Steven Universe Review: “Too Short To Ride” (Season 3, Episode 9)

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“It was meant to be a rhetorical solution to a maternity suit!”, Solomon yelled as the two characters pulled on the green technician.

“I do not have to grow. This height is indicative of my rarity and importance. I demand entry, you clod!” – Peridot, in the queue for a rollercoaster. Oh, boy, the ending of this episode makes that quote awkward.

Airdate: July 20th, 2016

Written By: Hilary Florido and Jesse Zuke (Credited as Lauren Zuke)

Plot: Steven decides to gift Peridot a tablet as a replacement for her limb enhancers. Fascinated with it, she takes it out on a day at the beach. There, the trio’s short stature presents some challenges to their enjoyment. That said, while Steven and Amethyst can shift their height to get around these barriers… Peridot can’t.

Review:

Well, after The Simpsons put us on a completely convoluted and insane trip to Florida (which is actually not repeating myself), it’s time to go back to reality. And again, being grounded in reality means we have to take a look at a cartoon starring two-and-a-half aliens mulling over their superpowers or lack thereof.

You are tearing me apart, Mike Scully!

So, last time I reviewed a Steven Universe episode in the wake of a completely insane stream of consciousness made by Scully and Company, we got an episode focusing on Lapis Lazuli. This time, in the wake of an even more baffling exercise in writing, we now have an episode focusing on Peridot – the first time in a whopping three episodes what we get to see her in action!

We were all starved for PeriAction, people.

Even further, the last Steven Universe episode was one of the more sobering, overly dramatic episodes in the SU canon. This time, we get an episode that is more comical and lighthearted, but certainly is not lacking in pathos for Peridot… what do we call that, PeriPathos?

I can go all day with my PeriPuns. Continue reading

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Scullyfied Simpsons: “Kill the Alligator and Run” (Season 11, Episode 19)

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“This family has hit a new low! We’re on the run from the law, totally lost, no car, no money, no clean clothes, and it’s all your fault.” – Marge. Spoiler alert – the word “divorce” is not mentioned once in this episode.

Airdate: April 30th, 2000.

Written By: John Swartzwelder

Plot: After taking a test in a book of self-improvement quizzes, Homer begins to fear that he only has three years left on his lifespan. Emotionally disturbed, he goes off the deep end, to a point where a psychiatrist recommends that he takes a vacation down in Palm Corners, Florida.

OOPS, SPRING BREAK TIME! It sends Homer insane, to the point where he commits a couple of misdemeanors in the process, but gets off easily thanks to the town sheriff. After Spring Break, he is so excited, that in the midst of his party, he runs over the town’s mascot, the alligator Captain Jack. With the whole family facing arrest for something Homer has done, they decide to hide out in plain sight as workers at a diner in the middle of nowhere.

Review:

For the past five and a half years, I have been taking a look at the Mike Scully era of The Simpsons. In many ways, it is the dorkier equivalent to the study of the implosion of the Roman Empire. Everybody has their theories – some rational, others more theoretical, a scant few completely insane and rooted in somewhat odious rationales. What I ultimately am looking at in terms of analyzing the collapse of The Simpsons is what the symptoms reflect.

Right now, what I’m sensing is that the show collapsed due to a fatal combination of arrogance, inexperience, and the limitations of the traditional story engine, sourced from the writers’ room and the FOX Network executives, at war with both increasingly disillusioned fans and worn-down staff (animators and voice actors, respectively.) Sometimes, the writers thought they could go to war with fans. Other times, they thought they could juggle an ability to tell an emotionally moving story with revenge against an errant voice actor and the quest for ratings. As you can probably gather, the writers didn’t do a good job at many of these forays, because even in normal episodes, the show was becoming increasingly outlandish in lieu of silly, callous instead of merely cynical, and downright incompetent in terms of framing a story, characters, et cetera.

