Unrelated Stereotypes: “Shanghai Hi-Jinks” review

A stereotype is a trait that is applied to every individual of a certain group. And the thing about stereotypes, is that nine times out of nine, they’re wrong! I’m rounding off here.

And intellectually, we all know this. We know that the stereotypes we place on people are all bullshit. You don’t even have to look very far to notice this. For instance, Stereotype #547: All black people are gang members and criminals. Yes, just like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, noted astrophysicist and assassin. By the way, that last part is sarcasm.

Stereotype #822: All Americans are stupid. Yes, much like the famous astrophysicist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Dude, he’d wipe the floor with you on Jeopardy!

Stereotype #292: All black people are cool and suave. Have you met Neil DeGrasse Tyson?

This man’s so nerdy he managed to fit in with the cast of The Big Bang Theory!

Of course, this doesn’t prove anything, some people might say. He’s the exception that proves the rule. You don’t know what the word ‘rule’ means, do you?

Now, I’m sure that there are a lot of black criminals out there. The majority of the American prison population is black, after all. But I think that has less to do with the colour of their skin, and more to do with the fact that many black people are poor. And I think the fact that they are poor has less to do with the colour of their skin, and more to do with the fact that many of their ancestors were slaves, who didn’t really have much to pass on to their children.

Anyway, the point I’m trying to get to is that stereotypes are bullshit. There may be societal correlations that can be extrapolated into stereotypes. For instance, the United States does have a pretty shit education system. In many places, some twats are still trying to get creation taught in science classrooms. But that’s not really due to anything other than a few pricks in government. It’s not something we can blame on the populace… then again, they did vote for those assholes. But the stupidity feeds itself. And they’re not even the dumbest nation on the planet. No, that title goes to Niger, where the literacy rate is under 30 per cent! Now, I’m no expert. But teaching people to read… anything, doesn’t seem that difficult to me. Read the kid a book, and let them look at it too, eventually they’ll catch on.

So yes, stereotypes are bullshit. Even the stereotype that all stereotypes are created by white heterosexual cisgendered males. That is most certainly bullshit, as was demonstrated on a recent episode of Littlest Pet Shop.

Yes, we went on that whole trip for this. And really, it’s not worth it.

The episode is all about a trip to China, and everyone’s going. Why? Well Mrs. Twombly is being honored at a Chinese New Year celebration, and is told her whole family is invited. But her only relative is her sister, who’s at the south pole on a ‘top secret mission’. Well, apparently it ain’t that secret. But now we learn her sister is a spy? There’s so much we have to learn about Twombly.

But anyway, because she can’t bring her family, she’s not going at all! I guess she just hates flying alone or something. So Blythe suggests bringing both herself, and her father as ‘family.’ Because we’ve seen so much interaction between Twombly and Roger. They’re obviously very close. I mean there was that one time when… um… he said ‘hi’ to her.

She also suggests bringing the pets. Who don’t have owners or anything that might object to this.

Oh, wait, Blythe does explain that she got permission from their owners, but I have no idea when she did that. They give no indication that any time passed between when Blythe made the suggestion, and when she gives the news to the pets. My guess: it’s another superpower she has. She can communicate telepathically with pet owners.

This is the problem with the whole episode. It’s shoddily thrown together. We even get another plot thread, with Penny suddenly excited to meet her family, even though we never got any indication prior to this, that she ever wanted to meet them, or why it would be important to her. It comes straight out of left field, and the problem is, it didn’t need to! They could’ve made this work, if they wanted to, but they didn’t.

For instance, just adding a single line of Blythe saying, “Great, just one sec.” Then picking up the phone before a clock wipe to the day camp where she announces that they’re going to China, would’ve been all that was needed. A single additional line, and a clock wipe. Then we can assume that some time passed. But no, fuck that.

Now, Penny’s desire to meet her family, would’ve required a bit more. But just delaying it, and having someone else, like Russell, suggest it, would’ve been the least that was needed.

Penny: Why’re we going to China?
Blythe: For Mrs. Twombly, she’s being honoured there.
Russell: Hey Penny, don’t you have family in China?
Penny: I do? Oh yeah! Hey, maybe I could go see them!
Blythe: Eh, maybe. But it is a big country. Where do they live exactly?
Penny: Shanghai.
Blythe: Wow, what a coincidence.

