Unpopular Opinions: Quality VS Quantity

Over the years, there seems to be a trend towards “More is better”. hence, due largely to the success of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), the recent wave of comic book/superhero movies such as Batman V Superman: Dawn of Sucking, X-Men: Overstuffed and Ninja Turtles 2: The Legend of Curly’s Gold, are now trying to cram as many characters as they can into a single movie and on TV shows the trend leans toward expanded worlds with a large number of cast members…

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Hey! Did you spot Waldo?

…So naturally, I have to go against the grain and state this Unpopular Opinion:

I prefer small casts to large ones. Always have, and probably always will.

Yeah, I get that a lot of people think huge casts are great; there’s a ton of different characters and plots to explore, it feels more like an actual world, blah blah blah, but I’m more of a minimalist (and let’s face it: I’m also lazy); having to keep track of so many characters and story lines is a chore to me, and when there’s too many, I just lose interest.

Case in point: I was probably the only person on the internet who wasn’t having a fangasm when Cartoon Network’s Justice League mutated into Justice League Unlimited.

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The original JL format wasn’t perfect (I was never keen on the idea of Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman being on the team without Hawkman, not that she wasn’t a good or capable character, but in my mind she’s part of a duo and I can’t see her alone, and shipping Hawkgirl with someone other than her spouse and turning Hawkman into a Shayera Hol fanboy stalker didn’t sit right with me at all) but it was worlds better than the format change. I never liked the expansion of the League from the Super 7 to the JL Army; I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now. For one, it just came off as gimmicky to me, like a ploy to sell more toys, especially since 2/3 of these new characters never actually did anything. Some people were fan-wanking:

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“At the end of the Static Shock episode “A League of Their Own”, the heroes said that Static and Gear would be joining the Justice League one day, so why weren’t they on JLU? Where were they?”

To which I respond, if Gear and Static were actually going to be the focus of stories and you know, do stuff, then I’d be totally fine with them appearing on JLU; they’re both cool characters, but I don’t see the need to put them on the show just to occasionally see them hovering in the background every few episodes.

-FTR, we did get to see Static in the League in “Time, Warped”…

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…and we got a glimpse of Gear in the SS episode “Future Shock”…

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Too much time in front of a monitor, I see…

..So there’s that.

The other reason I didn’t like the JL Army was because it cheapened the whole product; made it look like any Joe Shmoe with a flashy costume and a gimmick could get into the League; not the best image to convey for what’s supposed to be the greatest force for good on the planet. A club’s not exclusive if just anybody can be a member. If the League was going to open their doors for total jobbers like Vibe, Gypsy, Shining Knight and Vigilante, then they might as well have gone the whole 9 yards and stuck Mr. T, Inspector Gadget, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling and the Super Globetrotters in there as well. The producers wanted to bring in some other DC characters to mix things up? Fine. Then just bring the occasional Super Guest like they used to do on the old Super Friends show and keep the Big 7 as an elite (and exclusive) group.

When it comes to fiction, I happen to follow the rule of KISS:

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DETROIT ROCK CITY!!

That being Keep It Simple, Stupid. Give a hoot, don’t convolute . Don’t over-complicate things when it’s not necessary. Keep everything streamlined and only focus on the main characters and their stories. This results in a better quality end product, since the creator only has to concentrate on the characters that matter, rather than trying to squeeze in a ton of ancillary characters that you really don’t need and have no real reason to be there.

A good example of the latter is The Amazing World of Gumball.

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Gumball‘s producers seem to want to take a Simpsons type approach to the show, focusing on the entire town/world as a whole and intent on giving every single character a spotlight episode, even the 1-note, 1-joke characters who simply aren’t interesting or capable enough to sustain an entire plot…

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…Whereas my brother Jason feels that the show should focus solely (if not exclusively) on the Watterson family first and foremost, and I have to say, based on what I’ve seen of Gumball, I have to agree with him. (Big surprise, I know.)

