Animation Round-up: A Plumber Smoothie Quest on Ben 10, Rainbow Dash Makes the Wonderbolts on MLP, and Leatherhead on TMNT
Shows are dropping like flies as the December holidays enter full swing! We're down to only Ben 10: Omniverse, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This week, Blukic and Driba got a day in the limelight on Ben 10, Rainbow Dash finally made the cut for the Wonderbolts on MLP, and Mike made yet another new friend on TMNT.
Last week, I briefly noodled on the notion of Ben 10 and its connection to primetime procedurals. Both the primetime procedural/episodic show and Ben 10 know their respective formulas, and in both instances, the pleasure of the series comes from the new story and continuing character dynamics each week. It may not always have the long-running narrative pleasures of an even mildly serialized program, but there are pleasures all the same.
One of the pleasures that a more procedural series can offer is a "day in the limelight" episode. Such episodes highlight a member of the show’s ensemble while giving the more prominent characters a break. Yes, more serialized programs can do this, but they run the risk of angering the audience, as they often represent a break in the larger narrative to focus on a supposedly less-important character. With a procedural, it’s easier to make that break, and that’s exactly what we got with "Blukic and Driba Go to Mr. Smoothy's."
The two Plumber technicians, after failing to completely fix the Plumbers' emergency contact system—and unaware that Ben and Rook were in desperate need of assistance against Trombipulor—went on a long trek to find a Mr. Smoothy’s to get a grasshopper smoothie. They hopped on a hover bike and attempted to find one of 23 locations, but several things got in the way, including GPS systems, maps, buses, precocious squirrels, and cats. Oh, and of course the big fight.
It was a nice break, for me anyway. I don’t have much attachment to anyone on this show, let alone Blukic and Driba, but I was charmed by their antics to find a Mr. Smoothy’s, and I appreciated the time away from Ben and Rook, not to mention the occasional color commentary the two tiny technicians offered during the fight ("Why would Trombipulor want plutonium?"). The episode also allowed for some fun antics, even on a show like Ben 10 where anything typically goes, including a kaiju-inspired battle between the giant Trombipulor and the Super Sentai-esque Way Big.
But the episode also maybe made a gesture toward the universe copying that Ben did back in "So Long, and Thanks for All The Smoothies?" with Alien X. Where is the twenty-third Mr. Smoothy’s location? Is it the connection between the copied universe and the original? Questions, questions.
In the realization of two seasons' worth of dreams and occasional build-up, Rainbow Dash was accepted into the Wonderbolts academy this week, and she was granted the chance to show off her mad flying skills. Since this is My Little Pony, though, she of course had to encounter someone who pushed her and her sense of self to an extreme.
That someone was Lightning Dust, a reckless but equally talented pony. Given their love of flying and competition, it’s no surprise that Lightning Dust and Rainbow Dash hit it off so well, and I appreciate that the episode avoided the easy route of just doing a basic rivalry between the two. It would’ve been a little too easy for Rainbow Dash to come to the episode’s moral conclusion had she not been teammates with Lightning Dust in the first place.
So while Rainbow Dash has always been brash and full of herself—albeit not in a horrible, annoying way—she was forced to realize that her normal attitude could very well lead her, and others, down a similar path of danger (Lighting Dust’s tornado maneuver) if it weren’t for the moderating influence of her friends.
The episode’s small set pieces were all fine enough. I enjoyed the Dizzitron’s skull-and-wing-bones play on the typical maximum danger setting, and while Lightning Dust suddenly losing control of the tornado felt a little sudden, I still liked the threat it created for the episode's climax. (But didn’t this episode need more Top Gun references? How hard would it have been for somepony to say that Lightning Dust’s ego was writing checks her wings couldn’t cash?! C’MON, PEOPLE.)
"It Came from the Depths" was a comparatively quiet episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The general manicness that sometimes marks the series was gone, resulting in a slightly more personal episode than what we’ve received in the past. It wasn't "deep" by any means, but that's perhaps what my attention span needed this week.
Leatherhead is one of those characters where I’m not super-familiar with any incarnations that came after the 1987 animated series, in which he was some sort of an Everglades swamp stereotype, if I’m remembering correctly. In this series, he’s an ally of the turtles—on Mikey's insistance—because they rescued him from some Kraang droids who were hunting him since he had a power cell that he stole from the aliens.
Th reason this episode seemed quiet was that Leatherhead actually had time to reflect on his nature: Despite the fact that he has some easy trigger words (no one say ‘Kraang’), he understands his conundrum as a sentient and kind alligator who was mutated and abused by the Kraang. There could’ve been more to this, but the episode struck a nice balance between Leo, Raph, and Donnie’s exploration of Leatherhead’s lair, and Mikey’s attempts to reach out and connect with he gator.
Mikey’s fundamentally good nature is perhaps the aspect of the character that the series has failed to make a prize of. Don’s intelligence, Leo’s leadership, and Raph’s fighting abilities have all be heralded in other episodes, while Mikey is just a goofball who names things. But he saw the best in Leatherhead immediately. While that optimism is a dangerous thing, it’s also something that the other turtles lack. After the Bradford social media failure, it was nice to see Mikey’s attitude rewarded.
And we got just a smidge of arc development as we learned that Leatherhead had absconded with the Kraang’s intergalactic portal power cell, which may explain why the Kraang have been so busy on Earth, kidnapping scientists but not calling for reinforcements. We’ll see how this plays out in the coming weeks.
A quick housekeeping note: Green Lantern and Young Justice both return on January 5, 2013, so the column may see a change in its lineup then. Jen and I are discussing what shows to include going forward, and if we haven't figured it out by next week, I'd recommend following me on Twitter (@noelrk) for updates.
What'd you think of this week's episodes?
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