Gravity Falls Review: "The Stanchurian Candidate" (Season 2, Episode 14)

 

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The GOP Election Debates were less insane than this!

 

Airdate: August 24th, 2015

Synopsis: With President Barack Obama being constitutionally prohibited from running for a third term, many people apply for the most powerful office in the Western World. These include a social democratic populist, the spouse of a controversial former president, an eccentric right-leaning populist billionaire, and the brother of a controversial former president, among many, many others. “Hilarity” ensues, especially concerning cloths, servers, and hairpieces.

Uh, I mean, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has Governor General David Johnston call elections so he can get a fourth consecutive mandate. However, he faces critiques from the public and his competitors, which include a bearded dude, a hippie, and the handsome son of a former politician, over his controversial justice legislation, his questionable handling of the economy, and his somewhat awkward management of the nation’s institutions and public services. Said handsome son, hippie, and bearded dude, meanwhile, face questions on their leadership and whether they’ll split the vote… again.

Uh, I REALLY mean, Stan decides to run for mayor of Gravity Falls, after the long-serving mayor dies. He does so because of insecurities that have surfaced after Ford came back. He runs against Bud Gleeful… whose son was locked up, thanks to Stan. Unfortunately, he’s more gaffe-prone than his poll numbers (starting at zero and bottoming out in negative numbers) will allow. To try and salvage Stan’s candidacy, they try and commit mind theft via a tie that Ford invented for “Reagan’s Masters”. Bud’s campaign manager, some dude that’s in prison, one-ups Stan by literally overtaking Bud’s mind with a spell.

Oh, that dude in prison? Gideon.

Review (SPOILERS): Politics! Is there a word more thrilling to the human soul? Since the dawn of time, decisions had to be made. One idea of governance is Democracy – allowing for more than just one person to decide. The Ancient Athenians laid the groundwork for (very limited) democracy. The Roman Republic established separate houses to (in theory) balance the wants and needs of the experienced versus those of the common man. The English Parliament (later the Parliament of Great Britain), the American Congress, and the Assembly of the First Republic kick-started the modern democracy we all know and love… even if the latter didn’t last long.

While the system is generally kind – let the average joe and jane send representatives to voice their interests – there are a lot of awkwardnesses in the campaign process, and within the after-effects of said elections. “The Stanchurian Candidate” exploits the idiosyncrasies that are found within the races and campaigns – this time, with the end goal to be the mayor of a small town. How does that go?

Unfortunately, as far as the writing for this episode goes… not the greatest. Continue reading

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Note About My Order of Steven Universe Reviews

Just a quick note about my Steven Universe reviews.

It’s worth noting right now that I will be reviewing the episodes in “viewing order”, not the order in which they aired. I’m doing this so that the continuity flows better… at least, in my reviews.

This shouldn’t be too much of a problem, though – I am approximately 60-ish episodes behind the most recently aired episode. Gonna take a long time to get there… I think. Maybe.

Scullyfied Simpsons: "The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace" (Season 10, Episode 2)

Airdate: September 20th, 1998

Synopsis: Reaching a midlife crisis, Homer becomes despondent on life. After a projector breaks down, Homer rhetorically asks “who invented this thing?” Lisa responds, and Homer has a new goal – be the new Thomas Edison. He becomes obsessed with the man… and, when it turns out that Edison invented something that Homer seemed to invent – a chair with an extra set of legs on hinges – Captain Wacky becomes hellbent on destroying Edison’s chair.

Review: Sounds like a Scullyfied Simpsons. Ain’t been reviewed onto nigh for two months.

Tsk, tsk, tsk – trouble a brewin!

Homer’s sorta pitiful life is the centerpiece of the greatest Simpsons episodes. Even when he is involved in something landmark (such as going into space), there’s this tinge in the writing that he got there by the thinnest of margins (aka, Barney going insane and falling off the top of a mattress factory). Despite this, he almost always maintained a love for the simple things you’d expect a 40-year old to love – TV, Duff, all that jazz.

Indeed, deconstructing his simple life by putting him in a midlife crisis seems like tough ground to tread. It doesn’t seem like Homer would be the one to encounter that, but I’d be willing to excuse that somewhat as a deconstruction of what his life has been.

Then Lisa brings up Thomas Edison, and the episode becomes… a tad bit more haphazard.

