters, leaping improbably into the air and performing backflips. More strained attempts at humor as well, although not every joke fails.

Despite these silly situation, the actual plots are still… well, not great, but strong enough to maintain a bit of tension and intriguing ambiguity. “The Worm-Guy Guy Syndrome” has Jay changing into a Worm via ridiculous plotting, but the villains as Judge Dredd-like galactic policemen capturing “criminal” aliens outside their jurisdiction shows kids the danger of vigilantism (so suck it, Batman). “The Baby Kay Syndrome” has the titular “baby K,” but the episode has a kidnapped daughter of a clearly dangerous extraterrestrial alien who did indeed wipe out the kidnappers’ planet. Not justifying the kidnappers’ actions by any means, but the fact that the episode even plotted that angle makes it worth mentioning. Even the most ridiculous elements – like the Fmecks, a species of six-inch sized aliens – have a well-developed undercurrent – they tried to eradicate their rivals, the Arquillians. My favorite “silly but tense” episode is “The Star System Syndrome,” where we learn the MIB agency in Los Angeles just casts aliens into horror films. It’s a dumb idea but it works because the show has fun with it, and even though the plot is predictable (is the hideous, played-out alien behind it all, or is it the cutesy, innocent alien team? Have you seen cartoons?), I can imagine younger audience being shocked by the twist.

Then the fourth season arrives.

It’s as if the full force of the executive meddling has come crashing down on the show. All of the tension, stakes, and mystery that were in even the more superficial episodes are gone. Villains are now mustache-twirling antagonists instead of the nuanced, motivated creatures of before. Large swaths of episodes are spent explaining things instead of building up the plot. There’s an interesting idea of Zed having to appease a council of aliens concerned about their image and representation (I like that Zed, like a typical police chief, is more of a diplomat than an agent), but that leads to the introduction of two new, throwaway characters, Dr. Zeeltor and Agent X (X is particularly shitty, not only because he’s a “loose cannon” bigoted alien disguised as a human, but the show has to write around L, changing her from an awesome, brilliant scientist into a babysitter. I’m not sure what’s up with the “I want to be in the field” angle with L, since she sure sees a hell of a lot of action even in her scientific position). The Worms, of course, are turned up to eleven. But worse is how utterly, utterly stupid J becomes. He starts to perform acts that endanger MIB and others, for petty reasons. Like in “The Virtual Crossfire Syndrome,” where he enters a “fake” video game (which is now real because of PLOT) just to prove a point. Note there are no real stakes here, just Jay’s ego. (I don’t want to get into how easily Alpha manipulates J in “The Opening Gambit Syndrome.” Seriously, at this point it becomes a klutzy black guy screwing things up while white people “who know better” look at him funny, and it’s not cool, especially with the kinda character he was in the first season.)

By the time the two part series finale rolls around, “The Endgame Syndrome,” it’s a mitigated disaster. It’s JUST an invasion. That’s it. No big revelations, no final twists, no major character reveals, no game-changing occurrences (MIB headquarters is eradicated, bu MIB just moves to a baseball stadium, because whatever). Nothing comes together, as various characters just chart on their own lame paths (Frank does stuff with puppies, after someone randomly drops a box of pups in front of him with no explanation). Even the mastermind Alpha has barely a line in it, let alone a clever scheme. Nothing is earned, which leaves the immensely promising MIB: The Series to end as a former shelf of itself. (I’m positive that this show would be better remembered if the dire fourth season didn’t fail so miserably.)

The first season of MIB: The Series is among the best DCAU episodes. The second and third episodes have issues but I’m willing to defend them as a mix of fun, excitement, and intrigue. The fourth season? Well, let’s just say I finally can understand why the neualyzer was invented.

 

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