FIM (and by extension, bronydom) is close to seven years old. Over the years, the characters grew into lovable role models and inspirations. Each has their own reasons for watching, loving, and sticking with the show. Through thick and thin, FIM's overcome turbulent times, yet succeeded. How long it'll last is to be determined. By extension, the brony fandom grew, underwent a whole bunch of drama, and grew some more. While Slice of Life was a love letter to the fanbase, Fame and Misfortune takes their own frustrations and responds in a really lazy, broken way. It's the Rainbow Falls of Season 7.
Glimhorse = Awesomehorse!
All season, Starlight's been the best-written Mane character. In every episode she's been in, her roles make sense. She continues to grow into her own and is more and more one of the Mane cast. Even when the episode isn't as good as it should be, she's usually the best part.
This episode is her best post-reformed appearance. Everything about her role fits perfectly. While the RM6 wrote in the journal, she was absent and had no knowledge about it. So the journal is new to her, and she can look at what's going on with a fresh mind. Simultaneously, she's treated like an actual, genuine part of the gang, not an ancillary member that the writers can plug in when the episode calls for it.
Her best moments occur in two places:
At the restaurant after Rarity ran away wailing after two patrons denigrated her behind her back. She took Rarity's reaction and what they said about her really hard. The chilling part is her bitter tone as she replied to Twilight:
Starlight: Go ahead. I'm gonna have a chat…with these two.
- As Twilight went off to Sweet Apple Acres with AJ, she stayed behind. Her mannerisms and worried expressions show how much Rarity means to her and doesn't want her to get hurt. Moments like these implicate to the audience how much she values her as a friend.
When I first began writing this review, I read a comment offsite accusing her of acting like a Deus Ex Machina, a criticism that makes no sense at all. If she's like one here, then she wouldn't be established until the climax or resolution and pops open an idea that wasn't established at any point in the series. Starlight was an important secondary character since the opener and had a major impact in all four acts. Just before she temporarily departed in Act 3, she told the ReMane 6 (and by extension, us) that she'll be back with something important.
Coconut Cream & Toola Roola.
These two fillies, based on their G3/G3.5 depictions under the same names, are good characters. What makes them strong is, yes, they argue petulantly, but they argue like children. When Twilight stops them, she shows them an important moral to learn from and decide to try. Even with the little screentime, they grow in each successive appearance. Whether they'll appear or not anytime soon I don't know. Personally, I hope they do. This may depend on the VAs (who are kids) themselves.
The melody for We're a Work in Progress is really good. It's positive, uplifting, and inspirational. All the qualities that help hone the welcoming backdrop and make FIM's world so endearing.
There are at least four continuity errors, two of them major. Like my RF review, instead of a brief summary, here's a fuller list:
Twilight Sparkle: Come on, Starlight, don't judge a book by its cover. This is the friendship journal my friends and I used to keep. It's filled with all the things we've learned, like: "Friendship isn't always easy, but there's no doubt, it's worth fighting for."
They learned that lesson from Return of Harmony. The season 2 premiere. The journal didn't debut until season four. Unless they stated to add them in later (which they didn't directly), it should be only S4 lessons, not a mesh of all four together.
The fact that everyone suddenly wanted to know about what they learned. Once they published it, they became popular and unpopular. Why does this not make sense from a continuity perspective?
Ever since they defeated Nightmare Moon, Ponyville and Canterlot revered them as celebrities. Sure, other episodes within the earlier seasons had this type of occurrence before, ala 'Shy from Green Isn't Your Color. But Green is from season one, when the characters and world still grew. At the time, it was mostly Canterlot, Ponyville, and the Everfree Forest, So the writers could get away with that.
Nowadays, the Forest has no more plot utilization, and the world has expanded beyond not just Ponyville and Canterlot, but Equestria altogether. In RoH, Celestia rewarded their victory with a celebration and stained-glass window. They saved The Crystal Empire from Sombra. Twilight became a princess. After defeating Tirek and saving all of Equestria, they and Spike became responsible for spreading the Magic of Friendship across the world. You get the point.
If this was a early-season episode (seasons one through two), then their sudden popularity would be believable. This is season seven. They're international celebrities. If they were interested in the journal and lessons, they would've done so long ago. Particularly the ponies from Ponyville. More about this later.
The CMCs' sudden popularity makes no sense, either. They dipped into popularity contests twice (Confidential, Twilight Time). In Flight to the Finish, they were awarded the spot representing Ponyville for the opening ceremony. After Lost Mark, they became permanent celebrities and are sought for advice whenever they wonder where to either find their Mark or reconnect with it. Hell, they remark about their history of success during Forever Filly:
Scootaloo: [sighs] Not a bad way to start a day.
Apple Bloom: Not a bad way at all! Helpin' ponies is just about my favorite thing to do.
Sweetie Belle: Another satisfied client!
Apple Bloom and Scootaloo: Mm-hmm!
So, why would they suddenly become really popular again now? And why would they conveniently skip over Twilight Time's lesson, which SB wrote in that same journal?
In the Equestrian world, Daring Do is nothing but a figment of A.K. Yearling's and the Daring fandom's imagination. The RM6 know she's real, yet they respect Daring's/A.K.'s boundaries. She wants nothing but to be remembered as a quality children's storybook series. The entire Daring Do con is commemorated specifically for Daring the character, her world, and overall cast. The ending of both Don't and Stranger imply they (both the ReMane Six and Quibble) keep her identity and privacy a secret.
But the RM6 out her in their journal. Not one of the seven, especially Dash nor Twilight, pause for one second to reconsider the consequences of unsolicitedly revealing Daring's secret identity — how big it'll be in the Daring fandom after reading something that should never have been revealed. They just go, "Screw common sense!! We'll publish it, anyway!"
The continuity error's even worse when Dash directly references Don't after SG magically published several clean, refurbished copies.