Look, Homer trying to invent something doesn’t seem like a bad idea… it’s just that it was done before. Can you say, “The Homer”?

For those unaware, in “Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou”, Homer’s half-brother, Herb, is the founder and head of a floundering car company. After meeting Homer, he starts to believe/realize his fellow suits are trying to imitate the Japanese and European car makers, and commissions Homer to invent “the American car.” The end result?

The Car Built For Homer
“Whatever Homer wants… Homer gets….”

It cost $82,000 – far beyond the means of the average American, yet even those that could afford it probably wouldn’t touch the car with a 39.5′ pole. Worse, because it was promoted as the flagship/comeback car of the company, Powell Motors loses whatever credibility it had, is bankrupted, and Herb winds up taking residence under a bridge. It was realistic, had a coherent plot, and more than just two-dimensional, satirizing the auto industry and the perceptions of the “average American”.

Admittedly, though, the inventions that Homer considers could be taken as a satire on just how insane companies would go in attempts to make lives “simpler”, when in reality, their inventions would add more complications to their life.

If you watch The Simpsons for satire, it’s not bad.

However, as I mentioned in my discussion for “Oh, Brother”, this show used to do a damn good job at balancing both. Here, the writer decided to focus more on the satire rather than the character, and the end result is somewhat empty. In my opinion, to make a strong script, you need strong characters… and this episode doesn’t really have that.

Here… Homer exposits about Thomas Edison’s life, which seems unlike him; manages to comprehend complex math problems, and other stuff that seems unlike him. Jokes like “Women will like what I tell them to like” are a good satire on the seemingly sexist viewpoint on the marketing industry, but coming out of Homer, it makes him look more disturbingly misogynistic than ever before. (Didn’t the writers expose Homer as not especially misogynistic in “Homer Badman”?)

As for the rest of the characters, Marge is reduced to something of a doormat. Ignoring Homer’s wacky desire of the week, she seems to go a tiny bit soft with Homer when it comes with his stupid – if not outright dangerous – inventions. Remember, she told Homer to “shut up” over lack of theatre etiquette in “Colonel Homer”, so this seems somewhat regressive.

Bart, meanwhile, seems to act as a mere assistant in Homer’s schemes. While I don’t mind the idea, here, the execution is very dry – there’s little to bounce off each other. If I can recall, I did sorta like the season 17 episode “We’re on the Road to D’oh-where”, and it was probably because it had Homer and Bart bounce off of each other, and not have Bart serve as a mere sidekick to Homer. Granted, I haven’t watched the episode in a few years, but maybe I’ll check it out one of these days.

As for the plot… it’s pretty much just an excuse for “Homer acts like an idiot” jokes. The pacing is off, the twist at the end came out of left field, and the second act seems a bit vapid.

There’s more I could talk about, but in the end, this is an episode that I have mixed feeling over. It has decent satire, but I feel like it could’ve been better with character exploration – or at least, consistent characterization. Here… not so much.

Tidbits:

  • Personally, I found that getting William Daniels – the voice of KITT himself – to be a bad sign as far as character. It makes Homer out to be the centre of the universe, or something to that effect. Homer is supposed to be just this working class guy who occasionally got into strange situations (such as going into space), and who managed to get a realistic response from everybody. Getting KITT reneges on that in a sense.
  • This was also written by John Swartzwelder, well known for his relative reclusiveness amongst the writers. He actually wrote some of the most critically acclaimed episodes of the show – “Rosebud”, “Homer at the Bat”, and all that. He penned “The Cartridge Family”, which was known for it’s relatively neutral stance on Gun Control (Swartzwelder is a conservative, and pro Gun Rights). However, in 1994, he was allowed to submit his drafts from his home, what with the backlash against smoking. Thus, some have speculated that this gave the writers and showrunners free-reign to manipulate the scripts.
  • This was also the first episode to premiere in the 1998-99 season itself – the season that gave us Futurama and Family Guy. Some have speculated that the show’s shift into zanier territory was motivated by Family Guy. The timing, though, leads me to disagree somewhat.
Favorite Scene: Admittedly, I loved the scene with Homer at the school library. I don’t really know how Homer got into the school – although that might be because I live in world with stricter school security – but I liked his explanation on why he wasn’t at the public library. “There was some… unpleasantness. I can never go back.”
Least Favorite Scene: KITT’s appearance, for the reasons above.
Zaniness Factor: 1.5 – the half point is for the Homer’s attempt to destroy Edison’s stuff.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 3 – was waffling between a 2.5 and a 3, but then I remembered just how boneheaded his inventions were, and the fact that the writers made KITT himself celebrate him, and bumped it up.
Score: 6 – mainly for the satire. Character… not so much.