With around 60 Scully-era episodes under my belt, I’ve mulled over quite a few contenders for the show’s event horizon, the moment when the show’s collapse was cemented forever. And I’m not going to restate my arguments here, since it would be a waste of time for all involved.

All I know is that this time, I have watched a Simpsons episode that I sincerely believe would’ve been better off if it was penned and edited by a room full of cocaine users. It is so insane, so incoherent, so mad, and so incompetent that, for the first time in my years of reviewing this show, I have to sincerely question the sanity of Mr. Michael Scully.

I don’t know how else to guess the thought process that was behind “Kill the Alligator and Run”. Continue reading

The Prisoner Review: “The Schizoid Man” (Episode 8)

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Lister: (having watched a Psiren that took his form get shot) How did you know that wasn’t me?
Cat: Because that dude could play!
Lister: (aggravated) He was no better than me.
Kryten: That’s the way you believe you can play. That way, when the Psiren read your mind, he shared your delusion that you are not a ten-thumbed, tone-deaf, talentless noise polluter.
– “Psirens”, Red Dwarf. (I can use Red Dwarf quotes all day.)

Airdate: October 27th, 1967.

Written By: Terence Feely

Plot: Six finds himself replaced! No, seriously, he finds himself awake one day, demoted to Twelve. As in, he now has the personality of Number Twelve. Twelve, meanwhile, has been promoted to Number Six – as in, he has the personality of Number Six. This, of course, is meant as an extremely complex game of chess by Number Two, who claims that he wants to break Twelve (who is now Six).

Basically, what I’m saying is, this episode might come off as confusing at first glance. Then again, you could say the same for most of the episodes of this show.

Review:

One of the central themes of The Prisoner thus far is the power of the individual within a society. More specifically, the show demonstrates this by stripping said individual authority from everybody in The Village. Everything within is meant to be for the good of the increasingly milquetoast society – but not the society, the higher-ups who decide what is right and what is wrong. Even the facade of democracy, for instance, is just that – a facade. Contradict the powers that be, and best case scenario, you are replaced. Worst case scenario, you wind up psychologically tortured, broken beyond any sort of comprehension… your personality stripped from you.

And that’s assuming that The Village is insular. Odds are, it’s not – it’s becoming clear that we are dealing with a national outpost meant to hide the troublemakers and saboteurs, or something akin to that. This is a nation likely committing crimes against their citizens for daring to expose their more insidious underbelly. Thus, we get a slow breakdown of the citizen as a result.

Now, what if the next step was to replace the individual entirely – with a body double, for instance?

Welcome to “The Schizoid Man”, part 8 of our 17-part look at Patrick McGoohan’s thus-far epic spy-fi drama. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Mr. Greg” (Season 3, Episode 8)

 

 

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“…why can’t I move on?”

“And we will never be alone again, ’cause it doesn’t happen every day.
Kinda counted on you being a friend. Can I give it up or give it away?
Now I thought about what I wanna say, but I never really know where to go.
So I chained myself to a friend, cause I know it unlocks like a door.”
– “Instant Crush”, Daft Punk ft. Julian Casablancas.

Airdate: July 19th, 2016

Written By: Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu.

Plot: Having netted a cool $10M from royalties for one of his songs, Greg is left wondering what the hell to do with all of that cash. Steven comes up with an idea to start – a night out in Empire City, complete with tagging Pearl along. Now, this is a risky gamble – Pearl and Greg have had a tense relationship for years now. Pearl, though, agrees to go, and is slowly pulled into the silliness of the resultant trip. However, deep inside, the agony of losing Rose still pierces Pearl in her core. And at the depth of night, she finally breaks down to herself…

Review:

On October 11th, 2010, Cartoon Network debut the second season of Adventure Time. The episode, entitled “It Came from the Nightosphere”, revolved around rock-bassist vampire Marceline and her strained relationship with her father. Central to the episode is a song entitled “The Fry Song”, which revolved around Marceline contemplating her father’s betrayal and his love… over the fact that he ate a box of fries. (Turned out, he did.)