Dialogue, you disappoint me.
A good chunk of the story's believability lowers considerably when the dialogue is often forced, and that's what happens here. Even though the RM7 and CMCs act in character and the two new fillies are portrayed like kids, sometimes the lines are mechanical, turning fully-dimensional and relatable characters into robots. It happened in many episodes prior, including Rainbow Falls, Trade Ya, Newbie Dash, and Buckball Season. Same thing here. Starlight, Toola, and Coconut spoke the most natural here.
The most annoying points come after they remind the audience of the lessons they learned and, in particular, after Rarity ran off:
Twilight Sparkle: Oh, poor Rarity. She overheard all the mean things those ponies were saying. She must be devastated. I'm going after her.
Thanks, Twilight, for reminding us everything we all just saw seconds before. And loud enough so the snobby couple a few feet away could hear (yet didn't react due to plot contrivance).
It gets worse when the ponies exposit, and there's a lot of it here. What's the golden principle in entertainment? Show, don't tell. In "children's" entertainment, even more crucial. By expositing so much, much of the seriousness and humor are sucked out, leaving behind an arid story.
The tone will be mentioned later. But a repeated flaw in this show (and episode in general) isn't:
A Whole Cruel World.
The entire setting is really, really cruel. One or two days ago, the Mane Eight were among Equestria's biggest celebrities. Once they published the journals, they became pariahs. A group of leaders that (in the townsfolk's POV) deserve nothing except abuse. Wherever the script went, the RM6 felt miserable. And the more Twilight witnessed their pain, the more and more pain she felt, too. And how did all of Ponyville (or Canterlot) react? Selfishly.
Rarity (the diner): Two background ponies talked shit behind her back. Neither of them clearly understand anything what the journals were supposed to say and went off on nothing except baseless assumptions. After she ran away, they feel oh so proud of themselves and pretend like it's no big deal. Not even Starlight's scolding through their thick heads worked.
It's really unclear what they're supposed to portray. Is it supposed to be a jab at people for criticizing the writing within the episodes, missing the point in an episode, or hating Rarity's character? Any of the above, all, or none? Whatever the case is, it fails for five reasons.
The lack of clarity already explained.
The "stuck-up rich bitch" stereotype is enforced.
Rarity underwent major trials that completely transformed her as a character. We as an audience saw that ride…but all they read is the result. To echo @Jeric in a chat with me, both RTM and Simple Ways showed her at really low lows. When all they read is how shitty you behaved, then they may have an awful impression of you regardless of outcome.
Daisy, a well-known background pony from season one with a sweet (yet overly-dramatic) personality, bashed Rarity. For her to act like a snob is very out of character of her!
The newspaper. Observe the 1.5/5 score in the shot linked above. The pony who read it really disliked it, and the couple's dissing only piled everything on. That one shot further muddles the point.
- The lack of clarity already explained.
Pinkie: It's one thing if they're tourists meeting Pinkie for the first time and wanting to get acquainted with her. All five — Carrot Top, Cherry Berry, Sassaflash, Berry Punch, and Coco Crusoe — are long-established background ponies dating back to season one. We've seen them help each other out so everyone's lives improve. They were seen at one point or another during The Smile Song; all but Coco and Sassaflash not only have very dedicated fanbases, but also actively followed, smiled, sang, and danced with her. Pinkie's presence was more than enough to make them all happy.
"YOU'VE KNOWN ME FOR YEARS!"
Glad you said this, Pinkie, 'cause that doesn't make this scene okay! In fact, it makes it worse. Them knowing her for years and suddenly laugh AT her like complete jackasses does nothing but implicate that their happiness before and after Pinkie brightened their days is a façade.
In fact, hold that quote.
Dash: Bratty pegasi continue to pressure Dash and refuse to leave her alone. It's one thing if they truly were eager to hear more about her stories and adventures. It's another to rip out Twilight's lessons gleefully, pretend Twilight isn't even there, and act all smug about it. Dash wasn't happy with how poorly they treated her friend, but was forced to put up with it, since her "fanclub" is too stubborn to listen.
Fluttershy: Several big problems:
Like every other pony before them, all four adults are assholes. Or to be accurate, worse than just assholes. They're abusive, gang up on Fluttershy, and then put up a shoddy, lazy excuse just to be awful people. "Entitled to know"? "Why can't I be in the book"?!
ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS?!
There's NO excuse to gang up on her, period!
One of the ponies here is Lemon Chiffon, who debuted in Mare Do Well. Previously, she had two hearts as her cutie mark. Here, a half-full glass of water mark along with a snooty, "masculine-sounding" voice. She resembles a lot like Lily Peet, a MTF brony "pundit" with a history of bashing bronies. I don't know or care if she laughed from that or not.
If it's intentional, that's a line you never cross. Why? When you parody specific fans, it comes off as tacky at best and self-indulgent at worst. It tells the audience you have a very hostile opinion on not only specific members of your audience, but also the people you're trying to reach out to. Personally, if I'm parodied like this, I'd be really offended, because I'm treated like a caricature rather than a real person.
If it's unintentional, then while the line ain't crossed, her attitude, voice, and mark are supposed to mock the "entitled fan" stereotype when FS stands up to them, three qualities Chiffon can't control. Sometimes intent doesn't equate result, yet the possible transphobic implications remain.
This "gang" resembles PYHD's market scene, one of the worst of the series. Unlike the former, all of them debuted previously. These four characters and their so-called "personalities" are designed for this episode only. Good chance some or all of them will either never make an important appearance again or (hopefully) change to a more likeable personality.