Steven Universe Review: "Laser Light Cannon" (Season 1A, Episode 2)

Oh, no – it’s the maker of rules. Dealing with fools, it’ll cheat you blind!

Airdate: November 4th, 2013

Synopsis: Short answer: the core four realize that Clear Eyes can’t cure Red Eye all the time.

Long answer – a red eye from space is gunning for Beach City. Attempts to destroy it (including throwing Amethyst at it) have failed. There is an option – a light cannon, used by Rose… Steven’s sorta-dead-ish mother. Still, there is more hope – the cannon could be in Greg’s storage unit… his crowded storage unit… which stores the stuff that doesn’t fit in Greg’s van, where he lives.

Review (SPOILERS): If “Gem Glow” established the relationship between the core four characters and established the start of Steven’s “coming-of-age” arc, then “Laser Light Cannon” takes a first look at the past for the main characters… or at least, one of them.

This is the first episode of Steven Universe to explicitly mention Rose Quartz, the mother of Steven. In this episode, much like Garnet in the last, she is an enigma – one that we know little about. However, the Gems do seem to hold a deep level of respect for their lost comrade. Filling the role of the Lost Lenore, Greg still has her stuff in his storage unit… alongside his other pointless stuff.

It becomes apparent, however, that the two’s romance was truly that – they loved each other, confided in each other. No moment is no personal, and yet more indicative of the series, than a catchphrase that is said through the entire episode.

“If every pork chop were perfect, we wouldn’t have hot dogs!”

Without giving much away, it becomes clear that this is Greg’s and Rose’s mantra. They completed each other. Beyond that, though, lies the fact that one simple sentence – that one above – is later established to be the mission statement for the writers. It’s a widely beloved fact in the fandom that every character is revealed to have some level of insecurity, have had some level of failure, etc. etc. etc.

No one is safe from Sucrose and Company’s wrath!

Steven’s role is somewhat less ambiguous – in effect, he is the direct successor to his mother. Hell of a lot to live up to for an 11-year old, eh? However, in many ways, I feel like he fits the “11-year-old” archetype a bit better than, say, Dipper Pines does the “12-year-old”. Don’t get me wrong – Dipper is one of my all-time favorite characters. However, something about Steven screams 11-year old – his idealism, his generally unblemished view of his father, a few insecurities about worth, and so forth. This creates a character that the target audience can relate to.

However, it’s Greg that gets fleshed out. Besides sharing catchphrases with Rose (as seen above), we also get a quick look at his own character – an aging ex-rocker now operating a car wash, living in his own van. He has his own insecurities (“Drive My Van Into Your Heart”, anybody), which are not helped much by the Gems’ dismissal of him. It’s also worth noting that, due to the seemingly short 11-minute structure, there’s less time to flesh him out than other shows would. And the writers still did it. Kudos to them.

Oh, that’s not getting into the rest of the episode. The animation is still fantastic, although the difference in storyboard crew (Rebecca Sugar and Kat Morris) shows a little bit. The cannon is a thing of perfection, the action sequences are well animated… it’s fantastic.

Did it reach “finest show on Cartoon Network” this early? Not yet, but at this point, it was one hell of a contender.

Tidbits:

  • This episodes introduces the Fryman Family, who operate a french fry joint. They would get an episode of their own with “Frybo”. Even then, Steven’s casual relationship with them is sort of cute. Frybits!
  • Also, there’s a very close bond with Steven and Amethyst, who act like best friends/close siblings. Amethyst brings out the more “childish” side of Steven, which helps keep him grounded as a character.
  • Oh, and the music… the music is simply fantastic. The background music, barring “Drive My Van Into Your Heart” (which might not even be background music) is very jazzy, mellow, and adds something of an added flavor to an already great series.
Favorite Scene: Everything involving the Laser Light Cannon… especially it’s activation. Animation, writing… fantastic.

Best Character:
 Greg, already more than one-dimensional in his first appearance.

