TV Rants and Raves 6.28.2012: Animation Domination
Welcome to another installment of TV Rants and Raves. I am, as always, your host, Dimitri Dorlis, and this week is
Wait that didn’t work right. Let’s try it again.
Yeah, that’s a bit better. This week we’re looking at three cartoon shows: one that just ended its first season, one that is beginning a new season, and one of the most popular cartoons of all time. Let’s get started.
TV Rants and Raves
It’ll be just like old times
Here are my first thoughts on the season finale of Legend of Korra: Holy shit. No seriously, holy shit they let that happen on a kids show?
Let’s talk about the show first, though, and an interesting dynamic. Legend of Korra is, first and foremost, a childrens show, airing on Saturday mornings on Nickelodeon. And yet, at the same time, the show has this huge online following among adults who are looking at the show from a completely different angle, so that the creators are trying to make a show that two distinct fanbases can enjoy. On that front, I think the show has succeeded, especially in the finale.
See, what makes Legend of Korra so great, and similar shows in this same vein, is that it’s willing to treat the viewers with respect. There are some adult situations that get addressed in the finale, and congratulations to the show for not avoiding it, but for also framing it in a way that it’s easily understandable for children.
But on to the episode. We’re finally at the climax of the season, as Korra and her friends prepare for a final battle against Amon. But first, a bunch of reveals, chief among them that Amon is really a water-bender by the name of Noatok, the brother of Councillor Tarlok. Amon’s bloodbending ability has apparently been the method that he’s been using to stop the bending ability of other benders (although the exact method isn’t revealed here, since they had to leave something for the second season). During the climactic battle against Amon, Korra is defeated and Amon takes away her bending, but it allows Korra to unlock her spiritual side, and she finally air bends. I’ll admit that this is a jump in logic – that Amon blocked Korra’s bending ability but conveniently didn’t block her airbending ability, but it works, and Amon is revealed to be a fraud in the eyes of Republic City.
And then shit gets real, See, Amon takes his brother with him as he escapes, and the two of them ride a speedboat off into the sunset, ready to plan their next takeover attempt. Except Tarlok has had a change of heart, and decides to take care of Amon personally. What’s crazy here is that Tarlok’s method involves blowing up the speedboat, thus killing both himself and Amon. Nickelodeon actually allowed the creators to show a murder-suicide on a Saturday morning cartoon, and I think that says a huge amount on how Nickelodeon approached this new series of Avatar. It also helped that the scene was poignant, as it was set up previously that Amon could sense the movements of others, so he knew that his brother was attempting to kill him, and let it happen. The final shot before the explosion is a picture of Amon, with a single tear rolling down his face. It’s an incredible sequence, one that wouldn’t be out of place in a Scorsese or Coppela movie.
But what’s crazier is that this isn’t even the end, as we find out that not even the best healers in the world can restore Korra’s bending ability. Unable to deal with the situation, Korra runs off on her own, and ends up at a cliff. Here is where, in an episode where they’ve already shown a murder-suicide, things get even crazier, as Korra is shown STANDING ON THE EDGE OF THE CLIFF, LOOKING DOWN. The main character on a childrens cartoon is shown contemplating suicide, and it’s a detail that only the older audience would pick up on. And as she sits there, staring down, she realizes that she can’t do it, and backs away from the edge. It’s at this moment when her connection with her spiritual side is finally awakened for good, as Aang shows up to restore her bending abilities. Aang’s message that “when we hit our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change” really drives home just how close to the edge Korra went. I’m not sure Korra regaining her bending ability here feels earned, but taken as one season (which was the original plan for the series) it works.
Now there are some interesting places for the show to go in its second season. We’ve only seen glimpses of a fully-realized Avatar in action, so that could be fun, as could seeing if the Korra/Mako relationship can work out. And as definitive as Amon’s final scene seemed to be, who knows if he managed to survive the explosion (personally, I hope he died, as his final scene was perfect). One thing that I feel could work out for the next season would be to play it a bit like Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, where the first movie revolved around Bruce Wayne becoming this mythological figure, and the second one showing the rise of super-villains in response to the Batman. The second season could delve into the rise of new groups trying to fill the power vacuum left by the defeat of the Equalists, and considering how quickly advanced techniques like metalbending, lightining, and bloodbending became more commonplace, I wouldn’t be shocked if some more advanced techniques were invented as a response to the Avatar.
Good news, everyone!
It feels weird to review two Matt Groening shows in the same week, but here we are. Futurama was the less-loved of the two shows, possibly because it dealt in more absurdist humor (Family Guy was on and cancelled at the same time, showing trend for television at the time). However, the show gained a cult following, partly because it was so critically-praised, and eventually new shows were ordered for Comedy Central.
The best thing about the new episodes has been the fact that the style has remained the same. Last season managed to capture the same insane, zany energy that made the first run of the series so enjoyable. The parody, which was a staple of the show in its first run, is still top-notch, and possibly even a bit better than before. Fry is still a 21st century sap stuck in a 31st century world, but now he has an actual relationship with Lela, while Bender is still…well, Bender.
The new season started last week, and the episodes were pretty good. The first episode, featuring Bender knocking up the Planet Express soda machine and having a son, is a delight, featuring some strong work on Bender’s part. The idea of Bender growing into a good parent is an idea that was guaranteed to be pretty great on its own, but Bender’s brand of parenting turns out to be exactly what you would expect, with Bender using his son as an accomplice for his crime spree. The ending of the episode is extremely poignant as well, as Bender sacrifices the memories his son has of him in exchange for giving him the ability to bend.