@AlexanderThrond brought up a great point in his review, and I'll expand on that. Fluttershy is used as a vessel to respond to the "criticism" (read: abuse in the episode's context) of their struggle to develop her, completely contradicting their intentions several seasons ago. From Luna Eclipsed until right around Rainbow Falls, her character stagnated, and her shyness was often reduced to comic relief. It looks even worse following an episode where she learns a very valuable lesson. When you flanderize a character like her after she underwent significant development in season one, you reduce her from three-dimensional to one-dimensional. Any long-time brony understands how this valid criticism of her didn't come out of thin air.
During season four, DHX attempted to write better stories surrounding her, even when they aren't quite up to snuff: Bats!, Breezies, and Filli Vanilli. The following season, that criticism blossomed, and the flanderized Fluttershy has been absent ever since. The one episode showing Scaredyshy in S5 wasn't written as a daft joke: It expands a pointless scene from LE and explains why she hated Nightmare Night so much: She hates being pranked, and NMN without the pranks isn't fun. Without reading the valid criticisms, understanding them, and putting forth solid effort to fix this flaw, the Fluttershy we see today won't exist. Season five was great for her. Seasons six and seven are her best to date.
It conveniently ignores It Ain't Easy Being Breezies. She had to assert herself through a very difficult action that she hated to make: kick out the breezies so they can continue their journey home. In her journal entry, she marks down how she had to learn that tough message. It's her very last journal entry that we witnessed, and it'd make sense if it were her last one in the journal, too. Not one time is it referenced, and it's ignored in order to continue using that journal as a forced plot device to dissuade. To handwave one of the most important episodes and subsequent lessons in her entire saga just to drive a point home makes the meta reference and payoff very deceitful.
- Like every other pony before them, all four adults are assholes. Or to be accurate, worse than just assholes. They're abusive, gang up on Fluttershy, and then put up a shoddy, lazy excuse just to be awful people. "Entitled to know"? "Why can't I be in the book"?!
Rarity (boutique): The context behind the jump scare pile onto the torture. But why would Lemon Hearts (one of Twilight's friends from Canterlot) even be a part of the anti-Rarity hate mob in the first place? She'd know how much Rarity (and the rest of her friends back in Ponyville) mean to her, and she'd respect that. If she got upset, chances are she'd write or talk to Twilight.
Applejack: No, they didn't bash her, pretend she didn't exist, laugh at her, or gang up on her. These are huge AJ fans.
They're still assholes. Every single one of them show up at Sweet Apple Acres unannounced, immediately declare themselves to be part of her family without any consent, and force them to accommodate them, whether they like it or not. Big Mac, AJ, AB, and Granny not only moped as they slaved away for trespassers, but were actively distressed. Obviously, they want nothing to do with them, yet can't do anything about it since they're so outnumbered by this mob.
All of them are terrible, but since she's my favorite character, the FS scene is my least-favorite.
Oh, and Twilight? She's her own section.
What this show does well often is the comedy. The jokes, timing, and corresponding tone can really make an episode funny. But when the jokes make no sense, forget it.
The jokes suck for varying reasons, ranging from missing the point to the story's tone to hypocrisy of the meta "humor."
The biggest offenses are the following (in airing order):
Fluttershy writing her journal entry minuscule and nervously using the excuse of leaving room for others. This joke is very vague. Is it to reference her Timidshy past, or something?
The mashed, rotten apple used to indicate AJ's lesson. Why the hell would she even smash an apple in there to begin with? She may not be the tidiest pony, but c'mon, man.
Lemon Chiffon's voice and attitude so the audience can laugh at the "entitled fan" stereotype from all four who brigaded FS.
This jump scare:
By far the worst joke in the episode and second-worst grossout face of the season to this:
If it's a jump scare, it's supposed to be a surprise. Rarity has a history of exaggerated faces, and both Twilight's and Starlight's distress/grimaces clue the audience that they'll hate what they'll see from her. Credit to @ChB for pointing this out.
It takes up a good amount of the frame, and is drawn in exaggerated detail. The slowly-dripping mascara and level of intricacy for her mouth are no accident. It's done to be disgusting.
The context surrounding it. The couple bashing her behind her back, reading the bad review in the newspaper as they dissed her, and Canterlot boycotting her in front of her boutique took a toll. Of the six who were tortured, Rarity had it the most devastated reaction.
- If it's a jump scare, it's supposed to be a surprise. Rarity has a history of exaggerated faces, and both Twilight's and Starlight's distress/grimaces clue the audience that they'll hate what they'll see from her. Credit to @ChB for pointing this out.
The entire scene with AJ is supposed to be a meta reference to her lack of popularity in the fandom and how little she appears in merch compared to the others. Unfortunately, what's supposed to be a gold mine for excellent meta jokes (including parodying the short end of the stick she received by the showrunners since Mane Attraction) is turned into a major missed opportunity.
Just about every character who invaded SAA is established as far back as S1, including Cherry Berry (again) and Dinky Doo. This scene reinforces one of the episode's fatal flaws: the sudden treatment of the RM6 as celebrities.
Context is key. If this was the first or early joke in order and rewritten a bit to make it seem like it's tens and eventually hundreds of happy tourists from abroad flocking in line at the entrance to meet her, then it's possible to make it work. Instead, every pony other than a specific few leading up to this scene live in town and trespass because of plot convenience. These ponies reinforce that context. AJ's statement of not liking the newfound popularity understates the chaos from SAA and their insufferable behavior.
- Just about every character who invaded SAA is established as far back as S1, including Cherry Berry (again) and Dinky Doo. This scene reinforces one of the episode's fatal flaws: the sudden treatment of the RM6 as celebrities.
Older Pony: Twilight was better before she got wings!
That line (and who it represents) is an imbecilic straw man. People complained about Twilight in season 4, because her characterization was boring, and rising her into princesshood put her on a much higher pedestal compared to the rest. Turning her into a princess means she takes part in ruling the kingdom and making sure none of her actions hurt Equestria.
