Love in a Dumbwaiter

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big fan of romantic plotlines. Mainly because I think avoiding the issue is just ridiculous. On My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, only one main character ever expressed even a modicum of interest in a member of the opposite sex. The other five appear to actively avoid romance for no discernible reason. Well, that is with the possible exceptions of Twilight, who fell in love with a block of wood from a parallel dimension. But she didn’t really express an active interest in Flash Sentry, just a passive one. She just stood back, took a few shy glances, and blushed. And now that I think about it, that kind of characterization is bordering on old-fashioned sexism. Expecting the woman to stand back and wait for love to happen to her. What the hell, writers!?

But nonetheless, with the exception of Rarity’s one romance episode, they seem to actively avoid it. And this is part of the reason I like to presume the other five were spayed at some stage.

But that being said, romance is something that needs to be handled delicately, and not shoehorned in for the sake of fan service. And to me, the prime example of this has to be the TV show, Jonathan Creek. It’s a comedy/mystery series about a magician’s creative consultant who moonlights as an amateur detective solving seemingly impossible cases. Most of which are of the ‘locked-room’ variety. For the first few seasons he worked with his friend, Maddie, who also got him started in this business to begin with. Now, in the first few episodes of this show, there was no indication of any romantic tension between these two. In fact, just the opposite. They appeared more like reluctant colleagues. Then, in the final episode of season one, one character says, ‘oh yeah, they want to bang each other.’ And from that point forward, we get this shoehorned romantic subplot that never goes anywhere since they’re more likely to annoy each other before they can put it in. Typically, this is known as a ‘will they/won’t they’ plot. Except in this case, I wish they didn’t… ever. But they did, and a few episodes later, after she left the series, Jonathan mentions that it was a mistake. And I can’t tell if that was Jonathan Creek (the character) talking, or the series’ writer saying, ‘yeah, that was a bad idea, I don’t know why I did that!’

Then they introduced a new character named Carla, who also had a bit of romantic tension with Jonathan. But if you ask me, in that case, it worked. Primarily because they actually had a bit of chemistry. You could actually believe that they were a couple. Sadly, between her first and second appearances, she ended up dumping Jonathan, and getting married to a professional tool. So that wasn’t actually a ‘will they/won’t they’ plot. It was a ‘they did, and it’s over now, but they still have the hots for each other’ plot. And it actually worked!

I guess what I’m saying is, whether the characters actually ‘hook up’ doesn’t matter. What matters is: Do the characters and actors actually have any real chemistry. Can you believe them when they say they’re in love? And even more importantly, does their relationship develop in a believable way?

In the past, Littlest Pet Shop handled this pretty well… sometimes… For instance, Pepper’s relationship with the Captain worked because we saw their relationship develop. There was a bit of old ‘love at first sight’ bollocks, but as the episode progressed, they started to talk, and flirt, and by the end, we can believably presume several little hybrid pups are in their future.

Then there was the time Zoe fell for a mime. She had nothing to base it on, and eventually realized that, so left him in the dust. Again, believable; and because of that, one of the better romance plot threads on this show.

It’s certainly gold in contrast to the time Blythe crashed into some skateboarding ponce and instantly found herself smitten before he got a chance to say anything.

Yes, Josh Sharp. A block of wood with no personality. But perhaps, as time went on, this relationship could develop into one that makes a bit of sense. We could get either some indication that Blythe’s feelings are based on something more substantial; or we could see Blythe come to her senses, and decide to abandon this silly and superficial crush.

But I don’t think either is going to happen. Especially since Josh’s most recent appearance only confirmed everything I just said. He just stands around, says ‘hi,’ as Blythe gushes.

They can’t even try to develop these characters? Continue reading

Malicious in Vogue

One of the many things that differentiates Littlest Pet Shop from My Little Pony, is the setting.

One may think that’s a superficial distinction, but it’s not. The world of Equestria is a land of magic, unicorns, and fairy tale castles; where everyone is nice to each other, and nothing ever goes wrong.

In contrast, Littlest Pet Shop takes place in (for the most part) the real world. Downtown City is located on a contemporary Earth, with modern digital technology and no magic (for the most part). It’s also a world where, to put it bluntly, shit happens. Things aren’t perfect, and bad things do happen. Yes, it never happens on-screen, because this is a saccharine kids show. But given the fact that this is ersatz-New York, I get the feeling that something very terrible did happen in that town about thirteen years ago.