Memorable Quote: “If every pork chop were perfect, we wouldn’t have hot dogs.” – Greg… and Steven… and Rose. Read above for why.
Score: 8.5 (Silver)

Movie Review: Star Trek III: The Search For Spock

(Note: yes, you read that correctly. It’s Trek III, not Trek II. For more on why, I refer you to here.)

A dying planet. A fight for life. The Search for Spock. (Poster by Bob Peak, taken from Wikipedia)


Released: June 1, 1984

Synopsis: The Enterprise comes back from its most recent excursion, beaten down and with chunks of its crew – including its science officer – dead. As the NCC-1701 dry-docks, Dr. McCoy begins acting bizarrely. Meanwhile, Lt. Saavik and David – Kirk’s son – have been left behind to orbit the Genesis Planet, and discover that Spock has been revived as a child. Due to some proto-matter in the Genesis device, the body of Spock has mere hours to live. Unfortunately for them, they wind up intercepted by Kruge (Christopher Lloyd), the commander of a Klingon vessel, and are kidnapped.

Kirk and Spock’s father, Sarek, deduce that Spock transferred his katra – living spirit – to McCoy, and that McCoy must give Spock’s body the katra soon, or else the doctor will die. One problem, though. Not only is Spock’s body on the Genesis planet – where even discussing the planet is forbidden due to the political controversy involved in its creation – but the Enterprise is due to be scrapped. Determined to save the lives of his best friends, he and a skeleton crew commit Grand Theft Starship, taking the Enterprise out of dock for what is certainly her last tour.

No prizes for guessing what crew meets what commander.

Review (QUITE A BIT SPOILER-Y): Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is my all-time favorite movie. Its themes are a loving tribute to the works of Shakespeare, while still forming its own identity. Its characterization is beautiful. Its special effects are great, considering the $10M budget. Its dialogue is fantastic. And the ending… so poetic, so tragic, so beautiful.

It’s almost impossible to top Wrath of Khan… even with a direct sequel. So, how did they do?
Continue reading

Gravity Falls Review: "Dungeons, Dungeons, and More Dungeons" (Season 2, Episode 13)

“You may have aced Dungeons, Dungeons, and More Dungeons, but can you handle Jeopardy????

Airdate: August 3rd, 2015

Synopsis: Dipper gets a board game in the mail – “Diggity Dungeons and All That” “Dungeons, Dungeons, and More Dungeons”. With Mabel and Stan refusing to play due to it’s complicated rules (and because the two are focused on the Duck-Tective season finale), Dipper winds up striking up a playing partner in Ford. Despite Ford’s somewhat wary attitude in letting him close to the secrets, the two become close confidantes in the Tabletop madness. They play such a good game, that when a dispute between Stan and Ford (surprise, surprise) unleashed Probilitor the Annoying, the wizard decides to eat Ford and Dipper’s brains to gain their smarts.

Review (SPOILERS AHEAD): Anything with Weird Al Yankovich is among the American National Treasures, alongside cheeseburgers, Taco Bell, and “Two Cathedrals”. This episode, while a small step below the likes of “A Tale of Two Stans”, is still a really great episode.

Hell, I think it works because, compared to “Not What He Seems” and “A Tale of Two Stans”, the comedy is the focus of the episode, rather than the drama. That’s not to say there’s no drama or character development – it’s just that they chose to use a lot of comedy to both mock and celebrate this episode’s target – RPGs.

If “Blendin’s Game” sent up gladiatorial sports and Olympiads, and “Northwest Mansion Disco” spit on the power of the elite, this episode does both with tabletop RPGs.

Full disclosure – I don’t play RPGs. The reasons are cited in this episode – they’ve always seem complicated, which seems a bit intimidating to me. There’s the various rules, the strangeness, the etc. I personally like playing games with a form of structure – stuff like “Dungeons and Dragons’ is not really up my alley. Therefore, I might get a few things off in my analysis – I apologize in advance. (If I do get something wrong, bring it up in the comments section.) Still, this episode has me interested, mainly because it’s use of RPG tropes (I assume) is beautiful.

Every aspect of it is parodied, analyzed, or both. The marketing, the complex rules, the long game times, the mathematical aspects, the eccentric game pieces, the seemingly unlimited power given to the player, and the plots that take you to another world are all put under a lens, or through the looking glass.