The Twilight of old appeared in Castle Mane-ia, yet what made her so lovable and her status played hooky until Twilight Time. Later episodes, Twilight's castle forming a round table (thus equalizing the Mane Six and Spike), and season five since rectified that, and the criticism has since dwindled considerably.
So, how many jokes were successful? Two.
Pinkie's party favors popping out of the journal once Dash opened her journal page.
- Twilight's face becoming flat as a pancake after AJ accidentally smashed her into the wall. Her exaggerated scowl and glare made it funny. Best joke of F&M.
Even though this is an ensemble episode, Twilight receives the most focus. Each time she witnesses a caricature of fans attack/stalk her friends or is completely ignored herself, Twilight's confidence gets beaten down more and more. Like the others, she's tortured by the townsponies just to create a payoff (whether it's the punchline to a joke or otherwise), but the torture pornography helps ruin it, among other things.
"Among other things" being the littler details. Recall how I called the dialogue a flaw: There's more to this problem generally. On two specific instances, the dialogue helped ruin the story.
Twilight Sparkle: It feels like everypony in Equestria is missing the "friendship" part of the friendship journals.
Here, Twilight both affirms and doubles down on an absolute viewpoint of what the journal and results should be: If you don't take the friendship lessons to heart, you're not to be listened to, even if you enjoy it. There's no homogenous way to enjoy a product. If there are ponies out there who enjoy the journal, but isn't fully invested in absorbing the lesson, so what? There's no one right way to enjoy it. I'll return to this point soon.
Reporter Pony: Well, sure. I read this journal cover to cover, and I have to say your character would have been much more interesting if she'd stayed in Canterlot.
Twilight Sparkle: My character?! We are real ponies! This journal is a record of things that actually happened to us! We made mistakes, and we learned from them!
Where do I even start with this shit?
F&M is FIM's third meta episode of the series. Only this time, the characters are portrayed as the showrunners' avatar, and those who are abusing the ReMane Seven represent the fans they're retorting. It's self-referential and doesn't hide it.
When we as an audience criticize the Mane Eight, we don't usually do so because we hate the characters or expect the worst. We criticize because we know that this show is very good and has done great, yet can do better. As an audience, we relate to them in some way or another. It can be a mane pony, secondary, or background. Everyone has a preference of who they like and dislike. Nobody looks at a character exactly the same way. Guess what? That's okay. At the end of the day, we still love the characters as a whole and appreciate the show and staff for what they do.
This "parody" is completely inaccurate in message, conflict, and theme. This exchange is the worst dialogue in the entire episode and causes the whole conflict to fall apart.
They're characters, not real people. They exist only on screen, on paper, or within our own imaginations. It's the creators' job to flesh them out and make that character become high-quality and memorable. Neither the avatars nor antagonists are real.
But in the universe, the characters ARE real and conquer major trials. Each time they wrote in the journal, they changed for the better, even after the episode sometimes doesn't work. Fluttershy after Breezies, Dash in Equestria Games following Rainbow Falls, Rarity after Simple Ways, etc. In canon, the characters aren't dictated by a writer's pencil or keyboard, because there, they don't exist. On the other hand, the antagonists see the autobiographical lessons as fiction and those who wrote them as fictional characters.
Neither the antagonists nor protagonists are on equal conflict ground. The ponies questioning, bashing, stalking, and abusing the RM6 are treating them not as real people, but as either characters that we as readers want to replicate on paper and recreate or property that we can recycle. How the hell can the reporter — probably the one who released the 1.5/5-star rating, though that's just a guess — honestly believe the RM6 are fictional characters when he's talking to them directly? Once more, why do ponies from within their inner circles suddenly begin to see them as celebrities when they've known them for so long, anyway?
This small exchange does nothing except tell the audience that all of these "antagonists" are straw men. Characters written to be proven wrong in order for the main characters to have the upper hand. What makes them so bad is that you're taking what could be valid points and eliminating them so the protagonists have the upper hand in everything they do. You're making what should be a complex conflict completely one-sided, thus telling parents that the episode — and show, if they watch it for the first time — is trying to emotionally manipulate children into viewing the plot through a black-and-white mentality. F&M uses real talking points from within the fandom, checks them off, and morphs them into abusive caricatures of fans rather than taking the good, bad, and recreating them into what fans as a whole truly are — people. In layman's terms, what could be a good lesson is morphed into a bad one. Straw characters helped ruin the Fluttershy Micro, Root of the Problem, Spice Up Your Life, AND here. NEVER use straw men to teach a lesson!
Good melody, poor lyrics.
While the musical melody for Work in Progress is good, the lyrics make the song the worst of the season. (Yes, worse than the duel between Big Mac and Stereo Pop.) The song (and by extension, the "we're not flawless" moral) is a loaded statement. Everyone knows the characters are flawed and how important the combination of both strengths and weaknesses makes the characters appealing, relatable, and memorable. Sometimes, the characters make really terrible mistakes, but what makes them work or not is whether these mistakes make sense or not. Sometimes the showrunners make sloppy, careless, or lazy mistakes, and people criticize the execution of the characters and story, because they love the show and know the writers can do much better, hope they learn from their mistakes, and hope these mistakes don't happen again.
The "It's flawed" excuse is as stupid as "It's a kids' show." Flawed characters don't make up for poor characterization, worldbuilding, or writing overall. When you're a moral-driven cartoon with huge focus on likeable characters like this one, your reasons for characters (especially ones designed to be role models to children) to act like jerks must make sense. "In character" and "flawed" don't justify bad behavior.
Think through your implications!
Time and time again, the show has a history of not thinking through the unfortunate implications. Sometimes they're small and don't affect the story so drastically. Other times, they completely affect the entire story and moral. See DQ, Mare Do Well, OBA, and Hard to Say Anything.
Here, the implications (in story and out, small and big) are abundant.
The RM6 out Daring Do as real, invading her privacy.
