Communication Breakdown: “Tongue Tied” review

“The main point of this self-help DVD is that only you can help you. No need for me then, thanks for the twenty quid.” – Hugh Dennis, Mock the Week

I shouldn’t have to mention how redundant the self-help industry is. Nonetheless, it’s a booming field, patronized by individuals who’re well aware that they have problems, and want to fix them. The problem is, they think the solution is in a book.

Two problems with this!

To start, the vast majority of these books are written by people with no training in any field that qualifies them to give people advice. They’re just average people who thought: “hey, this psychology thing doesn’t look too hard, maybe I can give it a shot!” And as I explained last time, attempting to deal with the serious psychological issues of others when you don’t know what you’re doing can cause some extremely severe adverse effects. And even on the off-chance you get a real psychologist on board, you run into our next problem.

All these books are loaded with quippy statements, and funny stories, that sound profound and inspirational but are absolutely useless for the purposes of self-improvement. And to explain this, let’s take the ur-example: Dr. Phil! Every episode of that glorified self-help seminar ended with someone saying they were a changed person and everything was going to be better forever. Completely glossing over the fact that this shit’s hard! It’s hard to be a better person, you can’t change your habits and attitudes overnight, no matter how many inspirational one-liners you write on Post-it Notes! I mean, I had to become a Buddhist to get over my anger problems; and even years later it’s still something I struggle with on a daily basis! But imagine what would happen if they said that on the show. People would stop watching because that’s the one thing they don’t want to hear. They want the quick fix, they want the simple solution. And if you tell them it doesn’t exist, they’ll just go to someone else. Someone who is more than willing to lie to them in exchange for a book sale.

Yes, I just called Dr. Phil a sell-out. What of it?

So what am I getting at? Basically, the entire self-help industry is a load of bollocks! It certainly makes people feel good, but so does heroin. And oddly enough, it’s just as helpful. But what’s the harm? Well, it’ll certainly make your wallet feel lighter. I think that counts!

And I am so glad the writers of Littlest Pet Shop agree with me. Which brings me to a recent episode of the show, where they take the piss out of the self-help industry!

Now, we all know that Blythe can talk to animals, right? Yes, I’m sure we’re all well aware of the basic premise of the show. But her superpower is supposed to be a big secret, that she reveals to every animal she runs across. I guess she’s thinking, “who’re they going to tell?” Anyone else who can talk to animals, probably. Which is why I’m still waiting on the episode where Blythe meets a cat or something, and the moment they learn about Blythe’s superpower they just go, “Oh, you too?” They can end the season with that.

But of course, other possible superhumans aside, how else could this bite her in the ass? Well, funnily enough…

Yes, turns out everypet in town has learned of Blythe’s power, and they’ve all come to her for help! See, this is why most superhumans keep their powers a secret! Not just because of supervillains, who’re trying to kill them and their family with ice-rays. But because there’s a good chance several hundred people would ask them for favours all the fucking time! Hey, I hear you have superstrength, do you mind helping me move?

I actually remember when I was a kid watching a really stupid show whose name I forget; and in it one of the characters had a fantasy sequence where he was a superhero, and someone called him from the other side of the planet because she couldn’t reach the top shelf. He told her to fuck off!

But Blythe’s not that kind of superhero, is she? No, she’s the kind of superhero who’ll help out all those in need, no matter how small the problem. Especially once they give her the sad puppy dog eyes.

So, what kind of help do they need? Do they each need Blythe to give their owners some crucial piece of information about their diet or some medical problem they have? No, turns out they just need some personal advice, because that’s a good application of her skills. Couldn’t any other animal with a degree of intelligence help them instead?

Well, turns out they can. Because once Blythe leaves, and puts Russell and Zoe in charge of the congregation, they decide to try to solve as many issues as they can before Blythe gets back. First, Russell teaches two arguing… I don’t know, I’m guessing chinchillas, how to share.

