“Slice of Life” was bad — and I want to see more episodes like it

Hoo, boy — that just happened.

Seriously.  All of that.  Just happened.

Seriously. All of that. Just happened.

And…it wasn’t very good.

In fact — it was just bad.

The animation was good, the voice-acting was good, the music was good, the gags were good, the moral was good — but the storytelling was just a train-wreck.  It was rushed, there were way too many sub-stories going on, conflicts were introduced and resolved far too quickly for the audience to get invested, and it relied largely upon characters who had never been developed.

I know that this was meant to be a different kind of episode — the goal here was to write a love-letter to the fans, rather than to tell a good story.  But that goal is a problem, for 2 reasons.

First of all, I’d argue that telling great stories should always be FiM‘s #1 goal.

But there’s a more important reason; The FiM Team has already written tons of love-letters to the fans.  From Derpy’s initial appearance, to the meta-commentary in “Daring Don’t”, to Discord’s reformation, to Derpy’s return, to the slew of cameos and inside-jokes in Rainbow Rocks, to (most recently) finally getting to explore the Griffon Kingdoms.  All of these are fantastic tributes to the collective creativity of the fans.

But they weren’t great tributes just because they referenced the ideas of the fans — they were great tributes because they used those ideas to help tell great stories.  And because of that, all of those little cameos, background gags, and sub-plots are far more effective love-letters to the fans than “Slice of Life.”

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, so let me be very clear; I love the fact that the creators of FiM engage so thoroughly with the fans.  I love that the fans — collectively — have influenced the show.  I love the fact that Meghan McCarthy, Jim Miller, M.A. Larson, Sibsy, Daniel Fucking Ingram, William Anderson, and all the rest of the crew are dedicated, creative, and insane enough to devote an entire freaking episode to a fan-tribute.

But a problem arises if the fan-tribute prevents them from telling a good story.

But you know what’s really weird?  I actually don’t think that’s what happened here.

This is the most surprising thing about “Slice of Life”; I don’t think the real source of the problems was fanservice.  Because within this episode are the roots for a lot of great stories.  Matilda and Cranky’s wedding, Derpy’s search for a flower-replacement, Dr. Whooves’ emergency tailoring, Lyra and Bon-Bon’s spat, Octavia’s artistic frustration — all of these could make for a ton of fantastic stories.

But that’s exactly the problem; they could make for a ton of fantastic stories.  But the episode only has room for one or two.

Ironically, in trying to do something different, bizarre, and unexpected, FiM fell prey to its most common problem; it tried to do too much in too little time.  As a result, none of the stories have the time they need to be effective.

But imagine that they did — imagine that the primary actors in this were limited to (for example) Matilda, Cranky, Muffins Derpy, and The Doctor, with all the others as secondary characters — a few lines and roles, but no scenes where they’re the primary focus.

That could have worked really well. We could have gotten to spend some quality time with these characters, while they try to handle a (comparatively) mundane crisis in the shadow of the Bugbear attack.  That could provide a much better story, and would still communicate the episode’s moral.  But as-is, there’s just too many story threads being crammed into this episode, and they all lose their impact.

Yes, I am aware that I am advocating a world in which this scene does not exist.  Sometimes in life, we must make hard choices.

Yes, I am aware that I am advocating a world in which this scene does not exist.  Sometimes in life, we must make hard choices.

BUT:

All that said — for all its problems, all its flaws, and all the ways it breaks the rules of storytelling — I still praise this episode.

I do this for one very important reason; it shows a willingness to experiment.  And with a show of this size, budget, and profile, that’s a pretty big deal; and it needs to be praised if we want to see more of it.

Those who regard “Slice of Life” as nothing more than pandering (whatever we decide that means) are viewing it in an oversimplified fashion.  It’s also an attempt to collaborate — in some small way — with thousands of people.  It’s an attempt to devote some time to “unimportant” characters.  It asks the question “what does everyone else do while the heroes are saving the world?”, and actually tries to provide an answer.  It features a one-note pet character delivering an existential monologue that is actually kind of thought-provoking.  It invites the audience to ask ourselves; “which stories are worth telling?”

I want to see more experiments.  I want to see more cartoons that do weird stuff.  I want to see more big-budget productions trying things that are Simply Not Done(TM).  And if the price is that 1 episode in 100 is a dud — well, frankly, that’s a hell of a bargain.

Great idea, execution was lacking.  Keep experimenting, FiM Team.  I’m stoked to see what you do next.


Want to know when I’ve thought of something new and interesting about the narrative techniques of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic?  Yeah, neither would I, probably.  But just in case, you can suscribe via email at the top of the page (right side), follow The Pony’s Litterbox on Tumblr, or follow me on Twitter.

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3 Responses to “Slice of Life” was bad — and I want to see more episodes like it

  1. Lucky Leaf says:

    I’m not sure it could have been anything other than that. It was a love letter, for sure, but they can’t afford spending multiple episodes to focus on every character the fandom is attached to.