Pinkie's laughed at by ponies who's known her since at least season one, implying that their appreciation for her and friendships together are lies.
The implications surrounding Lemon Chiffon.
The fact that ponies from Canterlot and Ponyville suddenly become enamored at the idea of the RM6 publishing the journals. I wrote it earlier, and I repeat it. Place this episode in season one, adjust the story to remove the implications, and write better jokes, this is passable. Why? Because we still haven't fully acquainted with the Mane Six and Ponyville. But have Ponyville and Canterlot act like they never knew them from the beginning in a season-seven episode? A time when where they're celebrities and help spread the Magic of Friendship abroad? Nonsense! Do they genuinely care about the ReMane Six, or was their appreciation for them prior to F&M a waste of time?
This moment, when White Lightning walks away, hurt by Lemon's insults of FS:
This is supposed to represent how sometimes very vocal negativity can drive a wedge in discussion and may make people fear to express themselves. It becomes even worse when the person is brigaded by many like-minded negative people, creating a very toxic atmosphere.
Toxicity goes both ways. "Toxic positivity" is as true as "toxic negativity."
As far as the scene itself's concerned, the characters' fans and haters both attempted to trespass on Twilight's property, and it's assumed WL's part of that crowd. It's very difficult for me to pity her when she behaves as poorly as everyone else.
- Toxicity goes both ways. "Toxic positivity" is as true as "toxic negativity."
The moral is really clunky. It's supposed to be about how despite a whole bunch of people trashing the work, as long as some enjoy it, the effort's worth it. But there's a difference in what you're trying to say and what you're saying.
After the song and friendship speech, both sides resumed their bickering and feuding. The lesson paints all of the abuse as merely an obstacle of their next friendship quest. However, this isn't merely an obstacle. These fan clubs and haters are willingly or accidentally ruining their livelihoods. Rarity's boutiques remain boycotted; AJ still can't figure out how to eject her freeloading fanclub; Dash will still be nagged by brats in the sky; haters will still stalk and verbally abuse Fluttershy; and old friends will continue to treat Pinkie like an automatic laugh track. Only Twilight can deal with her problems post-credits. What happened here is not okay and shouldn't be handwaved for the sake of a cheap gag.
Coconut Cream and Toola Roola are (apparently) a metaphor of the show's assumed primary demographic: young girls. Because of how self-referential Fame is, how those two fillies are the only ones not the ReMane Seven who are sympathetic, and how they're the only ones who actually the lessons to heart, it sends an unintended message that little girls who take the morals to heart are the only people who matter.
What makes this toxic? Let's go back to Twilight's quote from before:Quote
Twilight Sparkle: It feels like everypony in Equestria is missing the "friendship" part of the friendship journals.
Parallel this to the brony fandom and FIM. Would anyone want to take the lessons to heart if they're not entertained first and foremost? FIM's educational entertainment, the emphasis intentional. Everyone wants to be entertained when watching the show.
But answering the question as this is a generalization. Critically think why you like the show. Why are you entertained when watching it? What entertains you about it? For some, it's easy, not so much for others. Bronydom is a fanbase of millions. Like human fingerprints, each reason why each brony — yes, little boys and girls count as bronies, too — watch the show and what they value most in the show is very individual. Could be the stories they tell for one, the colorful cast another. One may like the Mane Eight equally, some more than others, or have a dislike of at least one of them completely to the point where they can't stand 'em. For others, could be varying degrees of heart, humor, storytelling, and so forth. For another, how both kids and adults alike can watch it without shame. Hell, the morals of friendship they teach may be the primary reason a few watch it. How much they personally emphasize depends on their preference.
Earlier this season, A Flurry of Emotions hinted this moral in the background; whether it's intentional or not doesn't matter. Spearhead creates abstract pieces of art with intent of witnessing other ponies' reactions and emotional experiences once they see them. He understands how each one reminds Cadance and SA of Flurry Heart and dearly missing her and that someone else will react really differently. He's explicitly open with this fact.
No one watches the show the same way, either.
To echo, Twilight and the entire premise affirm that if the ponies don't learn the friendship lessons and grow from them, then whether you like the journal or not, you're not worthy of being listened to. The moral in itself implicates this by using two fillies as tokens. Combine that thought to bronydom, and it implicates that you're only a fan if you take the friendship lessons and morals to heart; if you don't, you don't qualify for a fan.
I doubt that's supposed to be that way. But from how the story's themes were presented and what the characters believed, it makes sense why many take it that way. Because that ideal, accidental or vice-versa, is dishonest in every facet. Some may love aspects of the journal, some may hate it. Others may have equal or less sharp reactions. You can control the content you put in, but not how they feel when they view it. How you, the ones who publish it, respond to it is up to you. Likewise, to repeat from before, no one will react to any FIM episode, comic, short, or EQG film/special the same. No professional material (episode, movie, comic, short, etc.) is free from questioning. Do they miss the point sometimes? Absolutely. All of us have done that, myself including. But when the characters behave out of character, you paint an uplifting and likeable world as cynical and mean-spirited for the sake of the story, and/or teach dishonest and hurtful messages, then criticizing and bashing the story's integrity is fair game.
For that matter, and this is a message to everyone reading this review, people regardless of age are entitled to like and love the show how they see fit. People are entitled to dislike and even hate episodes. People are entitled to criticize episodes if they suck. People are entitled to take NO lessons to heart! Does any of this make them lesser of a fan than others? If your answer is yes, exit the page now.
- After the song and friendship speech, both sides resumed their bickering and feuding. The lesson paints all of the abuse as merely an obstacle of their next friendship quest. However, this isn't merely an obstacle. These fan clubs and haters are willingly or accidentally ruining their livelihoods. Rarity's boutiques remain boycotted; AJ still can't figure out how to eject her freeloading fanclub; Dash will still be nagged by brats in the sky; haters will still stalk and verbally abuse Fluttershy; and old friends will continue to treat Pinkie like an automatic laugh track. Only Twilight can deal with her problems post-credits. What happened here is not okay and shouldn't be handwaved for the sake of a cheap gag.