And he does this by cutting in half the very thing they were fighting over. That could’ve ended much darker than it did. Why did you destroy our favourite–I don’t even know what it is!

Meanwhile, Zoe teaches another canine to get over his fear of fire hydrants.

And so, realizing they might have a knack for this advice thing, they decide to go nuts… literally!

Yes, somehow they build a set, and get a camera crew, and start a talk show. I think we’re supposed to assume this is some type of fantasy sequence, but I think it’s way too coherent for a fantasy sequence, and too many pets get involved. But that’s par for the course on this show, isn’t it?

They start by helping a claustrophobic turtle.

Turtles do not work that way!

Anyway, they give a few quotable lines that sound inspirational, but are actually meaningless. And as an added bonus, they don’t even relate to her claustrophobia! But it seems to work for the turtle, since she cries ‘I’m cured!’ and hops back into her shell.

Later that day, after helping all sorts of pets off-screen, Zoe and Russell’s attitudes begin to change. Zoe starts to make diva-like demands, such as insisting the camera focus solely on her, and that she has a costume change every 30 seconds, or after every sentence. So at least we know she didn’t change that much. BOOM!

Meanwhile, Russell has a new book.

And he wants it publicized on the show.

But this is just the start. Eventually the demands start piling up, and their producer, Pepper, gets sick of their bullshit, and decides to cancel the ‘show.’

But this is just window-dressing. The really interesting part happens later that day, when we get to follow-up with all their ‘guests.’

Turns out everyone’s worse off than when they arrived, and it’s all thanks to the two idiots. Which just goes to show: If you’re not sure of what you’re doing, don’t do it. Just walk away, or find someone who does know what they’re doing.

But there’s not much they can do. Blythe busy with other matters, and the day is coming to a close. So Sunil leads them out of the building, with a few parting words of wisdom.

These problems you are dealing with are your own. Blythe can only help steer you on the proper path to a solution. She cannot drive you there. You must make that journey alone. And when you arrive, you may realize that you didn’t really need any help after all.

And it might be the truest thing said in the entire episode. Advice is all well and good, but these are your problems that you have to get away from, and you have to solve, and you can only do that on your own. Though I’m pretty sure the driving metaphor was lost on most of them.

So, with all that ridiculous mayhem, can we get a verdict on the episode as a whole? Well, no, because there’s an entire second plot line we need to deal with. Because this entire time, Blythe has been dealing with but a single pet.

Meet Jebbie, whose problem is… well we don’t know because she’s not speaking English!

Yes, turns out Blythe’s big weakness, next to herbal kryptonite, is any pet that doesn’t know English, which shouldn’t surprise us, but apparently surprises her. Then again, I think it was save to assume she was always merely translating from the pet language; not the pet language in English, as opposed to the pet language in German.

I honestly don’t understand how her abilities work, but it’s probably similar to how Eddie Murphy’s powers worked in Dr. Dolittle. I say that because, if you’ll remember, in the film Paul Giamatti gives Eddie Murphy a test to prove his abilities, and he failed it because the orangutan spoke Spanish of all languages. However, in that narrative, the animals didn’t understand any humans except Dolittle; While in Littlest Pet Shop, the animals understand all humans, but only Blythe understands them. So here, a pet adopting the animal version of their owner’s language actually makes a lot of sense.

Basically, I’m saying Littlest Pet Shop is more logically sound than the 1998 big-budget, mainstream Dr. Dolittle film. And I’m thinking this should be weird, but I don’t know why I think that.

So, back to Jebbie. She speaks another language, but what language? My first guess was Japanese, because it’s the only other language I know even a bit of, and Jebbie does sound vaguely East-Asian. But that’s a stretch. So how can we find out what language she’s speaking, and how to translate it?

Well thankfully, Minka’s on hand, and she says she can speak hundreds of languages fluently! So they head up to Blythe’s room, away from all the nutters, where Minka starts to yell at the distressed ferret.

