Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Ballad of Trixie Tang

                Perhaps the saddest thing about The Fairly OddParents is its wasted feministic potential. In regards to the cast as a whole, the most sensible of a surprisingly wide female cast are Wanda and Timmy’s mother, two similar characters from different worlds. You also have female peers to Timmy, and they can be the most aggravating. Depressingly, what could make for rich, deeply appealing characterization instead serve as creatures of the plot. They only exist to interact as false love interests and play to the completely misguided misery-as-comedy angle.

                One particularly egregious example is Trixie Tang, a rich, popular, beautiful girl. In theory, this character could work as a superficial love interest for our protagonist, because she is beautiful. Such a dynamic almost comes into play, albeit slightly clich├ęd – an ugly duckling named Tootie crushing on Timmy. Her backstory could enable this conceit to work, but the show clearly isn’t interested in developing it. The two girls seldom appear together, and rather Trixie Tang is only utilized as, in a sense “Forbidden Fruit”. She lures Timmy in, enables a wish in an effort to impress her, and the supposed comedic payoff is in Timmy bombing hard.

                Wait, what?

                Yeah, this show has ambitions for generating comedy from misery and Trixie Tang is only one of the many problems with that. A running gag revolving around someone always failing at impressing a peer he/she likes is not an inherently bad idea. In fact, it is a standard in many a cartoon show. But the thing about your Doug Funnies, Dipper Pineses, or even your Mordecais is that a cartoon guy would usually struggle to get the girl because he is too shy. Timmy is not shy, in fact he is often quite determined to impress Trixie. This dynamic more has Johnny Bravo ambitions to it in a guy asking for trouble. It is already tricky to pull this off with a child character, and it simply does not work for Timmy. To understand why would require its own entry, but suffice it to say the misery as comedy angle clashes big time with Timmy’s role in relating to the child watching at home.

                It doesn’t help matters that Trixie really lacks any real personality. But in one episode, season two’s “The Boy Who Would Be Queen” there are good seeds for one planted. Timmy wishes himself into a girl and manages to bond with Trixie over both boy stuff and girl stuff alike. This was not only a good lesson defying gender stereotypes (unlike other shows), but this also established potentially good character traits for Trixie as a closet tomboy. It’s just too bad that these traits were never brought up again after, only serving the “Forbidden Fruit” formula of this one episode.

                And on one last note, let me mention that this same show established a character only for the sake of cheap parodies of The Godfather. And yet somehow, he was meant to be taken seriously as Wanda’s father. This has totally convinced me that the writers were actively trying to make the kids watching dumber.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Regarding the Show's Potential, and What it Could Have Gone For


Something to consider regarding this show are the various factors influencing it. Of course, there is already a standard for wackiness, given that this is not only a cartoon but one for Nickelodeon. Furthermore, creator Butch Hartman worked for Hanna-Barbera Productions when Fred Seibert (also an executive producer on this show) encouraged creators to go nuts in their individual shorts/potential series. One show Hartman worked on during that time was Johnny Bravo, following the adventures of one larger-than-life character. There was never any doubt that The Fairly OddParents was meant to be a broad, free-wheeling farce, true to the cartoons of its home network and creator’s development.
But, let’s consider Johnny Bravo for a minute. On that show, it was clear that its overall setup was not so important. There may have been supporting characters with solid personalities, but they took a backseat to Johnny’s personality and the over-the-top consequences of his actions. Certain characters would only last a single episode, and the show itself was defined most of all by Johnny himself. The primary conceit was how much he wanted to pick up women.
By contrast, there were moments when The Fairly OddParents sought to be more serious in characterization. The supporting cast was meant to interact with Timmy Turner more, and there were supposed to be more serious consequences from interacting with him. There was something resembling a mythology to the fairy godparents, and rules and regulation to their magic. (It all served as a vehicle for life lessons for the kids watching, but still.) And sometimes, there would even be longer episodes striving for an epic tone, like a movie.
                One would think that even with the over-the-top tone of this show, more built-up characters would develop, as would a stronger consistency between their interactions with Timmy and the situations they would engage in. Instead, the show would use the supporting characters less and less over time. As it stands presently, the only characters who seem to matter are the core trio with a baby and a pet dog added in recent seasons. At best, Timmy’s parents would engage in a super-wacky scenario, and only two supporting characters ever had any recurring relevance (a villainous teacher seeking to expose Cosmo and Wanda, and an alien). The rest were grossly underdeveloped, serving little more than as a plot device when needed.
                This show could have built up a better mythology and developed its supporting characters a lot more if it wanted to live up to what it seemed to promise in earlier seasons. Trixie Tang could have softened to Timmy a little more and that would have tied into his relationship with Tootie. Vicky could have had more personality and rhyme or reason to her actions, instead of being evil just for the sake of being evil. I personally would have worked in more godchildren and set up spiffy fantasy concepts from that often, if only so Timmy can get a break from always keeping a secret. And this could have worked in a cartoony, very absurd style, without having to get too serious.
                Instead, we just get the same noise over and over, and at worst insultingly bad storylines.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Why Should I Care?

On this topic, this is the best question to ask first. After all, I was in seventh grade when this show premiered on Nickelodeon in 2001. I should have been too old to care about it. Just to be clear though, this should not be because "Cartoons are for kids" or whatnot. No, absolutely not. Not when CGI movies have wide appeal (even with something as light as Despicable Me), adult cartoons have heavy clout on the Fox network, or when adults are even willing to watch children's animation like Adventure Time.

But what of The Fairly OddParents? Why did I ever find this particular show "good"? Well, at least initially beneath its loud, overly absurd style it had a good story and characters. There was genuine chemistry between the core three characters  and a supporting cast with grand potential to boot. There were a lot of great fantasy concepts established too. And it was funny on occasion, sometimes with subtle adult humor. With the right approach this could have been a great show for both kids and adults.

So what happened? Over the course of ten years, the writers got lazy. The show was cancelled and revived, more than once in fact (!). When it returned, more questionable creative decisions were made. We got more basic jokes and references to specific pop cultural elements appealing to the creator. Only poor fantasy and mythology decisions were made from here on out, and any narrative value was drowned out by the horrendously cynical attempts at social satire.

So I should just let this show die, right? Maybe, but for some reason Nickelodeon isn't. Like I said it was revived twice and I heard nothing about it fading from the air now or anytime soon. This is probably because Nick in recent years has really struggled to launch a new hit cartoon show. (It's gotten so bad that they just up and bought the Ninja Turtles. I'm convinced it was so they could have a solid franchise.) Supposedly a good show should come along at some time, but I'm convinced that The Fairly OddParents could be rebooted and reworked into a vastly superior show. Perhaps the hit Nickelodeon needs.

After all, I've seen a truly "hopeless" show before that did reasonably die out, Chowder on the Cartoon Network. And expect that show to come up again very easily on this blog. Between the rapid rate of quality decay and the obsessed female love interest, there are potent parallels to be made with The Fairly OddParents.

Watch this space for more essays over time. I will review individual episodes, discuss characterization (specifically the supporting cast), and go over certain fantasy concepts. I will laud points when the show did work, offer suggestions for improvement, dissect why the worst moments were so inexcusable, and try to comprehend the thought that went into the production based on the final product. After all, I'm a fan. I want to see it be good. But there's one tiny issue:

This Show Drives Me Crazy!