Cartoon Country: Littlest Pet Shop Final Season Retrospective

 

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Bye, Blythe.

Today, Hasbro’s animated series Littlest Pet Shop (which airs on the Discovery Family channel) aired it’s last new episode of the season, and in case you haven’t heard, it’s also the last episode of the series. Yes, it’s true; Littlest Pet Shop is canceled. Roger Eschbacher, one of the series’ writers, confirms that there won’t be a 5th season of LPS, and that the decision to pull the plug on the show had to do with toy sales, not ratings. So it wasn’t low ratings, ’twas toy sales that killed the beast.

So in view of this news, I thought that I’d offer my thoughts on LPS and in particular, it’s 4th (and last) season. There’s no need for me to go over the series as a whole, since Damon has written a couple of articles on LPS already, which can be viewed here and here.

To start, I’m going to list my choices for the best and worst episodes of the series. NOTE: I’m not listing these episodes in any particular order, so I won’t be numbering them. That said, let’s go, man, go!

The BEST Episodes:

  • Gailbreak!
  • Penny For Your Laughs
  • Russel Up Some Fun
  • Dumb Dumbwaiter
  • Lights, camera, Mongoose!
  • Sweet (Truck) Ride
  • What Meme Worry?
  • A Day at the Museum

The WORST Episodes:

  • Helicopter Dad
  • The Nest Hat Craze!
  • Two Pets For Two Pests
  • Feud For Thought

Now, some of the highlights from Season 4:

  • No major story arcs or game changing moments for the pets. They’re just there to be cute and funny, which they were.
  • The Bisktit Twins (Whittany & Brittany) became somewhat more human and tolerable this season. They were no longer Blythe’s sworn enemies for no reason, but instead were just mildly annoying. Speaking of…
  • This season, we learn that Whittany & Brittany do indeed have a mother, one Eliza Biskit ( a caricature of Eliza Doolittle, the character played by Julie Andrews in My Fair Lady). Morever, it was implied that Eliza had been around all along and we (the audience) simply had never seen her before. I liked how LPS’ writers turned Eliza’s being off screen as a joke. (“Mom? where have you been the last 3 seasons?”)
  • Youngmee wants a pet of her own this season, and she gets one, a female dog. Not much else happens after that. That plot doesn’t really go anywhere.
  • Mrs. Twombly purchases a piece of land in Downtown City and names it Littlest Pet Street.
  • And finally, we at last learn more about Blythe’s missing mother. We learn that her nickname is/was Betty and that she could also communicate with animals. Blythe receives her mother’s diary from a tortoise named Speedy in the season opener, and this dairy is seen and referred to throughout the season. In the last episode, Blythe finally reveals to her father Roger her ability to communicate with animals, and then he himself reveals to her that he knew about Blythe’s ability all along, and that he also knew that his wife Betty had this ability.

FINAL VERDICT…

meh1

That was an OK twist, but not as good as what I had hoped. Yeah, Blythe finally tells her dad about how she can communicate with animals (about dang time, I say!). She already revealed her secret to her friend Youngmee in season 3, and you have to wonder why Blythe would tell the girl that she’s known for a year or 2 before she told the person who, you know, raised her? As a season finale, “Littlest Pet Street” was OK, not great, but passable. However, as a series finale, this was weak sauce because nothing was concluded. To me, the series should have ended with Blythe finding out that her mom was still alive somewhere and then reuniting with her and/or the Baxters moving away from Downtown City. Damon and I thought that LPS would conclude with Blythe being reunited with her absent mother. We thought that Blythe was going to discover her mother on the desert island and that it would be revealed that Betty wasn’t dead after all, but was just living on the island doing the Dr. Doolittle thing. That may not have made a lot of sense, but it would been a cooler twist than the one that we actually got.

Dennis Miller

“Now, I don’t want to get off on a rant here…”

…but I have to say that one thing this show knows how to do is tease it’s audience. LPS’ writers would frequently dangle something in front of it’s audiences’ face like a carrot at the end of your nose, and then pull it away at the last second saying “Just kidding!” I can’t believe that after all those tidbits about Blythe’s mom Betty that were dropped throughout the 4th season the writers still chose not to give Betty a face in the series finale. If Blythe wasn’t going to be reunited with her mother, we could at least gotten to see what Betty looked like via a picture, or a flashback. Give us something, for cryin’ out loud!