The episode was the first penned by Rebecca Sugar.

I don’t think there could be a better opening salvo for Ms. Sugar’s television career. Not only did she help (alongside Adam Muto) pen an episode revolving around the interpersonal aspects of speculative fiction characters, but “The Fry Song” was also her first song for the show, taking such a silly idea and adding pathos to it. It would wind up being something of a trait for Sugar-driven episodes, using musical numbers to convey the themes within. Such was Sugar’s power that she wound up returning to write a song for the show’s very last episode.

Even further, it was the Sugar-penned “What Was Missing” and the song within (“I’m Just Your Problem”) that kicked off speculation that there existed a wayward romantic relationship between Marceline and Princess Bubblegum – even if merely implied and speculated, it was seen by those that saw it as romantic as a rather gutsy depiction of gay/bisexual characters at the time.

When she departed Adventure Time in 2012 to pen Steven Universe, it was clear that the musical numbers would follow. In fact, it was hearing “Giant Woman” sometime around the debut of that episode that made me suspect that her skills would really shine on her own show – enough for me to consider the show “awesome” even before I “properly” became a fan – and others have tended to agree. (Personally, cue the summer of 2015, I got a glimpse of “Rose’s Scabbard”, SOLD.)

Anyway, it’s the long, hot summer of 2016. Most of us remember it for the seismic changes that went on, be they political, cultural, or both. In this epochal moment in history, Steven Universe was in the middle of the Summer of Steven, new episodes every day for an entire calendar month.

But even within SU’s production, the world was changing. Joe Johnston, one of the show’s most prolific and (within the fandom) celebrated penmen, was promoted to a supervisor role. This would be his last episode. Concurrently, Rebecca Sugar was also yearning to write a musical episode. And in the universe, there was this question of the relationship between Pearl, Greg, and Rose that had yet to be settled.

What resulted is often regarded as not only Steven Universe’s most idiosyncratic and memorable outing, but in terms of episode quality, is often cited as one of the greatest moments in the entirety of the SU Canon. Continue reading

Happy 31st, Red Dwarf!

The Boys are Back in Town!!!!

We may live in relatively eccentric times, with happenings small and large in scale that will be discussed for years to come. But if there’s one thing in the world that still manages to hold up, it’s that quirky sci-fi comedy from the BBC, Red Dwarf. (Well, most of it, anyway.)

Today marks 31 years since its debut on BBC Two, and I just want to give a quick shout out to a show that still remains one of my favorites.

And since tonight is Friday night (far different than the Monday night debut back in 1988), the odds are high that I’ll be binging the first series or two tonight.

Scullyfied Simpsons: “Days of Wine and D’oh-ses” (Season 11, Episode 18)

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In context, it’s a good metaphor for the episode. Out of context, it’s a sublime metaphor for the series!

“There’s a line in `Othello’ about a drinker:`Now a sensible man, by and by a fool, and presently a beast.’ That pretty well covers it.”  – Barney Gumble, Puke-a-hontas, “A Star is Burns”. Weirdly apropos given the episode covered today.

Airdate: April 9th, 2000.

Written By: Dan Castellaneta and Deb Lacusta

Plot: Barney Gumble is disturbed when he sees a video of his birthday party. There, he was so drunk as to become the largest fool in the town. Combined with the constant mockery from his fellow barflies, he decides to quit drinking for good. But the temptation still remains, especially when the less-than-teetotal Homer tags along on his path to sobriety.

Review:

Season 11 of The Simpsons really does feel like a show clinging to life, to relevancy, to any sort of cohesion that is ebbing away.

I mean, the remanents show does so nowadays by the proliferation of guest stars, as well as attempts to be relevant that often indicate that a trend or meme is deader than dead. But in terms of narrative, Season 11 of The Simpsons seems to be indicative of a show realizing that the story engine has mined the well dry. However, it was also too successful to end – whether it was the writers, the voice actors, or the network executives, they were too proud or too greedy to let the show come to a natural end.

