Thursday, 13 February 2014

Half-time report: Season 4 so far

MLP:FiM S4 opening titles
Photo Finish is the only one who hasn't been in an episode yet...
It seems like only yesterday that we were preparing ourselves for the start of Season 4 of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic after the long, long wait since the end of Season 3. Now, amazing as it may seem, S4 has reached the halfway stage and so it seems an appropriate time to take stock and reflect on how things have gone so far. It's no secret that many people – including me to a certain extent – found S3 something of a disappointment; has S4 continued that feeling of decline or have things taken a turn for the better?

In my opinion, at least, it's most definitely the latter. S4 has been wonderful so far, and I feel it now has a serious shot at ending up as my favourite season of the lot. I haven't rated a single episode lower than 6.5 – though, as we'll see in a minute, that may change when I reassess my scores after E26 – and there have been several eps that I feel will stand with the very best that FiM has offered us since its beginnings in the autumn of 2010. One thing is for sure: this ride has plenty of mileage left in it. So, looking at the 13 episodes so far, how have they done?

I think there's really only been one real mis-step: "Power Ponies". This is the ep that I suspect may end up with a lower score in post-season analysis, since it increasingly rubs me up the wrong way. It still contained plenty to enjoy, but the problem was that it didn't really feel like a My Little Pony episode. Admittedly neither did "Castle Mane-ia", which was basically Scooby Doo with hooves, but that one was a good deal more fun. I can't help thinking that "Power Ponies" three-writer combo might have caused a "too many cooks" situation.

Talking of writers, we've had several newcomers this season. Ignoring Betsy McGowan and (none other than) Jason Thiessen, who've only been co-writers with established scribes, S4 has seen the debuts of Josh Haber, Ed Valentine and Natasha Levinger. It's Levinger who's done best, writing the absolutely superb "Pinkie Apple Pie", currently my favourite S4 episode. Valentine's "Flight to the Finish" was pretty good, while Haber gave us "Castle Mane-ia" and "Simple Ways" and seems to write stories that are a little different from the norm.

This season's songs have been extremely good on the whole. I don't think there's been a poor track among them, and several are likely to stand as top-drawer material for many years to come. "Apples to the Core" looks likely to become a fandom favourite; it's surely going to get many outings at cons. "Stop the Bats" is quite a departure with its Tim Burton-esque feel, while "Generosity" is just plain wonderful. Then, of course, there are the songs Pinkie Pie shares with Cheese "Weird Al" Sandwich in "Pinkie Pride", all of which are very good indeed.

Talking of Pinkie brings me to one of the few real complaints I have about S4 so far. Rather too often, she's been rather flanderised: written as though all she did was to be crazy and random. You can see this at its worst in an episode like "Three's a Crowd", in which her balloon-chasing antics just felt wrong. "Castle Mane-ia" wasn't great in this regard, either. Levinger showed everybody how Pinkie should be written in "Pinkie Apple Pie", while the recent "Pinkie Pride" was also excellent. If you can make a sad Pinkie song convincing, then you're probably doing it right!

I could make some other small complaints: one is that Fluttershy has been a bit underused (except in "Bats!"). For the most part, though, I'm delighted by S4 so far. Most of the episodes have been very good to great, and even those which haven't fared so well (eg "Simple Ways") have generally made me laugh at some point. We have the "key" mystery to chew on, Scootaloo's non-flying has been (sort of) addressed, the animation has improved again and we've even seen the triumphant return of Derpy. If the second half is as good as the first, I'll be very pleased.

No comments:

Post a Comment