Probabilitor the Annoying, in particular, is (again, probably) a pretty good sendup of the antagonists of these games, as well as a stab at the fans of the. He is a stereotype of the typical antagonist in the RPG and the player – a nerd who wants to rule the world, uses ridiculous math to prove or disprove his power, and wants to eat Dipper and Stan’s brains. The use of these stereotypes is mixed up enough to make him a fun character, rather than be derivative or offensive. That, and he’s voiced by one of the geek gods, “Weird Al”.

Surprisingly enough, what also makes this episode even better is it’s use of character parallels – Mabel and Stan, and Dipper and Ford.

I mentioned these parallels in my review of “A Tale of Two Stans”, how there seemed to be some parallels between the Pines Twins and the Uncle Pines Twins. This episode takes it further – Ford entrusts Dipper with one of the greater secrets that he picked up in his dimension-hopping days – the multi-sided dice. While the tabletop game play does humanize Ford, it also shows just how foolish he can be – he has kept aspects of the supernatural in somewhat flimsy cupboards.

Ironically, Dipper himself has made some decisions or opinions that almost destroyed the town or his relationships this season. Trying to contact the feds? Temporary zombie invasion. Failing to confess to Wendy? Almost got her and the crew killed. Trying to convince Mabel to stop the portal? Almost left Ford trapped in limbo. At this rate, the end of the season could probably see him make a mistake that forever alters the course of the series.

Mabel and Stan, meanwhile, are both paired together through the course of the episode. It makes a bit of sense – Mabel did trust Stan the most at the end of “Not What He Seems”. However, this episode shows these two opposites (the somewhat cold Stan and the warm and affable Mabel) bond over Duck-Tective. The two ride on the simpler pleasures in life – TV, junk food, and lowbrow comedy revolving around puns. There’s also a lot of impulse in between them, often setting up short-term and long-term disasters.

One thing that is awesome is the two teaming up in their attempts to defeat Probabilitor. It not only shows just how close the two have gotten over the season, but it also showcases that, as silly and/or callous as they might be, they both have the capacity to save the day, even if Stan’s methods and Mabel’s concepts are… unorthodox. However, the two are also prone to mistakes – their impulses have also created “monsters of the week”, or set up longer arcs. While this episode chose to focus on their virtues rather than their vices, that doesn’t mean that the two will be getting off easy for the rest of the season.

The divide that is forming between the twins, and the consequences thereof, is also prominent in this episode. It was Stan’s bickering with Ford that sent Probabilitor out in the first place. Through no fault of their own, it was Mabel’s love of (seemingly) cheesy TV and Dipper’s love of mathematical tabletop RPGs that set the stage for the episode, and the Grunkles that the twin’s befriended. This was even noted in a scene that is eerily reminiscent of the last scene in “A Tale of Two Stans”.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it in probably every other Gravity Falls review until the end of the season – the season finale is going to be dark for the Mystery Twins.

Honestly, the big – if not the only – problem with this episode is that it wasn’t as memorable as it’s two predecessors. Which is fine – those two shook the foundation of the show. If anything, this episode might be remembered for it’s odd bits of comedy – and Weird Al – rather than the plot.

I can’t complain too much, though. Honestly, if your episode has Weird Al, it’s hard to fail it. If it has send-ups to tabletop RPGs, decent character development, and several great jokes, it’s easy to see why this is a good episode of a great show… if not the best of a great season.

Tidbits:

  • The “Diggity Dungeons and All That” commercial is something of a throwback to the first few episodes of Gravity Falls – it marks one of the first times since then that GF used a Family Guy style cutaway gag, especially one that had little impact on character development. It does, however, provide a great satire on marketing strategies.
  • There’s a lot I like about the Duck-Tective gags – mainly because they send up the tropes seen in Gravity Falls, with the execution in Duck-Tective seeming more hackneyed than the execution in Gravity Falls – probably because of it’s status as a parody. It reminds me of Crying Breakfast Friends in Steven Universe, especially in the episode “Cry for Help”.
    • Seriously, I would like to see a full-length episode of Duck-tective – just as an April Fools episode, or a breather during a really dramatic series of episodes.
Favorite Scene: A few to choose from, but just for the marketing comedy alone, “Diggity Dungeons and All That” was brilliant. Those 90s really were dark times.
Least Favorite Scene: I can’t really choose – not one scene stood out as weaker than the others. Overall, I think this episode, while pretty good, is not one of the more memorable of the show.
Score: 8.25

(Edit 3:45: emphasized some of my points.)