Rant over.

Littlest Pet Shop wasn’t a great show, but it was entertaining and fun. LPS’ biggest problem was that it was never able to get out of the shadow of the Hasbro show that preceded it, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Fans were constantly comparing LPS to MLP: FiM, so it was never able to find it’s own voice or establish it’s own identity. I did like how Blythe sported a different hairstyle and outfit in every episode, and I’m glad that she was the only character on the show who did this. If everyone did it, then it would be nothing special. Plus, it would be too much of a hassle for the writers to come up with a new outfit each episode for every single character in the main cast. While I enjoyed LPS, I’m not sorry that the series is ending. Four seasons is a good run. It’s more than many animated series get, and it’s my personal unpopular opinion that NO scripted series should ever go beyond 3 or at the most 4 seasons. I’d rather LPS end while it’s still pretty good than just keep going and going year after year until it becomes a zombie that refuses to stay dead, like some other animated series, but I’m not mentioning any names.

SimpsonsFamily1

You know who you are.

Hasbro has mentioned that it’s already planning to reboot the Little Pet Shop franchise, and if that happens, a new animated series is likely to follow. We’d like to offer a few suggestions for the new LPS series (if there is one):

  1. It should follow the shorts format. Hasbro, every episode of LPS doesn’t need to be a full 22 minute episode. This show doesn’t need to utilize the half hour story format just because it’s big sister, MLP does. Honestly, many of the LPS seemed padded, so instead we think that each half hour of LPS should consist of two 10 minute shorts or possibly three 7 minute shorts per show.
  2. If Blythe Baxter (or a similar sort of character) is in the LPS reboot series, just have her start out with 2 happily married parents from the get-go. No more of that absent mother BS. I don’t want to go through this crap again.

Overall, I’m giving the series finale of Littlest Pet Shop a 2.5 out of 5. the finale was OK, but it could have been a lot better. I would have preferred that LPS went out with a bang rather than a whimper, but perhaps the rebooted series will be a tad more electric.

So long, Littlest Pet Shop. It’s too bad that there’s officially one less reason tune in to Discovery Family now. There’s nothing left to say except…Hit it, boys!

 

Why Sunil Nevla is Awesome!

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  1. He’s a mongoose, an animal that’s not commonly depicted in cartoons.
  2. He sports a styling teal colored coat.
  3. He’s Indian American. You’ve gotta love the accent.
  4. He dabbles in black magic. OK, it’s mostly parlor based magic tricks, but give him time.
  5. He’s got several neuroses and anxieties. I can relate.
  6. He’s not afraid to show his sensitive side. Now that’s manly!
  7. He manages to be neurotic and sarcastic at the same time.
  8. He’s voiced by Peter New.
  9. He’s bromantically involved with a dancing gecko who sports a John Travolta hair style.
  10. He thinks that Penny Ling is cute. The dude’s got good taste.
  11. He can go medieval on cobras.
  12. Like Thor on The Super Hero Squad Show, nearly everything that comes out of this guy’s mouth is a stitch!

The Hub: What Could Have Been

Well, folks, we’re approaching the final week of The Hub network being called The Hub. Next Monday (October 13) will mark the beginning of The Hub’s rebrand as Discovery Family.

Disc Fam logo

Hasbro will still be in control of the channel from 5 AM to 5 PM, but the rest of the hours will be programmed by Discovery. Yesterday, I came across one of the promos for Discovery Family. Take a look:

That’s it? Just a bunch of educational science, nature and animal documentaries?? Color me underwhelmed. So let’s examine this, shall we? Going by the above promo, Discovery Family’s lineup will have no animated shows (except for the established Hasbro properties such My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and Transformers Rescue Bots), no scripted shows and no movies. It’s almost as though Discovery wants this channel to fail. DiscFam is probably going to be an even bigger bomb than the XFL. Yeah, The Hub’s airing old sitcom reruns in prime time was a phenomenally stupid programming decision, but does Discovery honestly believe that they can gain a substantial following by running a bunch of educational documentaries and reality programs in their place? What kind of network that wants to attract kids doesn’t have any cartoons on it’s lineup? That’s just dumb! And yes, I know that live action shows are cheaper to produce than animated shows, but even if DiscFam brought back some of their old Discovery Kids shows in reruns, that would be better than having no cartoons on the lineup at all. After I first saw this promo, my initial thought for the future of Discovery Family was this:

I predict that this new schedule is going to go over like a lead balloon covered with fat people. Even the DiscFam logo looks dull, generic and uninspired. Admittedly, I kind of like the tagline “Let’s Go!”, but it’s wasted on this snooze fest of a lineup. It makes me wish that Hasbro had partnered with some other company to launch it’s family oriented family cable channel and Discovery wasn’t involved at all. This leads me to ponder what things may have been like had Hasbro hitched it’s wagon to another company besides Discovery. Here are a few choices. Before I start, I’m going to say that the Big 3 (Disney, Warner Brothers and Viacom) are already off of the table, since they already have active family oriented cable channels, so we don’t have to imagine what their family channels would be like. That said, to borrow DiscFam’s tagline, Let’s go!

HASBRO AND DREAMWORKS

Dreamworks wouldn’t want to do this, and they have no reason to do it, but imagine if Hasbro and DreamWorks had partnered up and launched a family oriented cable channel. Not only would said channel be able to air all of the movies from the Shrek, Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda franchises as well as How To Train Your Dragon, but they’d also be able to air the DreamWorks series such as Monsters VS Aliens, Penguins of Madagascar, Dragons: Riders/Defenders of Berk, Kung-Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness and the upcoming animated series based on The Croods. Also Dreamworks currently owns the Classic Media library, which  includes the UPA TV catalogue, Harvey Entertainment, Big Idea Productions, Filmation and the license rights to Gumby, Voltron and the Jay Ward productions. This means that this hypothetical channel could also air reruns of Rocky & Bullwinkle and Felix the Cat, as well as any new adaptations of said projects.  Add to that My Little Pony:Friendship is Magic, Transformers and Littlest Pet Shop, and it sounds like a winner to me.

ADDENDUM: As it happens, a Hasbro/Dreamworks partnership almost happened, but Dreamworks’ president Jeffry Katzenberg wanted too much money and power, so Hasbro backed out of the deal. And the Greek chorus moans “More’s the pity.”

HASBRO AND 20TH CENTURY FOX

I know that FOX wouldn’t be interested in doing this, since their last attempt at a family friendly cable channel (Fox Family) didn’t end well and they already have a couple of cable channels under their belt, but it would be pretty cool if FOX had a showcase for their Fox Kids library of shows, as well as any new series that the studio would want to produce. Furthermore, there wouldn’t be the issue of what the channel would air at night after the kids have gone to bed, since this channel could air the FOX prime time shows and/or some of the FX or FXX programs. Plus, FOX owns The Simpsons lock, stock and barrel, so there wouldn’t be any issues if they wanted to air reruns of that on this channel.

HASBRO AND NBC/UNIVERSAL

I think that Hasbro and Universal would get along pretty well. Partnered with Universal, this hypothetical channel could air the likes of Woody Woodpecker and some of Universal Studios movies. Plus, Universal owns Qubo and Sprout. ‘ Nuff said.

HASBRO AND COOKIE JAR

Under this partnership, we would have a channel that had access to all of the Hasbro properties as well of all of the shows on Cookie Jar TV and KEWLopolis.

Honestly, any of these partnerships sounds better than what we’re getting. Now, it’s possible that Discovery may surprise us all by pulling something really special out of their collective sleeves, but I’m not counting on that. After seeing that Discovery Family promo and reading what Discovery’s master plan for the channel is, I have only this to say to all of them.

Talkin’ Nerdy: Hub Needs Moms

Today on Talkin’ Nerdy I’d like to discuss something which has getting up my craw for some time now, and is really just part of a darker, more disturbing trend that’s been grinding my gears for much of my creative life:  namely, the trend of leaving mother characters out of the fun in fiction, specifically the curious lack of mothers on notable Hub shows.