As a result, what we have so far this season (besides the increase in gimmicks and the show’s world collapsing into a black hole of inane insanity) are the gambles made on three characters – Apu Nahassapeemapetilon, Ned Flanders, and Barney Gamble. The nature of their circumstances were all radically reformed, albeit in different ways. Apu and Manjula decided to start a family, got his wish in the most extreme way, and now has to deal with eight children – making the stressed-out father the central component of his character (whatever is left, anyway). Ned Flanders, long the happy-go-lucky yin to Homer’s yang, had his wife die… in an accident caused, exacerbated, and downplayed by Homer… and I’m going to stop there because my blood is boiling already.

Barney’s change is the most unique. It’s not something that actually comes out of nowhere, but actually has its roots in the show’s broader narrative. Of course, I feel like the aforementioned changes might have been executed well (or at least, had some small level of merit) in another universe. So the question is, how do the writers do on this particular gamble?

Continue reading

They Don’t Know The Meaning of The Word Canceled – Simpsons Renewed Through Season 32

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Troy McClure: “So join America’s favorite TV family, and a tiny green space alien named Ozmodiar that only Homer can see, on FOX this fall. It’ll be out of this world! Right, Ozmodiar?”
Ozmodiar: “Damn straight, Troy, my man!”
– “The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase”. Side note, that was one of the last episodes before Mike Scully became the showrunner.

Bucking my prediction from back in the halcyon days of November 2016, FOX has given The Simpsons, surprise, another two-year renewal. Assuming that this is for two full seasons (given that the show often has hangovers aired in the following autumn), this means that the show will continue to take up space on the FOX Network until at least the middle of 2021.

You know, when I joked in that aforementioned prediction that the show could conceivably gun for Coronation Street‘s record of being the longest-running scripted show in terms of years on the air, I didn’t mean it as a challenge! Continue reading

The Prisoner Review: “The General” (Episode 7)

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Back in the 60s, the idea of watching television to complete a course must have seen as being on the pulse of the future. Now, look at us. We can use the internet to do much the same. We can, but we don’t.

“I would like to say a brief word about SpeedLearn. It is quite simply the most important, most far-reaching, most beneficent development in mass education since the beginning of time. A marriage of science and mass communication, which results in the abolition of years of tedious and wasteful schooling.” – The Professor. Here’s a hint – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Airdate: November 3rd, 1967.

Written By: Lewis Greifer.

Plot: A new method of education has taken the Village by storm. Labeled “SpeedLearn”, it promises the ability to take a three-year course in mere minutes. The current offering is history, with a focus on the post-Napoleonic era of Europe. However, Six suspects – and discovers – that there is fraudulence behind the too-good-to-be-true product. But what is the source?

Review:

The intriguing thing about watching classic television in the contemporary age is just how much investment in episode-to-episode continuity has taken hold. I mean, nowadays, an increasing percentage of television shows are dispatching with the status quo in favor of a more streamlined narrative, which requires one to often go all-in on a show from episode 1, or at least, the start of the season. While more obvious for dramas who have used the long game to their advantage (Breaking BadMad Men, and The Sopranos), this trend has even evolved towards even animated shows with a target audience of children adopting this strategy (Steven Universe has done so, albeit broken up with “slice of life” episodes, while Netflix’s Hilda operated it’s first season as a continuous narrative).

As a result, watching older television shows becomes more interesting. Not that it makes them less fun, but the more episodic nature therein tends to make us contemporary viewers question continuity. This is especially true of The Prisoner – time and again, on this blog or across the internet the order of the episodes has been mentioned as the great curiosity of the franchise.

With that in mind, we get an episode that can count as either a direct sequel or prequel to the prior one reviewed, “A, B, and C” – the title being “The General”. Continue reading

Reviews, Mr. Greg, and You!