Basically, the difference in setting gives us a difference in tone. Even if it’s just an implied tone. And this is even portrayed on-screen in the attitudes of some of the characters.

In Equestria, everyone is nice. In the real world, most people are dicks; And this has been portrayed on Littlest Pet Shop quite extensively. There’ve been con-artists, violent bullies, thieves, complete tools, plagiarizers, and serpentile delinquents on this show. Then there’s the recurring jackass we have in the form of the Biskit Twins, who constantly make life miserable for our hero. And while Equestria does have it’s share of bad apples, I can name them on one hand. They’re not really a large cohort.

And because of all this, I believe Littlest Pet Shop has cemented it’s role as the show where people suck. And I’m not sure if this is a good thing. Oh sure, it’s more realistic, and certainly kids need to learn that not everything is sunshine and rainbows; but I don’t think it’s a good idea to make children completely jaded and cynical either. Which could probably happen because of this. Especially with regards to a recent episode, where the designated prick didn’t appear to be a prick… at first. Continue reading

An Alien Confusion

I would love to meet an alien. Who wouldn’t?

To start, I think it would be nice to finally know that we’re not alone in the universe; It’d make existence seem less lonely. We’d be exposed to a brand new culture, one we couldn’t have even fathomed before, and we’d gain new ideas about biology and evolution. We’d have new motivation to explore the stars ourselves, and they could answer the mysteries of the universe we still haven’t solved. Like how to travel faster than light, what dark matter is, and why American Idol is still on the air.

I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be excited to meet an alien. Well, racists probably wouldn’t be too happy. They have a problem with members of the same species who just happen to have higher melanin content. Imagine how they would react to a six-armed tentacle beast, even if it just wanted to be your friend and help you cure cancer.

But for the most part, I think we’d be happy to meet alien life. Even if we never met; Even if we just knew they existed because they sent us a radio message. I think that alone would change everything, and maybe make us appreciate our own existence even more.

So all that being said, you’ll understand where I’m coming from when I say, if you think you’ve been abducted by aliens, you’re wrong.

Believe me, I wish you weren’t! Because that would prove aliens existed. But if you have no evidence, your claim has no weight. So here’s what I suggest: Next time you get taken to the flying saucer, when the aliens are looking the other way, reach over and grab something off the desk. Anything! Because no matter what it is, it’ll be a miracle of technology to us on Earth.

The same goes with sightings of flying saucers, and the various alien conspiracies that have cropped up over the years. Show me the proof, and I’ll believe you. Primarily because I want to believe you. But if you can’t prove it, I won’t.

I’m not saying you’re lying. But it’s pretty easy to confuse one thing for another. To see something in the sky you don’t immediately recognize, and assume it’s something unusual. But that doesn’t mean it is.

And that’s an important thing to remember: Just because something seems paranormal, doesn’t mean it is. And that message was sent quite clearly during a recent episode of Littlest Pet Shop… which I totally saw coming. Continue reading

Coming Up Raccoons

Back in April, approximately two months ago, Littlest Pet Shop had its second season finale.

It wasn’t a bad episode, but it wasn’t a great one either. Sort of middle-ground sludge, just waiting for something to happen. All it seemed to do was set up future plot points as Blythe becomes a well-known pet-fashion designer. And to end a season on that seems like they’re just egging us on. Hey, look at all the great storylines we have planned! And you’ll have to wait ’til next season to see them!

A lot of shows do this, end seasons on cliffhangers, and it always annoys me. I guess they really want us to tune in for next season, but it’s unnecessary. I was already on board. All this does is make me irritated, and anxious, during the break. And it gets even worse if the show is cancelled on a season finale cliffhanger.

However, in the case of Littlest Pet Shop, we don’t have to wait so long for the continuation to this story; because a mere seven weeks later, the next season premiered.

Fuckers just aren’t wasting any time are they? Continue reading

The Test of a Lifetime

I’ll tell you one thing: I love being a student.

I constantly learn new things, I’m staying relatively productive, I get out of the house, and I have a set schedule that I can’t blow off.

Now, that may not seem like a fun time, but it’s way better than being unemployed while having nothing to do.

Plus, I’m earning a diploma, to begin a lucrative career in a field I love. Assuming I can actually find a job this time.

But if there’s one thing that annoys the hell out of me: it’s tests. I don’t mind taking tests, per say. I’m just annoyed at how they’re done, and what people think of them.