It’s like the game Sonic Heroes. Why cram your game full of a bunch of ham ‘n’ eggers that most people aside from super-hardcore fans really don’t care about…

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..When you could just as easily make a kick-ass game that only stars the biggest, most dimensional and most layered characters that people actually want to play as?

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Again, think KISS: Keep It Simple, Sir. Let’s not confuse quantity with quality. More doesn’t automatically equal better, or even as good. Some of the best comedians used restricted tools, and some of the greatest works of all time have done so by keeping things small: The Honeymooners and All in the Family each had only 4 protagonists, Sanford & Son and Two’s Company only had 2. Red Dwarf, one of THE best shows of all time, has never had more 3 or 4 regular cast members (5 counting Holly). The best Looney Tunes shorts have always centered on only 2 or 3 characters at a time, like Bugs and Elmer or Bugs and Sam or Bugs and Marvin or Bugs and Taz or Bugs and Daffy or Bugs, Daffy and Elmer or Daffy and Porky or Daffy and Marvin or Porky and Sylvester. I’ve always preferred smaller casts and fewer main characters. If the characters you have are cool and interesting, you don’t need a ton of characters.

I’d rather have a small set of elites and mega-stars…

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..Than a squad of D-Listers…

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…Any day.

Talkin’ Nerdy: That’s MY Line!

Remember the Powerpuff Girls short “Schoolhouse Rocked”? That was the one where a truant officer named Mr. Wednesday (an obvious parody of Joe Friday from Dragnet voiced by Gregg Berger) shanghais the Gang Green Gang and places them in Pokey Oaks Kindergarten, the classroom of the Powerpuff Girls, and things go as well as you’d expect. At the end of the short, when Wednesday collects the beaten up Gang at the end of the day, Miss Keane beans Wednesday with a dodge ball, and tells the triumphant Girls that Mr. Wednesday has taught them all a valuable lesson. Bubbles says this:

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To which Miss Keane replies “No, never turn your back in a dodge ball game!” Cue end-of-episode cartoon laughter.

A funny short, but that line about education didn’t quite work for me. Not the line itself, but who delivered it. Why was Bubbles given that line? It was funny, but it was way too intellectual a thing for Bubbles to say. Blossom is the smart one, the academically advanced one; she should have said that. The writers only gave that line to Bubbles because Bubbles is the fan favorite character. I know this comes off as sour grapes because Blossom is my personal favorite Powerpuff Girl, but it’s not that (well, not entirely); the line just seemed out of character for Bubbles and it seemed like she only got the line due to her popularity with fans and nothing else.

I’ve seen this happen elsewhere: when then President George H.W. Bush gave his now infamous speech about how Americans needed to be “more like The Waltons and less like The Simpsons“, the Simpsons writers naturally responded to this in-episode; they showed the family watching the Bush speech on TV and had Bart say:

“Hey, we’re just like the Waltons. We’re praying for the end of the Depression too.”

Again, a good clever line, but once again it was too clever for a character like Bart to say. To me, that seemed like the perfect Lisa line. She’s the smart one. But Lisa could never crack wise, oh no no no. It’s gotta be Bart, ’cause he’s the one who was adorning T-shirts and bumper stickers all across America.

Yet another example of this occurred during Bugs Bunny’s 50th birthday. Warner Brothers came out with a commemorative magazine celebrating the occasion which featured other cartoon characters paying tribute to Bugs. One of Matt Groening’s contributions was a drawing of the Simpsons all holding up a banner reading “HAPPY 50TH BIRTHDAY, BUGS!” with Bart adding the pithy comment, “Do you know how much that is in bunny years?” Again, a clever quip, but again, too smart for Bart. I doubt realistically that Bart even knows how much that is in bunny years. That also seemed more appropriate for Lisa to say; even during the characters’ tenure in the Tracey Ullman Show shorts, when both characters were more or less equally bratty, it was always implied that Lisa was the smarter of the two; but by this time the nation was in the grips of Bart-Mania, so he got to say all the clever lines, whether they were suited for him or not.

I guess it’s true what they say:

“There’s no ‘i’ in ‘team’, but there’s 4 ‘i”s in ‘Obvious fan favorite is obvious’.