This is just a pre-emptive announcement regarding the next Steven Universe episode up – that being “Mr. Greg”  Nothing major, since it will be out in February – it’s just when in February that is going to be somewhat up in the air.

Being Steven Universe‘s big musical episode, there are quite a few musical numbers to unpack, and a couple of them lend themselves to in-depth analysis. Combine that with the fact that I like to rewatch episodes before I write up reviews of them? Well, you’ve got yourself quite an interesting task. Not a hard task, but an interesting task, and I want to take this rather large episode on meticulously rather than rapidly.

Who knows, it might be up in a relatively short timeframe! In fact, I’m hoping to get it up by the middle of February. But if it appears relatively later, you know why.

Anyway, on that note, my review of “The General” should be up by the end of this weekend, the latest. And after that, “Days of Wine and D’oh-ses” should be up within a week afterward. Then, “Mr. Greg” takes the front line.

This update, in short, is just to let you all know where things stand with The Review Nebula. As always, I appreciate your readership and the conversations I have on this blog – it means a lot.

(Unrelated note, but for those in the United States, be careful out there – it’s still quite cold across much of the country.)

Steven Universe Review: “Drop Beat Dad” (Season 3, Episode 7)

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This is truly the face of a trustworthy man.

“It ain’t like I’m still five years old, you know? It ain’t like I’m gonna be sitting up every night asking my mom, “When’s Daddy coming home?”, you know? Who needs him? Hey, he wasn’t there to teach me how to shoot my first basket. But I learned, didn’t I? I got pretty damn good at it, too, didn’t I, Uncle Phil? Got through my first date without him? Right? I learned how to drive, I learned how to shave, I learned how to fight without him. I had fourteen great birthdays without him – he never even sent me a damn card! To hell with him! – Will Smith, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (“Poppa’s Got A Brand New Excuse”). Makes Sour Cream’s situation a little bit better, objectively speaking.

Airdate: July 19th, 2016.

Written By: Lamar Abrams and Katie Mitroff

Plot: Sour Cream is in sort of a conflict with his stepfather over his career aspirations. Rather than take over the fishing boat, he desires to be a club DJ. Of course, an opportunity presents itself when Marty, Greg’s old manager, comes over and takes note of his biological son’s equipment. Given Greg’s experience, this is bound to end well.

Review:

One of Steven Universe‘s greatest strengths is how it plays with the concepts that we have of morality. With very few exceptions, Rebecca Sugar has placed her characters on an evolving scale of grey morality. Our protagonists are a group of former separatists who have opaqued many aspects of their life from a child they’re collectively raising only for it to spill out in a pretty traumatizing way, all while having their own foibles (Pearl’s fastidiousness and jealousy, Amethyst’s hedonism, Garnet’s seemingly distant persona, Ruby’s often passionate fury, and Sapphire’s somewhat cold stoicism) that they have to wrestle with. But it doesn’t obscure their love of Steven, their defense of the Earth (patronizing though their behavior might be) and their genuine moral compass.

Likewise, the antagonists of Steven Universe slowly reveal themselves to be more tragic figures. The Diamonds are dictators who have done some pretty horrible things out of spite. However, future episodes begin to peel away at them, exposing not only their motives and the rather human aspects behind them, but how their behavior and faults cloud their judgment. On Earth, meanwhile, Lars is a rather acerbic figure, but he himself is wrestling with feelings of inadequacy and an intense self-loathing; and even Onion has been revealed to have an altruistic (if still rather eccentric) aura to him.

And that’s not getting into the characters that wind up shifting around the scale of morality – the Peridots and the Lapis Lazulis are surprisingly-a-plenty in SU.

In short, there are only really a scant three characters I can think of in Steven Universe that are so odious, so utterly venal, that even the Paddy’s Pub Gang would throw their asses out on the street (before starting their own stupid schemes, of course).

Chief among them is Marty. Continue reading