There’s a common problem in western education known as ‘teaching to the test.’ We’ve all heard of this. Where the entire education system isn’t designed for the purposes of teaching students material they’re interested in, in a fun and practical way. It’s all about getting them to pass tests. In fact, you may have entire lessons devoted to teaching students all about test-taking strategies, as if it’s a goddamn video game!

The test should fit the material, the material should not fit the test. Now, to a certain extent, I do believe in a consistent and universal curriculum. In most of the US, for instance, the public school curriculums are designed at a local level. And this basically means that the depth, breadth, and by extension quality of a child’s education may vary from town to town. And don’t even get me started on the backward and ignorant rednecks trying to bring religion into biology classrooms. Just thinking about that makes me cry. I weep for those children’s futures.

But if you have a province-wide curriculum, like we do in Ontario, how do you ensure it’s being followed? Well, primarily, by trusting the teachers and administrators. And not by giving them standardized tests that examine whether or not a student can read. Let’s be honest, if someone has made it to grade 10, I’m pretty sure they’re literate. Someone would’ve spotted it otherwise.

Ideally, education should prepare a student for the adult world. It should give them a set of skills that’ll help them be informed citizens, discerning consumers, responsible financial managers, and skilled workers. In what circumstance does knowing how to fill out a damn Scantron form help in any area? Are there professional test-takers out there?

Not that tests shouldn’t be done. I think it’s important to check whether or not someone knows what they should know. But the tests should be relevant to the material. In IT, we have this down. Most of my exams this year have been practical exams, where all we have to do is design a program, or website, just like any other assignment we’ve had, only with a 2 hour time limit, and we’re not allowed to talk to anyone. And yes, we were allowed to look at our old assignments, and Google, because that’s exactly what we’d have access to in the workplace as well. Memorizing every possible function and command isn’t really necessary, so why should we have to do it?

But then there’s written theory tests, where you have to work entirely off memory. And to a certain extent, one should have basic conversational knowledge, and be able to discuss the various concepts in a casual setting, and you can’t just pull out a reference book in the middle of a conversation. But when exactly are the names of every single SQL data type going to be necessary to bring up in conversation.

I just don’t think it’s necessary. Just like knowing the history of an organization before joining that organization. It’s not necessary, nor should it be mandatory.

Which brings me to the realm of Equestria, where it is mandatory for Rainbow Dash to memorize the history of the Wonderbolts to join the Wonderbolts Reserve, which is now a thing! Continue reading

A Chance for Success

A season finale is a chance to do something big, something epic, something amazing! Just like season premieres, or holiday specials, or mid-season two-parters.

This is opposed to the filler episodes that are produced because you’ve been commissioned for 26 episodes, and have to put something out.

Most shows operate in this vein. You have a few big event-based episodes, where most of the effort and budget goes, and other episodes are produced on smaller budgets so one has enough money to pay for the bigger episodes. Star Trek did this all the time. They were called ‘bottle shows,’ where old sets and props were reused, no major visual effects were added, and no major guest-stars were hired. The prime example might be Twisted, where the main cast was trapped on the holodeck and surrounding corridors, as a spacial distortion ran through the ship. Not much happened, and not much had to be built. I think the hardest part of production was the Photoshop filters they had to include.

It’s just the nature of the beast in live-action television. A low-budget episode has to use already-existing sets, and can’t do anything spectacular. Animation, on the other hand, can already be done on-the-cheap quite easily, even with new backgrounds, effects, and animation assets. Let’s be honest, I doubt it takes the animators more than an hour or two to knock out a brand new location. Especially with modern animation software. Draw a few dozen vectors and you’re done! Alright, I’m probably over simplifying. The point is, animation is cheap. You don’t need to hire an army of contractors to build a set, when you can hire three guys to draw stuff on computers.

Because of this, every episode can be big and epic. But you don’t want to devalue awesomeness. And one of the reasons I like My Little Pony and Littlest Pet Shop, is that the episodes rarely adhere to any kind of formula. It runs the gamut from charming slice-of-life, to balls-to-the-wall adventure. Because I remember watching Power Rangers when I was a kid, and after a while, it all gets kinda samey.

But when all is said and done, you want to end with a bang. Which is why I think a season finale should feature something big. The first season of My Little Pony, for instance, ended with the Grand Galloping Gala, which certainly fit the bill. Sure, there were no epic fight sequences, but it was a big event where a lot happened, and the anticipation was built up over several preceding episodes.