The second episode is a much broader parody, as the Planet Express crew discovers a Martian prophecy predicting the end of the Earth in 3012 (take that, Mayans). The general hysteria portrayed in this episode is pretty spot-on for doomsday predictions, as you have to imagine the people of the Futurama universe would react in this fashion. And the continual misdirections in the episode (Fry then Leela then Fry not going to Mars, the misreading of the prophecy) also bordered into parody as well, while still remaining great gags.
However, I must admit that I haven’t paid as much attention to Futurama as I normally have. Part of this was the switch to Comedy Central, a channel I don’t watch nearly as much as I should, but the other part was a fear I had that Futurama would end up much like Family Guy did after its hiatus. Luckily, Groening treats his show with the respect it has earned, and the show is still rather great. If you haven’t watched the new series, I’d urge you to give it a try.
Classic TV: The Simpsons – Marge vs the Monorail Season 4, Episode 12
I think I knew, when I set about making this column about animated shows, that I’d have to include the Simpsons as the Classic TV for the week. And one of the best classic episodes of the show was Marge vs the Monorail, an episode that lampooned the Music Man and disaster movies in one go.
But let’s start with some background information. Marge vs the Monorail was written by Conan O’Brien. Yeah, for those who don’t know, before Conan became a big late-night talk show host, he was a writer for the Simpsons and SNL. Conan only wrote 4 episodes for the show, but his time spent on the show is seen as a major turning point, as his episodes, in particular Marge vs the Monorail, paved the way for more absurdist humor on the show.
But on to this episode, which begins in such hilarious fashion (the Flintstones parody to start the episode is still one of my favorite gags the show has ever done). Mr. Burns has been caught dumping radioactive waste in the parks of Springfield (he was originally using the playgrounds, but is switching to a different location thanks to all of the bald kids). The town suddenly has a financial windfall of $3 million that they need to figure out what to do with. Now we hit what became one of the reoccurring gags on the show: the irrational groupthink of the citizens of Springfield. The group isn’t smart, as evidenced by the fact that they are swayed by Lyle Lanley’s song-and-dance instead of Marge’s sensible idea to fix Main Street.
Marge remains unconvinced by the monorail proposal, and decides to do some digging. After coming across Lyle’s pencil-drawn plan, she heads to North Haverbrook to examine their monorail, and she discovers a town that was ravaged after a monorail crash. Her drive to North Haverbrook also features another of my favorite gags, where a character is surrounded by characters saying things, including one non-sequitur (this time it’s “I call the big one Bitey” but the most famous is “Dental plan”). Meanwhile, Homer has won the job of monorail conductor, and is preparing for the star-studded maiden voyage, grand-marshaled by Leonard Nimoy in a great guest-appearance. In the end, Homer and the scientist from North Haverbrook work together to stop the speeding monorail before it crashes and kills everyone.
This episode is just so good at the little things, from the rip-off of the Beverly Hills Cop theme in the beginning, to Mr. Burns’ Hannibal Lecter get-up during his trial, to the quick legal lines at the end of the two consecutive commercials. At the same time, there are amazing cutaway gags, such as Snake and his group looting the town while everyone is at the meeting, to the illustration of the potholes on Main Street, to Leonard Nimoy on the train at any moment, and the Escalator to Nowhere. Plus, I dare anyone to watch the Quimby/Wiggum argument about the monorail and not laugh (also I can’t believe Quimby didn’t know about the comely lasses beforehand). And the climactic sequence is such typical disaster movie fare (the destruction of a public landmark in particular is inspired). Basically, this is one of those quintessential Simpsons episodes, and really a turning point for the show in regards to the humor it would employ for years to come.
– And to continue the secondary Matt Groening theme we seem to be having today, his comic strip Life In Hell came to an end last week. My biggest memory of the strip is the fact that my grandfather had a collection book of them on his coffee table for the longest time. I’d like to imagine he got it as a gift, and just never bothered to read them.
– The budget got cut for Michael Bay’s upcoming Transformers 4, which means the director will look to cut off some of the fat from the budget, or as he likes to call it, the plot.
– Ok, I am super-ready for the Black Dynamite cartoon to premiere. This isn’t even a joke.
– REALITY ROUND-UP: Another week, another terrible contestant gone from Hells Kitchen. Meanwhlie, MasterChef has gotten really good. The competition aspect, which I was a bit leery of at first, is really pulling me in, so kudos to the producers.
– Paris Hilton is a DJ now. Do with that what you will.
– I’ve neglected to mention Euro 2012, but congrats to the Greek side for making it to the quarterfinals and then getting trounced by Germany like we were supposed to.
– Welcome back to the playoff hunt, Angels. Also who else is ready for the Dodgers inevitable slide into obscurity?
– And I’m going to have to cancel this column for the time being, as a Spice Girls musical has been announced and I need to get in line for that right away. SEE YOU IN DECEMBER, SUCKERS!
The Non TV Segment Of The Week
Oh my god.
I need the British to try and understand every sport, because this is just amazing.
I guess I have one thing on my schedule this September.
And this last video is for any Jim Henson fans out there, which is basically everyone.
And that’s all for this week. Leave a comment or send me and email, and make sure to tune in next week, same Bat time, same Bat channel.