(Sorry for the delay, the holiday season sees me on the road a lot and the interstates’ wifi sucks.)
So after all is said and done, how did the first season of MLP turn out?
Not bad. Most of episodes were “MotW” style with the only on-going plot threads being the cutie-mark crusaders and… a big party. Almost a validation of the stereotypes of “girl shows”. So why did this show develop such a passionate fanbase?
Like all animation (because they can’t convey the subtleties the human face can), the show uses large, semi-exaggerated facial expressions. With our current internet age, where often a picture substitutes for a thousand words and conveys more thought, this makes the ponies very useful for the average poster. The fact that they’re ponies makes them stand out from others and diabetically cute makes them memorable. Even better, this first season hit upon a wide range of emotional expressions, meaning that many internet denizens had a near limitless supply of said expressions to utilize.
Still, this show is now going for 3 seasons (and I’m sure it will run for a few more barring silly contract rules). The internet and its memes are notoriously fickle so what of this season sustains interest?
For one, the show makers have a lot of experience behind them, and know how to make the best parental bonuses to a show. See, there’s whole spectrums to parental bonus (like many things). Those are typically: effort, organic, reference (I’m sure some commentators can figure out some more). So in several episodes, there are many jokes and references that older viewers would only catch because they have the years of experience of watching other cartoons and internalizing their tropes which the younger, targeted demographic simply cannot have. It’s one of the positive aspects of tribalism, the sense that “this was made by my people – it speaks to me”. But it isn’t just a rehash of the familiar that keeps the older audience turned in this season, but the use of it to create something new. Tradition would have us expect that Pinkie Pie is going to “get revenge” on Gilda, but it is Rainbow Dash, and not with malice, either. Owlowiscious would have turned out to be evil all along. Normally Twilight would be the one to rouse an Ursa Major to show up Trixie in front of the town, but this time it was adoring fans. Even then, the trouble comes on its own accord and the fans push the fraud towards it, but here the fans actively seek it out and bring it back. These little twists and turns, many of which may have been done in other art in the past, are nonetheless rarer than other cliches and MLP at least pulled off these cliches with competence. The show runners also realize that not every parental bonus has to be sexual in nature which has become the tired refuge of lazy animation writers of late. No, they know that there is a wide swath of life that adults deal with which children haven’t yet seen and you can draw parental bonuses from there, even if it might be a little harder to write. (Seriously, check the trope link under “western animation”, notice how many of the longest running shows use rather intelligent bonuses?) Again, the show gives the older viewer something new, that they haven’t seen much of lately.
That and… let’s face it, our culture has sort of lost friendship as Eros races to conquer his three brothers and Philia has been the first to fall and the worst to suffer (Storge is at least on life support it seems). But just as a variety diet is important to physical health, so is a variety diet to spiritual and mental health. On some level, we are aware of the deficiency in our lives. Yet when was the last time you saw anything that praised Philia? Even the ones that come closest (especially TV shows) end up putting a lot of Eros overtones, subtext and jokes about it. Off the top of my head I can name maybe… one song. (and it is my favorite song, though I’d bet there’s a country tune or two that does)
So along comes a show that says, “this is a safe place for Philia; he will be praised without reservation” and – to top it off – it’s a good show.
I think the larger question is, who thought this show wouldn’t be success.
Onto season 2!