Much like the recent season finale of Littlest Pet Shop, where Blythe finally participates in the International Pet Fashion Expo!

This is something that we’ve been waiting on for months, since Blythe sold her scooter so she could enter the thing. References have been dropped since then, and one could assume it would be a large-scale adventure, much like the Grand Galloping Gala was.

Unfortunately, that really didn’t happen. Continue reading

Too Good To Be True

“‘Herbal medicine’s been around for thousands of years!’ Indeed it has, and then we tested it all, and the stuff that worked became ‘medicine.'” – Dara Ó Briain, Dara Ó Briain Talks Funny – Live in London

The thing about skepticism is that it can sometimes be misinterpreted.

The goal of skepticism is to look at the world through a scientific lens, because science is the best method we have of finding the truth. And through this lens, it becomes quite obvious that things like ghosts, astrology, alternative medicine, and homeopathy, are all bunk.

It’s not simply because none of them fit in the standard scientific model of the universe that has been developed and fine-tuned over the past several thousand years. It’s because there is no evidence to support any of it! There have been trials on various alternative treatments, and none of them have been proven to be better than nothing.

So why do some people buy into it? Well, part of it could be due to something called ‘confirmation bias.’ If you believe in a treatment that does nothing, but get better on your own shortly after taking it, you credit the treatment rather than your own immune system. And when it doesn’t work, you never really notice, or remember.

Basically, we ignore the misses, and we count and exaggerate the hits. Astrology tends to work the same way.

And add to that, a bizarre phenomenon known as the placebo effect. Basically, if you think you’re taking something that’s supposed to treat some ailment, the very act of treatment can make you feel better, and make you think you’re getting better, even if the treatment is nothing more than a sugar pill. Combine this with confirmation bias, you end up crediting a glass of water for something that didn’t really happen.

Now what causes the placebo effect? I don’t know. I honestly wish I did. For the most part, it can be explained as a simple psychological trick. But this thing is way more powerful than that. But I don’t really want to get into the details.

The point I’m trying to get at is this: Just because you think it works, doesn’t mean it works. You have to test it. You have to run a proper analysis, and count not only when it does work, but when it doesn’t work. And you have to check to see if it really is nothing more than a trick of the mind.

‘But what’s the harm?’ you may ask. ‘What’s the harm in letting people believe that a bay leaf can cure the common cold?’ Well, do you mean aside from the money spent on it? They don’t give this stuff away for free! And for people to take money from desperate and sick people, and give them literally nothing? As Randall Munroe once said, “Telling someone who trusts you that you’re giving them medicine, when you know you’re not, because you want their money, isn’t just lying–it’s like an example you’d make up if you had to illustrate for a child why lying is wrong.”

But that aside. Often times, these salesmen advise their customers to forgo real medical treatments that could actually help them, because they claim it would interfere with their sugar-water. And when it comes to serious, treatable illnesses, people have actually died because of this. They died, because they were told not to take a life-saving treatment, and instead took ginkgo biloba or something.

I could elaborate quite a bit more on this, but I think I made my point. Is it any wonder why people such as myself try to convince others to give up these pointless endeavours? We’re not trying to be mean or ‘ruin your mojo’ or something, we’re trying to help! I just wish more people understood this.

Well, perhaps they finally will, as a recent episode of My Little Pony covered this very same topic. And if any show can spread an idea to the masses, it’s My Little Pony! Continue reading

It’s Not… Strictly Speaking, Legal

Last season, on My Little Pony, Scootaloo got her first character-development episode… and ended up getting overshadowed by Princess Luna.

At least, in my mind she did. The revelation of Luna’s dream sharing powers, just seemed way more intriguing than Scootaloo’s fear of ghost stories.

Sadly, unlike some films that explored this exact same concept, the episode didn’t really spend much time on it. I mean sure, they didn’t need to. But then, why even include it? Why include Luna’s dream-sharing powers if you’re going to do so little with them?

This was a concept in desperate need of expansion. I’m not saying we needed to see Luna perform extraction, or have anti-gravity fight scenes in a spinning hallway. But something more than a single minute-and-a-half scene would’ve been nice.

Personally, I would’ve liked to see the whole episode take full advantage of this concept. Instead, they had a different episode take full advantage of this concept. This time starring the amazingly adorable, Sweetie Belle!

Awww, so adorable! It’s like they weaponized cuteness. Continue reading