And that’s another thing. They don’t even say exactly how she’s related to them. Just that they’re pandas, therefore they must be related to her. They don’t try to track down any specific pandas, just general pandas. This is a point I made before, that we’re all related in some way, as part of the human race. But that doesn’t explain why she’s so excited to meet these pandas who’re about as closely related to her as I am to the Queen.

I also wear awesome hats, so you can see the resemblance.

And I don’t think it would’ve been that difficult for them to say, yeah, this is her third cousin. Maybe even a bit of background! Oh, when she was just a baby, she ended up on a shipping container somehow, and arrived in America, was dropped at the animal shelter, and adopted out. Wouldn’t that have been an interesting story? Hey, remember when she was so worried about not having an interesting story? How about the tale of a Chinese panda ending up in America? I think that’s interesting! But no, it’s never covered.

On the plane ride there, we see everyone making plans for what they’re gonna do during the celebrations.

This is Blythe’s plan, she’s gonna have the pets build a dragon puppet that they’ll dance in during the ceremony.

Why can’t Blythe make it? I find this strange. She’s the fashion designer and seamstress. Why do they have to do all the work?

The puppet dance, as Blythe explains, is part of a traditional Chinese New Year ceremony, used to ward off evil spirits. And we all know how Russell feels about evil spirits.

And of course the girls make fun of him, because they’re assholes.

You know, he’s supposed to be the intellectual, why does he still believe in ghosts!? Why did he never think, oh wait, ghosts are bullshit! He’s a smart guy! This is not on.

Meanwhile, Penny’s too busy looking in the mirror to help them. When did she turn into Zoe?

Apparently, she’s really excited to meet her family, because she has so many questions about herself. Since when did she ever express any doubt about who she really is? Remember on My Little Pony, when Spike joined the dragon migration? First third of the episode was devoted to Spike undergoing an existential crisis, which gave context to the rest of the story. This doesn’t have any of that! Just saying she had some type of doubt about her identity isn’t really enough. We have to know why, and how. Sure, she’s the only panda on the show, but last I checked, Russell’s the only hedgehog, Minka’s the only monkey, Pepper’s the only skunk, and none of them expressed any stress about that.

Penny’s so excited, she doesn’t even bother to help the pets build the dragon puppet. Instead, she starts annoying Blythe with requests to visit the local wildlife preserve, where the pandas are. And of course Blythe can’t help them either, since she’s too busy doing some sight-seeing.

You lazy bitch! I’m pretty sure she’s the only one doing nothing for Twombly’s ceremony. And no, drawing the diagram for the puppet doesn’t count.

Penny eventually arrives at the wildlife preserve, which is actually more of a zoo.

It has cages. It’s a zoo. A wildlife preserve is typically just an area of land that’s protected from human exploitation. The animals are free to roam around, and mingle with the other animals. Generally they’re also structured so none of the animals are under threat from predators, but other than that, there is very little human involvement, and certainly no wrought iron fences! Animals act different in captivity, which is why a wildlife preserve would do whatever it took to be as little like a zoo as possible. So what the hell!?

So she eventually arrives at the panda habitat, and meets her “relatives.”

This is Ling-pen, Ling-jung, and Jung-ling. And apparently, they love American movie musicals. In fact, that’s how they know so much about American culture!

So, yes, they know fuck all about Americans. They base their assumptions purely on fiction and stereotypes. (Which is why I opened this piece as I did.) And in the process, they bore Penny out of her mind.

Which is why I get really confused when Penny reacts with joy and enthusiasm once her “relatives” invite her over for dinner during the Chinese New Year. Shouldn’t any enthusiasm have dried up during the third of those seven musical numbers which thankfully happened off-screen!? Apparently not!

At the very least you’d think her priorities would shift back to the friends she didn’t just meet that day. Because Twombly’s ceremony is happening that same evening. And due to the laws of physics, she can’t go to both. So she decides to spend time with her “relatives” instead! By the way, we still don’t know how she’s related to them!

