Monday, 8 August 2016

Episode review: S6E14: "The Cart Before the Ponies"

Cheerilee gets the derby underway
"Applejack, in line with Reg. 54(a)(iii) you are disqualified for not driving an open cart"
After last week's excellent episode, I was really looking forward to today's. Writer Ed Valentine has two previous writing credits on Friendship is Magic: the Discord-focused "Three's a Crowd" and the CMC-focused "Flight to the Finish". The latter ep has grown in my affections over time, so I was pretty optimistic about his chances of giving us another fine story featuring the Crusaders. After the break, I'll tell you whether he did.

I'm afraid not. As a big fan of real-life motorsport (not just F1, thank you!), perhaps I was expecting a little too much – but I was rather underwhelmed by this episode. It's not terrible, and there are several very nice touches, but it's not even close to "Stranger than Fan Fiction" on my personal scale. Actually, it's not even close to "Flight to the Finish", thanks to some disappointingly shallow characterisation and several annoying creative decisions. I'm not sure I'm going to be watching this one much in the future.

By far my biggest problem with this episode is the behaviour of the three big sisters. Applejack, Rainbow Dash and Rarity are somewhere on the scale between idiotic and obnoxious for most of the ep. I could perhaps have accepted this a little more easily back in Season One, when neither their characters nor those of the CMC were as well developed, but not now. Going nearly 20 minutes without so much as realising their sisters are upset doesn't ring true.

Unhappy Cutie Mark Crusaders
"Remember when we were gonna be Cutie Mark Crusader carpenters...?"
I'm also a bit disappointed with the way the race itself was set up. It seems to be a "gravity racing" event, judging by the steep downhill start and the classroom comments about converting potential to kinetic energy – though I wonder how Rainbow's "boost" steering wheel push works, then! Clockwork carts might have been more fun (hey, we had clockwork hair dryers in "The Best Night Ever"). And what on earth is up with that track design? Okay, I get that it's a nod to console racers of the Mario Kart school, but it was a crash waiting to happen from the very beginning.

Not one of Cheerilee's finest moments, then, though it must be said that it's not the first time she's been a little cavalier about the pastoral care element of her job. On the other hand, I don't go along with those who've complained that her miniskirted cheerleader's uniform is inappropriate. After all, this is a world where both teacher and pupils routinely go around naked. :P I'm not exactly sure why Cheerilee is doing this job, though – why isn't Pinkie all over it?

The best things about this episode are generally to be seen in the background. Bulk Biceps' drink hat, for example, or what looked suspiciously like a G4 Firefly in the crowd near the end. We even get a funny Scootachicken joke. One thing I do like in the main narrative is the Rarity flashback, in which we learn that she was pipped to the post by Derpy, of all ponies. Given the American pronunciation of Derby, it's a shame they're not allowed by Hasbro to utter the word on the show since "Derpy Derby" would be a fantastic phrase!

Rainbow pushing her wrecked cart
Ah, it was a Demolition Derby! No wonder Derpy won back then!
The song, then. Like several others this season, I think it's quite fun but not a classic. Its accompanying animation had echoes of "Babs Seed" from S3, though the song itself isn't as good. It was clearly trying to put across a Wacky Races feel, but if anything the episode wasn't nearly wacky enough. If only Diamond Tiara hadn't been reformed, as her former self would have been perfect in the Dick Dastardly role, with Silver Spoon as her Mutley! Rainbow Dash does barge a couple of carts off the track, but really.

Regrettably, this episode doesn't really live up to the premise's potential. It has a pretty solid moral, but you can see it coming almost from the start. It's, ironically enough, rather pedestrian. The older ponies are unpleasant for much of the time. The track design is ridiculous. The ending is a bit dull and the story feels a tad on the unfinished side. Although not a disaster by any means, "The Cart Before the Ponies" joins S6's already rather too long list of "meh" episodes.

Flashback to Derpy beating Rarity
Given how Equestrian weather works, which pegasus is causing this, hmm?

Best quote: Snails: "Oh, phew! For a second, I thought we were gonna have to, you know, learn stuff."

Yays
  • Some funny touches in the background
  • A moderately good, reasonably catchy song
  • Derpy! Especially in the Rarity flashback
Neighs
  • Applejack, Rainbow Dash and Rarity are unappealing
  • The ludicrous track design, without even a hoofwaving explanation
  • Not sufficiently fast-moving for a racing episode
  • Rainbow Dash's dangerous driving going unpunished
  • "Derby" rhymes with "Barbie", you silly North Americans! :P
★★

10 comments:

  1. Excellent choice of header image! ;)
    Despite her apparent lack of safety appreciation, Cheerilee kinda shined this episode. I love some of the expressions they gave her, and her outfit looked cute.

    Having given it another watch, the episode is kinda fun once you ignore all the really bad aspects (like the mane 3). And Scootaloo was adorable again.

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  2. Wait, you guys pronounce 'derby' differently? D: Fuck's sake, stop making things up!

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    1. Isn't the British pronunciation something closer to "Darby?"

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    2. Yes. And as 90% of English accents are non-rhotic, that's "DAH-bee", too. It's annoying in a pony context, because it means things like the Derbyshire/Derpyshire pun don't really work in speech.

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    3. Yup, that's the one. I actually live in the city called 'Derby' (which is pronounced 'Daaarbeh' by the locals. :p
      There's also the famous horse race called the Derby, held at the Epsom Downs track.

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    4. See, I just thought that was how you said the town, not the word at large. :P

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  3. Why was Cheerilee the cheerleader rather than Pinkie? So she should be a Cheerileader, of course.

    This was an average episode for me, though I was plenty annoyed that they asked why the Crusaders didn't speak up. Apple Bloom did nothing BUT speak up! Repeatedly! So, yeah. The oblivious behavior didn't really click with me.

    It's a long standing problem with MLP, though. They seem to have a problem finding a villain in episodes, so in the absence of that, they just make someone temporarily stupid. Spike gets this all the time. It works in some episodes, but for the most part, it's just frustrating.

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    1. I love "Cheerileader" -- I now wish they'd used that word on the show!

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  4. "Given how Equestrian weather works, which pegasus is causing this, hmm?"

    My money's on Derpy's mom. ;)

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    1. There's a story in that somewhere...

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