For instance, take Transformers Rescue Bots….please. OK, that was kind of a cheap shot, but when I first heard about this show and it was compared to the likes of Marvel’s Super Hero Squad Show, I actually thought TRB was going to be lighthearted wacky spoof show a la SHS or Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Instead, we get this somewhat stale show meant to teach kids about safety and clearly and very visibly intended to sell a new wave of Transformers toys to prepubescent boys. Look, I have nothing against safety and lessons about safety; heck, as a kid I received an Officer Friendly coloring book and I liked it well enough, and I understand that it’s show business and many of The Hub’s shows are designed to sell toys, but I have a greater appreciation for the ones that at least try to entertain me a bit in the process of pounding lessons into my head and coaxing me to buy stuff. Rescue Bots‘ biggest crime is that it’s just dull.

It’s second biggest crime is the point of this discussion: OK, the premise of TRB is that these 4 Transformers land on an island town somewhere in Maine called Griffin Rock, where a group of Autobots named Heatwave, Boulder, Blades and Chase respond to Optimus Prime’s message for any active Autobots in space to arrive to Earth. Coming out of a long stasis, learning what became of Cybertron and that they are the only Rescue-Bot team remaining, they are partnered with the Burns family composed of first response rescuers. Together, they learn teamwork and heroism alongside their human friends as they deal with various disasters. Each bot is paired with a different family member relating to what type of vehicle they are: Chase turns into a police car and so is partnered with dad Chief Charlie Burns, Heatwave turns into a fire engine and is partnered with firefighting son Kade Burns, Boulder turns into bulldozer and is partnered with construction engineer son Graham Burns, and Blades turns into a rescue helicopter and is partnered with helicopter pilot daughter Dani Burns. The youngest member of the family, the very blond Cody Burns, is the bland kid protagonist of the show. What’s wrong with this picture? Where’s Mama Burns? Forget where is she, who is she? They never mention a mother or her whereabouts. If Charlie’s a widower or a divorcee, then it must have just happened, since Cody doesn’t appear to be any older than 10. But why does the Burns family not have a mother? Would it have killed the show’s writers to include a mom as part of the team? Actually, from a marketing standpoint, I think I know why: Transformers Rescue Bots is aimed primarily at young boys, who by and large think “girls are icky”, and only a boy with mountain-sized self-esteem would be willing to own a Rescue Bot piloted by a mom. I think the only reason they have a daughter character is to avoid pressure from women’s groups. This show is so overtly boy-centric that the only 2 female characters of any importance on TRB have the androgynous names Dani and Frankie. So while I can see why there’s no Mom Burns, I still think it’s bullocks. If you’re going to put a daughter on the team, then you might as well have a mom. And for anyone who says that moms don’t make good action heroes, Helen Parr/Elastigirl from The Incredibles and Drew Saturday from The Secret Saturdays say hi. Heck, even the Bionic Six had a mom, and she was actually one of the heroes, she didn’t just stay home and bake cookies while the rest of the family was out saving the world.

 

The Transformers Rescue Bots family. But where’s Mom? Is she vacationing on Cyberton or did she just sample some of Sam Witwicky’s college roommate’s brownies??

But, wait: Cody’s platonic little friend Francine “Frankie” Greene doesn’t have a mother either. She has a dad, Doc Greene, but again, no sight, sign or mention of a mom. What the what, Hub? Do the producers of this show have some kind of mother-phobia or something? I could probably see 1 motherless family on the show, but 2? Really?? To add insult to injury, one episode featured a lady scientist whom Doc Greene seemed to have a thing for, and those feelings seemed to be mutual. OK, so it’s all right to have potential girlfriends dangled before the audience’s eyes, but moms are a big no-no? WTH? If the writers are going to give Doc a potential girlfriend, they could’ve just given him a wife to start with, and been done with it.