So once they break the news to the pets, they’re not too happy. The biggest problem being, the puppet was built for seven, and they can’t have the tail dragging across the floor. So why not modify it for six? Just cut out one of the middle sections. I don’t see why that wouldn’t work. Yet, apparently, it doesn’t cross anyone’s mind.

Then Blythe reassures everyone by saying she’s absolutely certain Penny will change her mind at the last-minute. Of course she will, it’s a cartoon show, and that always happens. But having a character outright state that doesn’t make any sense. It’s just stupid, since she really doesn’t have any indication that that’s gonna happen.

The next day, Penny arrives at dinner, dressed as the Statue of Liberty. Don’t ask why, it’s too stupid to explain. The pandas are eating their favourite food, stinky tofu.

Apparently, it smells pretty terrible. Like Pepper on a bad day. So why the fuck are they eating it!? I understand that some cultures have unusual diets. But here’s the thing: the reason gasses like hydrogen sulfide are so offensive to scent glands, is because they tend to be poisonous. Skunk-smell specifically, not so much. But the smell of a skunk is universally reviled among all species. So why in the hell would they be eating something that smells like that!?

Now, apparently, stinky tofu is a real thing. That does surprise me, and I have no doubt it’s quite delicious to those who are used to it. But I have a hard time believing that anyone, of any culture, would offer something that would be that offensive to the uninitiated, without some type of side salad, a cola, and possibly a glass of 180 proof scotch. My point is, there’s a distinct possibility they’d need to cleanse the palette after a bite of that. Assuming they even want to try it, which is why you offer options, and they didn’t.

That being said. Penny doesn’t even take a single bite to try it out. Hold your nose, take a bite, and worst case scenario you spit it out. It’s not complicated. Show a bit of passion! Where’s your sense of adventure!? But the thing that really bothers me about this scene is its purpose. It was only written to overexaggerate what was already established: That Chinese culture is quite different from American culture. No shit!

Then they begin to do the traditional dragon puppet dance. But have no room for Penny. Which is why she leaves, to join her actual friends as they do their own puppet dance. But she arrives too late, after they accidentally tore the puppet apart once the tail got caught on a nail.

Oh, wait, no that was what was playing in my head as I tried to imagine a better episode. No, in actuality, she arrives just in time to save them from disaster, and they end up dancing with the panda’s dragon puppet…

…for some reason.

Then, Roger jumps on stage dressed as Elvis, the episode ends, and thank fuck for that!

This was shit! It was a shit episode, there’s no way around that!

We got Penny abandoning her friends for pandas she just met, with no explanation as to why. We got the ridiculously forced drama of the dragon puppet, when there was a simpler solution staring them right in the face. And finally, we have the worst problem: the dialogue is shit!

Most of these problems could be overlooked if it was written well, but it wasn’t. The dialogue was just stilted and forced, throughout! It just didn’t feel right, at all! And the worst part is, I can’t easily explain how. It’s just a vibe that runs throughout the episode.

And Blythe’s line about how she expects Penny to return at the last-minute is the most cringe-worthy thing I’ve seen in a long time! Of course, I expected them to make it work. I expected them to hang a lantern on the trope before subverting it. I expected the episode to end with Blythe being proven wrong. I expected Penny to not show up. Why? Because that would’ve been interesting, and the ‘hero always wins’ trope only works if you don’t draw attention to it! And they drew attention to it!

The only thing that I sorta liked was the new panda characters. So aloof and relaxed. They kinda remind me of Sugar Sprinkles. Except Sugar Sprinkles had a bit of personality, and well-written dialogue. These characters didn’t have that, so they just come off as empty and boring.

I find it bizarre, since normally this show is extremely well-written. But for some reason, this episode wasn’t. I can’t explain it. Did they just feel sorry for the writer and decided to produce one of his scripts no matter how shitty it was? That’s just not right! Can we get some quality control in here? Please!?

Well, with a series as amazing as this, I guess we can allow one shit episode. But that’s all they’re getting.


5 responses to “Unrelated Stereotypes: “Shanghai Hi-Jinks” review

  1. You’re going to hat Inside Job when you get to it, IMHO… If only because the plot there has rarely EVER been done well in these kinds of shows…

    I’d be a bit weary of Grounded, as well…

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