    The main audience, and even large parts of the fandom, would still rather see more mane 6 and CMC adventures. Those who don’t look into fanfic and fanart may not even get what this episode was about, how would they take multiple episodes like it?

  2. Unknownlight says:

    See, I actually disagree. I think the episode did a good job at executing the story, much better than I expected it to. It’s a small and low-key plot, but a strong one nevertheless. The main plot revolved around Cranky, Matilda, the Doctor, and Derpy, and I thought it was well-executed.

    We have Cranky and Matilda worried about their wedding, rushing around trying to organize things and going through multiple mini skits (“I need my ring today, no matter the cost! …As long as it doesn’t cost any extra”). Along the way, Matilda realizes the true meaning of marriage, before extra drama gets added on top by Steven Magnet. Meanwhile Derpy, who caused the mess in the first place, tries to figure out how to make it up to the engaged couple, and she and the Doctor have fun interactions. After failing to get flowers, she instead goes for the Doctor’s well-foreshadowed flameless fireworks, oblivious to the Doctor’s warnings. Vinyl and Octavia (and Amethyst Star behind the scenes, I suppose) somehow get everyone to the wedding on time. Steven Magnet redeems himself by making a new wig for Cracky (him losing the one Pinkie gave him back in “A Friend in Deed” due to Vinyl and Octavia’s insanity), which also bring Steven Magnet’s character full-circle from his role in the pilot, also showing that he’s learned from Rarity’s generosity then. The wedding is a big success, and when the groom and bride kiss, the flameless fireworks finally ignite (with “love” being the spark, solving the Doctor’s mystery), bringing a jubilant end to the wedding. Derpy succeeded in making the wedding great after nearly ruining it at the beginning of the episode.

    That’s quite a lot more than I expected from an episode like this, and I really liked it. There were also extra subplots along the way, like the Bugbear story (which was split between the Mane 6 and Lyra and Bon Bon), Vinyl and Octavia’s story, and the Lebowski story. If we’re looking to improve the episode, I’d say the Lebowskis probably should’ve been cut, and it has no relevance to the main plotline and fans aren’t terribly interested in the Lebowskis as background ponies. The Vinyl and Octavia story has nearly no plot, but it didn’t really intend to. I think the scene with them jamming in their house was a bit overlong, and Lyra and Bon Bon’s story could’ve been expanded, especially since it also concerned the Mane 6’s story.

    But really, all of the episode’s frantic POV switching was brought to a great conclusion with the Mayor’s speech at the end, and the moral that it’s not just the “main characters” in your life that makes things special—it’s everyone, whether they play a big or small part, and everyone is the star of their own story even if they’re just a background character in yours. It was really sweet, and one of the few times that the format of an episode itself supported its moral.

    I know that people mostly only care about this episode because of all the fandom stuff, but I think that it deserves more than people give it credit for. It was a densely-packed, small-stakes, slice-of-life episode with tons of entertaining scenes and interactions, charming characters, and a good conclusion that wrapped everything up really nicely. It’s not the type of episode I’d want on a regular basis, but…well, I really liked it!

    Thanks M.A. Larson!

  3. Bismarx says:

    I disagree. I loved this episode.

    Now, I disliked “Magical Mystery Cure” for its rushed pacing, and I hated “Make New Friends but Keep Discord” for its barrage of wacky jokes. This episode has both rushed pacing (like you said, it crams an awful lot of plot into 20 minutes) and constant wackiness, so it seems inconsistent of me to praise it.

    But that’s exactly the point: atmosphere and plot density should match each other. “Make New Friends but Keep Discord” had a very simple, one-track plot (“Discord doesn’t get picked as Fluttershy’s date to the Gala and is a petty five-year-old about it”) and tried to build a tower of “chaos” and “randomness” on that foundation; the result felt cheap and forced. “Magical Mystery Cure” had the exact opposite problem: it crammed too much plot (and too many songs) into its 20 minutes, resulting in hold-on-to-your-hats pacing – and tried to play it all for serious drama, which didn’t work out.

    In “Slice of Life” there was a perfect match: the rushed pacing supported the “oh man, what kind of crazy thing is going to happen next?” feel. As a result, nothing felt awkward or out of place, and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.

    So, I loved “Slice of Life”, and not just because it was packed with fanon references (although those were great; I particularly liked Gummy’s moment). I loved it because it went for a radically different tone than regular FiM fare – zany, fast-paced, four-lines-all-waiting comedy – and got it right.

    (All the same, I agree that episodes like this shouldn’t become a regular thing. Reading one chapter full of short sentences and exclamation marks can be fun, but if the whole story is like that it quickly gets boring.)

    P.S.: In the interest of full disclosure, I originally came here because Unknownlight linked to his own comment, above, on another forum (though of course I have visited your blog before).

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