When did MLP reach its "peak"? Some in the fandom would say that peak was the end of season 2, in several different ways. From the first episode to the end of season 2, FiM went from a simple cartoon about ponies to a cultural phenomenon.
Why did MLP:FiM experience a massive response from a teenage/adult audience? What is it about the first 2 seasons that caused such an explosion in popularity over a relatively short period of time? Here I list 3 scenes which I feel represent everything that made those seasons an instant hit.
Scene 1: Train Scene - Season 1 Episode 21, "Over a Barrel"
When I think of why I like FiM, I think of this scene. What makes it so interesting and representative of Season 1? It's simple, funny, and hints at an adventure to come. Why are they on the train? Where are they going? To put it simply, it gets you curious for the episode ahead while still being entertaining on its own. A lot of episodes from season 1 and 2 had great openings like this. The setup and subsequent pacing hooks the viewer from the start. The ponies' personalities all compliment each other. You could tell the writers put significant effort into making these characters likable and relateable. The train scene is a situation everyday people could see themselves in. It's representative of one of those nostalgic moments you and your friends recall years later.
Scene 2: Derpy & Rainbow Dash (Original Version) - Season 2 Episode 14, "The Last Roundup"
This scene to me represents the connection the fandom established with the show and its creators.
The recut, edited version essentially ruins the appeal, but the original cut is one of the most memorable moments in the show's history. Anyone who's familiar with the show's history knows about Derpy. She started off as a background character with a slight animation error. Usually this wouldn't even have been noticed. But the fans saw this and imagined an entire character with backstory, a name, personality, and purpose. That was merely the beginning, however. Essentially every background character in the show was given a name (and usually, a personality) by the fans. The creative potential of all of this new material was endless. The fandom took the idea and ran with it.
In response to this outpouring of enthusiasm, the gray mare known to the fans as "Derpy" was written into an episode. The scene manages to mirror the many interpretations of her personality perfectly. Her voice is clumsy and curious. Her unintended destruction of city hall is hilarious, and Rainbow's reaction just tops the whole thing off. To this day, people still talk about this scene, and the controversy that surrounded its portrayal of the Derpy character.
Scene 3: At the Gala - Season 1 Episode 26, "The Best Night Ever"
I considered putting "Winter Wrap Up" here, but I chose "At the Gala" because it represents a plethora of elements that made the first season such an instant success.
"The Best Night Ever" was the culmination of an entire seasons worth of buildup towards a specific event. From as early as episode 3, we're told about the Grand Galloping Gala, an event of monumental proportions, an event of mystery, an event that would be unforgettable. Throughout season 1, the Mane 6 prepare for the Gala over the series of several episodes.
Season 1 struck a harmonious balance between journey, slice of life, side-stories, and continuity. The majority of the season deals with character development, small stories, and bonding between the cast. However, spread between are mentions of the Gala, the continuous event which the viewer increasingly anticipates. We learn just enough about the Gala, and see the preparation for it by the ponies, enough to get excited about the arc's progression & conclusion, but not so much that we grow tired of the concept before it even happens.
Instead of the stereotypical "fairy tale" ending one may expect, we're treated with the complete opposite. Nothing went to plan. All of the splendor the ponies imagined was nothing more than wishful thinking. Everything doesn't always go the way you imagine it will. But that doesn't mean the experience you do get isn't memorable.
Beyond that, "At the Gala" is a nice song on its own right. Musical cues in FiM are important to the flow of things.
There are many more scenes I could have chosen. These are but a few. To summarize, what made seasons 1 and 2 of FiM such a captivating experience which caught the intrigue of a diverse audience was its balance, consistency, and continuity. The balance between slice of life and adventure made the world feel dynamic, not static. The consistency in its background characters makes the world feel populated by actual people and not nameless, soulless bodies. The visual & audio design was top-notch. Catchy, good on the eye, and easy to interpret in your own way via music, art, and so on. And finally, the continuous evolution of the ponie's development, and the progression of its story arcs made it something you wanted to keep watching.
Seasons 1 and 2 are not without their faults and bad episodes. But overall, it's easy to see why they appealed to so many people.
Thanks for reading. What are your thoughts on the matter? Which scenes (or even full episodes) from the first couple seasons made the biggest impact on you? What made the show appealing to you initially?