Alright, given that her technique is the same as every American tourist ever, this should’ve been my first clue that Minka was full of it. But apparently I’m thick, because she quickly determines that the ferret is speaking Icelandish, which:

  1. Isn’t right, because it’s pronounced Icelandic; and
  2. Isn’t even in the same hemisphere as the language she’s actually speaking.

It’s also a bit racist! Wow, she’s speaking a language I don’t understand! You know what else I don’t understand? Björk! So they must be from the same country!

I think we need to be 100 per cent clear on this: Even those in Iceland don’t understand Björk.

So, now Blythe has to try to figure out what exactly the ferret is trying to say, so she makes a few educated guesses, and Jebbie does nothing more than repeat the same sentence, only more insistently than before, as if that would help. Which means Minka isn’t the only one who likes utilizing the stupid American tourist technique. Hey, Jebbie, you ever think of miming your problem? Even give a shoddy attempt at mime! Who knows, you might get at least halfway there!

So with no other clues, Blythe and Minka decide to try a series of random activities, including hula-hooping for some reason, in a vain attempt to solve Jebbie’s problem… whatever it is.

But then, they hit a lucky break, as Blythe just happens to hear a familiar language just around the street corner.

Yes, turns out Jebbie speaks Korean, which Youngmee also speaks because… she’s Korean? Huh, I thought she was Thai. I always get those two countries mixed up.

So now, they have to find a way to get Youngmee to translate what Blythe’s hearing. But how? Well, turns out you do it in the most awkward way possible, that just makes your friend think you’re a nutter. But it works, and after a bit of running around, Blythe figures out what’s wrong with Jebbie. Turns out her owner is visiting from Korea (natch) and they got separated at the airport.

They figure out that she flew in on the PetJet, so getting her back on the plane should be a snap, since apparently there’s only one PetJet, and one pilot. So they get Jebbie to stow away in Roger’s flight bag, if only till she gets back on the plane, and is reunited with her owner.

Then it turns out that they put her in his domestic flight bag, and not his international flight bag, because apparently he needs two for some reason.

This feels a bit contrived.

They hop in Blythe’s scooter, and after getting stuck in traffic and having Minka break it up by cursing everyone out, make it to the airport just in time to interrupt Roger’s flirting and convince him to change out his international flight bag for his domestic one.

So Jebbie’s reunited with her owner, and all is well.

And so with this happy ending, what about the episode as a whole?

Funnily enough, it’s hard to know what to make of it. The B-plot, featuring Russell and Zoe’s talk show, was really fun, but felt a bit glossed over. They begin by giving one turtle advice, and after a brief look at the A-plot, we suddenly see them become vapid and self-centred, seemingly out of nowhere. It felt like it could’ve been expanded on a bit, but I’m not sure exactly how they could’ve done that. In the end, we only get three scenes out of the whole thread, so it just seems rushed.

Meanwhile, the A-plot just ran around in circles for most of the episode. It felt like all they were trying to do was get as much mileage as they could out of someone speaking a foreign language, which isn’t much to go on. And the entire sequence with them doing random stuff was just pointless. It wasn’t even funny!

I honestly think this whole plot thread would’ve been more interesting if it didn’t have a happy ending. If Jebbie missed her flight, and had to stay with the pets for a few episodes, going on adventures, trying to learn English, until the entire gang could worm their way into getting a trip to Korea a few episodes down the line. Wouldn’t that have been fun? But no, the status quo must be maintained! We can’t have a new character out of nowhere unless it’s an irritating bunny rabbit that I’d rather see dead!

So when you compare the two, the B-plot is certainly the more interesting thread. However the A-plot gave us more to work with, but most of it was just padding and fluff.

Regardless, I have to say I really liked this entire episode. It had a lot of great points throughout, and was just a really nice story, which is what we all came to see. I even liked the opening musical number. But if I could make one complaint, it did establish that on Blythe’s days off, the pets are her slaves.

I’m not sure that’s on.


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