The Hub’s “Moms are kryptonite” mentality unfortunately isn’t restricted to 1 show on the network. Another guilty party in this alarming trend is Littlest Pet Shop. I actually like LPS so it pains to have to put this show on my hit list, but they’re guilty of the same crime: its’ protagonist, Blythe Baxter, lives with her dad, your typical goofball father Roger Baxter, but Mrs. Baxter is nowhere to be seen and is never mentioned, not even in passing. Even during a series of flashbacks in the “So You Skink You Can Dance”, we see little Blythe and her dad interacting, but still no mom to be seen or heard from anywhere. So was Blythe grown in a test tube or what?? I can at least understand why the Burns family on TRB doesn’t have a mother, though its one of the things I hate most about the show, but I at least get why from a marketing standpoint. Littlest Pet Shop, by contrast, is based on a toy line aimed squarely, if not exclusively, at girls, so I really don’t get why Blythe couldn’t have 2 parents on the show. Part of the reason why Roger is so frequently annoying is that there’s no contrast; the household needs a somewhat more competent parent to provide a counterbalance to Roger’s goofiness. It’s like having the Odd Couple with only Oscar. Heck, I would even take a goofy embarrassing mom over no mom at all. And what’s more, the show’s rivals/frenemy characters, Whitney and Britney Biskit, likewise don’t have a mother. They’re constantly mentioning their father, Fisher Biskit, whose even made a couple of appearances on the show, but again no mother. At first I though maybe Mrs. Biskit was just perpetually off-camera, but then the episode “Bakers and Flakers” aired, and the only parent to show up at the school bake-off was Fisher, basically confirming that the Biskits are likewise motherless.*

The closest thing Littlest Pet Shop has to a mother figure is the character of Blythe’s friend Youngmee Song’s Aunt Christie, but as her title implies, Christie is Youngmee’s aunt, not her mother. Though given her quasi-maternal relationship with her niece and also how so far we have yet to see any of Youngmee’s other adult relatives, the LPS writers could have easily made Christie Youngmee’s mom and it wouldn’t have altered the stories in any way. But apparently protagonists on Hub shows can’t have moms or else it would split the Earth in two. Even an upcoming Hub acquisition, Wizards VS Aliens, features a lead character who lives with his dad and grandma. So grandmothers are OK, but mothers? That’s the line, right? Got it, Hub.

 

Roger Baxter and his daughter Blythe, who was sculpted from magical clay on the island of Themyscira. Hey, show me where Blythe’s mom is and I’ll take it back.

I’m just going to say this right now, if you haven’t guessed already: I hate single fathers in fiction. The Dead/Missing Mom trope is one of my least favorite cliches in fiction, and it’s one I’ve vowed to never employ as a writer. Why, you may ask? I can’t provide a better answer than Jason, who when asked the same question, responded with this: “Because I like marriage humor and MILFs, and with single dads, you don’t get either.” I can’t speak for Transformers Rescue Bots, as I don’t proactively follow that show nor do I regularly converse with its’ fans, but I know that I’m not the only one who’s been asking about the identity or whereabouts of Blythe’s mother. It’s probably a subject that the show’s writers have no plans of ever addressing unless they’re pressured to by fans, similar to the question of whatever happened to Chuckie’s mother on Rugrats; the producers largely ignored this question but fans persisted in asking about it, so the producers were finally forced to acknowledge it and change the status quo accordingly, first with a Mother’s Day special, then by making it the plot of the 3rd movie. I don’t know if LPS needs to go that far, but it wouldn’t kill them to address it at least once, like, say, have Blythe lament “I miss Mom” in some given scene. Of course, if they had given Blythe a mom in the first place, they wouldn’t have to do anything.

Finally, I’d like to give an honorable mention to Dreamworks’ The Croods. It remains to be seen how well this movie will perform at the box office, but I’ll give Dreamworks one iota of credit in regards to the mother of the cave family, Ugga, namely, that they actually have a mother! In far too many animated family movies of this ilk, the mother is just straight-up dead before the movie even starts, but Dreamworks avoided that cliche here, and for that, I’m grateful. If we can see this tired old trope continue to get snuffed out over time, I’ll be a happier camper.

*ADDENDUM: In the subsequent seasons since this article was written, Hasbro has since rectified their ‘no mother’ situation on Littlest Pet Shop at least. Season 4 featured the first ever on-camera mention of Blythe’s mom Betty, and in an admittedly clever bit of comedy, in this same season it was also revealed that Whittany and Brittany Biskit also indeed have a mother. Furthermore, the writers turned the Biskits’ mom Eliza’s sudden appearance into an in-universe joke, implying that Eliza Biskit had been there all along and we the audience had simply never seen her before. Jason plans on doing a full retrospective on LPS’ 4th (and evidently, final) season sometime after season 4 is complete, but in the meantime…

Eliza_Biskit

Good on ya, Hasbro. Well played.