Aside from the mane characters, CMCs, and the other two fillies, everyone is a quarter-dimensional, abusive caricature of specific groups of fans. Each set Twilight encounters includes the entitled fan, collector, hate mob, brat, and freeloader. Swap lines within their groups, and their personalities are exactly the same regardless of who's speaking. There's no redeeming quality in anyone here.
But what makes this really sad?
a. Both kids and adults combined represent these stereotypes, including ALL adult fans. The fact that all of them are false representations of who fans are regardless of age talks down to not only adults who watch the show, but also little kids. The episode paints a broad brush on every antagonist by turning them all into one-note bullies. Every adult (both the lovers and haters) acting so petulant hurts the episode's themes, messages, and reinforces awful geek-centric stereotypes. On their own, the stereotypes are bad enough; it's even worse when using them to try to teach a moral to children.
b. F&M doesn't isolate the criticism from the abuse and reacts very defensively to valid (and dated) talking points. Fans (including big Fluttershy fans, like myself) criticized her, because we know they can write her better. (We're seeing this now with AJ and her flanderization.) Ironically, the past three seasons are among her best of the series, thanks to the criticism. Even though he wasn't in the episode, Spike wouldn't have his best season last year had the fanbase not hammer them for their poor treatment of him for so long.
c. As written before, these caricatures are straw men.
d. Recall the quote:Quote
"YOU'VE KNOWN ME FOR YEARS!"
It applies to everyone, not only Pinkie. Most of the characters have been present since the pilot, a large chunk (i.e, Lyra, Bon Bon, Daisy, Lemon Hearts, Twinkleshine, Rose, Amethyst Star) with canonical characterizations prior. The background characters became beloved from their antics, spawning ideas, theories, and other creative forms of imagination. When characters do something with the mane characters, like help, sing, or dance, they tell us how much these ponies care for one another. Slice of Life works in so many ways, one of which is how much they care for each other and see others as part of Ponyville's soul. They actively helped Matilda and Cranky prepare an impromptu wedding and fussed little. The moral and animation presentation make it feel like they accomplished something.
So, what do they accomplish here? Becoming ungrateful bastards. That's not what the show stands for. It's so out of character of the show's welcoming atmosphere and progressive morale.
Rebuttals to some/common/eventual defenses for this episode.
It only represents a portion of the fanbase or town.
When all we see is everyone from Ponyville or Canterlot behave like assholes, you're telling us to assume that everyone from both towns behaves like this. The same logic applies to bronydom. When 99% of all the audience sees is badly-behaved fans, you paint an impression that this is not only the norm within the brony fandom, but that almost everyone who's a brony is some kind of "manchild." You're guilting people by association.
If you're trying to suggest that it's only a portion, either SHOW a portion or clearly dictate that that these jerkasses, while very loud, don't represent the whole. Don't use real talking points. Consolidate the assholes to a spare few, while making the characters recognize throughout that kids and adults — not just two kids — do care about the journal and their well-being.
Two episodes apply your defense much better than Fame:
- Spike's Search from G1.
Stranger Than FF.
- Yes, Quibble can be an elitist and sometimes a bit of a jerk. But he's also a fan of Daring Do like the rest in the con, and the ep never lets you forget it. Just a fan of the first three books. It's very clear to the audience that he was only one bad apple within that entire con, yet the episode treats him as a genuinely good person who just got caught up. On top of that, he learns his lesson at the end.
This entire episode is very laid back in tone, so the writers are able to get away with cartoony shenanigans, the satire, and a bunch of the humor.
The Daring Do con is a satire of fandom conventions and their quirky charm. It shows us how dedicated many Do fans are, but the con is written in a way so the audience knows it's in good fun. We as people see ourselves in that con, but its accuracy and good-nature comedy make it funny. We laugh at ourselves by simultaneously laughing with the writers.
BTW, thanks to Fame, I respect and appreciate Stranger now. Though I stand by on Quibble being OOC in the second half, I was wrong to call him a stereotype, and I was really unfair towards the episode the entire time.
If you're not laughing at yourself, you're part of the problem.
Self-deprecation comes primarily not at the audience's expense, but at their own. We're not laughing at ourselves, but at the situation the comedians are in. Rodney Dangerfield was amazing at it: He always never took himself seriously, knew that the audience and he were going to have a great time together, and was just an all-around good guy.
You know who was great at making the audience laugh at themself? A hint: he just passed away. Don Rickles. He could deliver any type of insult at you. There was no line he couldn't cross. So why was he funny?
- Again, Rickles never took himself seriously. The lighthearted tone in his routines loosens the atmosphere and makes the audience more receptive to the jokes.
- Rickles knew how to insult you without getting personal. He put in the effort to make you laugh through his performance. If they laughed, then he succeeded. He roasted everyone and made them laugh so hard that they couldn't breathe.
- Despite his act on stage, he was an excellent person behind the scenes. The stories people tell about him show how good he was as a person. When he has that good of a reputation, the audience knows his insult routine is all in good fun. Some of his best roasts were to people he respected or were close friends with, like Sinatra and Reagan.
In short, guilt-trip someone who's insulted to laugh at themself, the joke is neither good nor funny. It failed. To double-down and accuse them of being part of the problem is hypocritical.
You're a snowflake for hating this episode.
Like "SJW," "fanbrat," "fanboy/girl," and "alt-left," this pejorative jumped the shark. In fact, I hated it ever since I heard it. Why? Because it mocks people just for being able to feel. You're directly trolling people for sharing an emotional response. You mandate that people should act like robots or live in some kind of hive mind. Humanity doesn't work that way. Diversity helps shape up our world. You can't control people's emotions.
