I would not call “Princess Spike” a “bad episode”, but I hated watching “Princess Spike”. Apparently, I’m not alone in this.
By conventional wisdom, this is not surprising; Spike episodes are frequently unpopular. And “Princess Spike” typifies a common complaint about Spike episodes; they usually feature Spike failing miserably. And yeah, I found it painful to watch as the little guy utterly shit the bed for 22 minutes.
So the reason I disliked “Princess Spike” seems pretty obvious; it’s tiresome to watch Spike consistently fail.
Right? Well, not so fast.
Film Crit Hulk has an essay entitled “Tangible Details” that simultaneously does 2 things for me: it makes me 1) really excited about analyzing fiction, and 2) never want to analyze fiction ever again. The TLDR: it’s possible (and common) to be mistaken about the reasons you like/dislike a work (or anything, really). People will often focus on the titular tangible details, missing the real source of their troubles:
THERE ACTUALLY SUBCONSCIOUS WAY IN WHICH MOST OF US ABLE PROCESS SIMPLE GOOD OR BADNESS OF JUST ABOUT ANYTHING…BUT WHEN COME TIME ACTUALLY EXPLAIN [what’s good or bad], NOT EVERYONE HAVE LANGUAGE/VERNACULAR TO BEST EXPRESS WHAT AT PLAY. SO ONLY WAY CAN EXPLAIN ANYTHING BY PRESENTING EVIDENCE. AND EVIDENCE 100% DEPENDENT ON THINGS WE NOTICE. AND THOSE THE TANGIBLE DETAILS.
… and FOR MOST PEOPLE, IT NOT ALWAYS THE RIGHT DETAILS PER SAY, BUT INSTEAD THE ONES THAT SIMPLY STICK OUT MOST.
Spike’s ineptitude sounds a lot like one of Film Crit Hulk’s Tangible Details. Especially since in most good stories, protagonists screw up and things go very wrong.
Case in point: “Party Pooped”, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Much like “Princess Spike”, “Party Pooped” is a story in which everything goes horribly wrong. The protagonists fail miserably until the last few minutes. Yet I enjoyed it much more than “Princess Spike”. Why?
There are probably many reasons, but here’s one major difference between the two episodes: the timing of the consequences of failure. The consequences of the Mane Six’s failures in “Party Pooped” occur throughout the episode. In fact, they’re the primary source of the humor; watching as the Yaks smash everything and the Mane Six freak out is hilarious.
By contrast, Spike’s failures in “Princess Spike” don’t really bite him until the last few minutes. This means that for the first 18 minutes of the episode, we all know that something horrible is going to happen — but it hasn’t yet. This is very effective for building suspense, but that suspense is painful, rather than entertaining (for me, anyway — YMMV on that, of course).
Taken together, the episodes suggest a lesson; stories about failure can be entertaining. But the effect is very different, depending upon how you organize the consequences of that failure. If you want failure to be funny, show its consequences throughout the story. If you want failure to be suspenseful, wait for the end.
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