Ironically, calling people "snowflakes" or "sensitive" is hypocritical, too, 'cause you're emotionally reacting to their emotion.
"But why do you love Cutie Map, when it's one of the most cynical settings of the show?" Glad you asked, my imaginary questionnaire.
- This setting is completely confined into that town only, and both its presentation and Mane Six's reactions make it clear that what they see around them is not normal. Everyone's happiness is completely controlled.
- Starlight continually brainwashes Our Town's inhabitants into sticking to her ways, or else. Starlight was a ruthless, calculated control freak. Not to mention she was the villain. Something folks like her should do. If she wasn't so evil, then it won't make any sense.
- It was also very well written. DHX very carefully planned everything about that episode from beginning to end, and the Mane Six figured out how to solve a life-threatening friendship problem very cleverly.
In short, TCM's about celebrating diversity and free will, not the opposite. It's cynicism done right.
Why do you take it seriously? It's a kids' show.
Congratulations for answering your own question. There's no place to treat real people and groups of real people like stereotypes in any show, especially one with intent to educate to children. The fact that we teach kids that (ageist) stereotypes are A-OK in entertainment makes me take it very seriously. This show is way better than this pandering schlock.
The better the show, the more it respects kids. And, yes, kids DO care about lore/worldbuilding. If they don't, then why is magical thinking so important in children's development, and why do psychologists and high-quality children's educational shows (i.e., Arthur, Mister Rogers', Sesame Street, Shining Time Station, Magic School Bus, Dragon Tales) value it so much?
In a June 2017 interview from The Hollywood Reporter, Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner admitted that boys make up 30% of FIM's TV audience, and they no longer allegedly aim toys to a specific gender. Observe the recent trend of FIM being marketed to boys AND girls over the past year-plus. With Let Toys Be Toys campaigning for the desegregation of toys, Audi's Spanish branch publishing a car commercial satirizing gender roles, and companies like Target, Toys R Us, and TJ Maxx (for clothes) de-sexing aisles, this trend is only (hopefully) continuing.
Focus that back to MLP. Zacherle founded the franchise as a unisex toyline, and MLP & Friends was for all ages regardless of gender. Faust and crew published FIM as an all-ages, gender-neutral show, too, and it's been that way since. The family-friendly approach and refusal to apply gender and age barriers onto their stories and world are two background reasons why the fandom became so enormous and boisterous.
The point? "It's for kids" is a stupid excuse. Being for children shouldn't affect the quality of your product. To use it regardless of circumstance talks down to kids and treats them like idiots. Apply this to "it's for little girls," as well. Labeling FIM as for (little) girls shoves gender roles upon our children, segregates genders into categories, applies different standards of quality to girls when it should be universal, and treats girls as tokens to excuse misogyny and misandry. Being a "good girls' show" shouldn't matter. Be a good show, period.
This is a lighthearted jab at the fanbase.
It's odd how no one has come forward to claim credit for the aired product. Larson repeatedly disassociated himself from this episode, both in ToonKritic's podcast and on Twitter.
Big Jim was unaware, too:
I don't know what happened behind the scenes, but given the visual and audio evidence, the theory of it being a lighthearted poke either originally or after submission to Hasbro deserves the benefit of the doubt.
However, for the aired product, it's ridiculous to claim it's lighthearted when Ponyville and Canterlot treat them like crap and the characters become emotionally distressed and scared as a result. Unlike Best Night Ever, Slice of Life, and Stranger, the meta conflict and character reactions are supposed to be taken seriously. The tone and mood are played straight; both sides treat the matter as a really big deal. Laughing and grimacing at the stereotypes don't a satire make. That's why The Good, The Bad, and The Ponies isn't a parody (despite its intentions), and the same applies here.
Razgriz made an excellent point last month when criticizing Fame, and I echo my reply on Discord to here with changes: You can't have a show without an audience. People watch and follow the show out of interest, admiration, and so on. They don't watch to get called out. It's a bad move to taunt any portion of the fanbase, because it can come across as an attack on the people you're not attacking. "Lighthearted fun" or "a portion" makes no difference. If you're going to respond to any group of fans, you BETTER know what you're doing.
Rickles knew what he was doing when roasting people. Whoever ghostwrote this script didn't.
You're excusing the abuse the writers went through.
If you have that thought, erase it. There's no excuse for anyone to abuse the showrunners, and I never condone it. I'm on record of being against it, sometimes replying to users angrily when they do. No matter how angry we get at episodes from time to time, these showrunners, animators, and editors are people. They earn as much respect as everyone else here. The criticism, even the harsh ones, are aimed at the product. If I criticize the company or showrunners, it's for their lack of effort if applicable because I know they do better, releasing something with stereotypes or harmful morals (since kids are impressionable), or their behavior if they cross a line (which I've done to no one but IDW's Ted Anderson for his sexism). But I don't get personal; that's a no-no under any circumstance.
At the end of the day, DHX is an entity full of people like you and I.
(Some) Bronies/The fandom had it coming.
That "argument" is the most obvious self-fulfilling prophecy I've heard within fandom in quite some time.
One thing the show does very well is it creates and enforces a very uplifting, inviting atmosphere. The pastel colors, likeable mane characters, likeable background ponies, idealistic solutions to friendship, and proactive approach to solving friendship problems tell the audience this isn't supposed to be that type of world where "realistic" doesn't translate into stereotypical cynicism. This was one of the themes when the show started, and it's shown by how Ponyville and Pinkie actively welcomed Twilight in the Golden Oak Library. Sometimes even when the episodes don't do as well, it stays true to its tone.
Think about this. When were the episodes at their best? When it shoots up. Hurricane FS, Winter Wrap Up, Perfect Pear, Lost Frickin' Mark! Even when it doesn't do as well as it should, like A Friend in Deed, it still capitalizes on that welcoming, confident setting.
OTOH, what are some of the biggest flaws in Mare Do Well, PYHD, Ponyville Confidential, Bats!, Filli Vanilli, 28PL, Newbie Dash, and Owl's Well? The mean-spirited tone. Everything about it is not only completely cynical, but also done in a way that completely beats down on the mane character and makes it act like the entire world is out to get them. When the setting dials up the mean-spirited tone, it makes the world they're living in very unpleasant to watch. Do so with an idealistic, uplifting world like FIM's, then it's done for no other reason than to serve the plot. If you're gonna present something mean, make it feel organic.
Each time the series turned up this level of contrived cynicism, the quality of the atmosphere and overall story degrades. You're piling on cruelty again and again just because. Fame, to repeat it, has that same flaw. Ironically, it's similar to one of season 2's worst, which Larson wrote and took credit for:
(Link to poster.)
Replace the gossiping theme and CMCs with fandom and the ReMane Six, respectively, and you get the same episode. Remove the fandom allegories; all you have left is a town deciding to suddenly declare the ReMane Six famous and treat them like dirt just because they can.
So, here's a question, and think about it long and hard. If Fame and Misfortune didn't include fandom allegories, would you grin viciously at this episode? Would you act like white supremacists following Trump's election victory and publish the vitriol in the first place?
For a good chunk of you, chances are it's gonna be "no."
That alone means Fame is a failure. This "bravery" is cowardice and a self-centered desire to air your dirty laundry as well as support the idea that kids should embrace lazy shortcuts of entertainment. Excusing this lowbrow shit is bad enough. To do so through this doesn't make this episode any better. In fact, you only make it worse.
One final note.
A few self-contained scenes completely contradict continuity…but I held out one more: the whole premise itself. There's no care in backstory, worldbuilding, and contextual logic in any way, shape, or form. Echoing WaterPulse offsite, it feels like the one(s) who ghostwrote it didn't give a damn about the Equestrian world or threw it all away just to drive home a point. If the story doesn't care about the rich, ever-growing world, why should your audience?
Now, to give Fame some credit, it has a lot of potential. The material to create an excellent satire is there. We as a fandom have its strengths and flaws. A good, effective satire can allow the fandom to actually poke fun at itself: acknowledge the problems, yet do it that makes it funny and not anger-inducing. Stranger pulls it off rather effectively, particularly within that con and treatment of Quibble as a nice albeit stubborn guy. And apparently, this was supposed to be lighthearted, too.
So, what the hell happened? Where's that traditional love and care for the audience? How did the show (which aired The Perfect Pear one episode prior) manage to publish an episode that was so wrapped up in trying to send a message to its audience that it forgot to write a story, much less a good one? Larson makes it known that plenty of it was ghostwritten during development, and the fact that nobody claimed responsibility for it is troublesome. That doesn't mean DHX doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt. Far from it. They're a reputable company, and the people within care about their craft and the quality they publish.
I feel very sorry for Larson. Even though many of his ideas weren't his, laws require him to be credited for it. This episode as is feels out of character of him. Out of everyone who worked for the show, he's closest to the fandom. He may've screwed up on one satire, but that was due to story oversights, not spite. Additionally, in every episode he writes, he focuses a lot on sticking to the continuity and not contradict it; neither episode that keeps it in mind (this and MMC) were his fault.
I originally skipped this one, because I believed it was going to be bad. After watching it the first go around (and then skimmed through a second time), it blew me away. Was it as bad as I thought? No. It's twenty times worse.
Fundamentally, it's broken. It doesn't understand what a parody is supposed to be; it tries to parody obnoxious fans, yet the characters play everything so straight that it's treated as a serious plot instead of a satire. Continuity is ignored for the sake of the story, both in sections and throughout. Jokes are rammed in without focus on having them make sense. The premise used the idea that the ReMane Six would finally be recognized as a result of their journal, even though their celebrityhood dates back to the pilot in Ponyville and Canterlot and expanded following MMC. Fanatics are painted with a broad brush by having everyone sans two fillies portrayed as abusive caricatures. Yet, by combining valid criticism with the abuse, reducing existing characters into less-than-flat caricatures and ageist stereotypes of fans, and painting the antagonists as seeing the RM6 as only fictional characters, the antagonists become straw men, damaging the story and morals. The beginning is stupid, and it only worsens with each passing minute. Starlight's appearance, her best since reformation, is wasted here.
Fame & Misfortune panders to the lowest common denominator. Lazy, dishonest, and intellectually offensive. This garbage exists as is to check off common talking points within the fandom, whether it makes canonical sense or not. Whoever decided to warp the script into a callous attitude should be ashamed of themself. It overtakes 28 Pranks Later as the most mean-spirited take of Equestria in the entire show and is fundamentally worse than Rainbow Falls and EQG1. Unlike Fame, those two tried to tell a story. Add the unfortunate implications (the ageism, enforcement of tired geek-based stereotypes, and treatment of Coconut and Toola as tokens), it's even worse. It's both my most hated and (so far) worst episode of season seven.
At the start of the review, my bottom-13 was like this:
- One Bad Apple
- Bridle Gossip
- Newbie Dash
- Dragon Quest
- The Crystal Empire
- Rainbow Falls
- 28 Pranks Later
- Princess Spike
- The Mysterious Mare Do Well
- Owl’s Well That Ends Well
- The Show Stoppers
- Putting Your Hoof Down
Now, after talking about another awful episode (Newbie Dash) with King Clark, it's now this:
- One Bad Apple
- Newbie Dash
- Fame and Misfortune
- Bridle Gossip
- Dragon Quest
- The Crystal Empire
- Rainbow Falls
- 28 Pranks Later
- Princess Spike
- The Mysterious Mare Do Well
- Owl’s Well That Ends Well
- The Show Stoppers