TV Tropes is a really terrible thing, you know that? It can suck away your life minute by minute, page by page, in a way that Wikipedia can only dream to match. If you’re a fan of categorization, and a scholar of the mechanics of story, then TV Tropes is truly the greatest drug.
It will also draw startling parallels between shows you like and shows you never thought in a million years you would ever tolerate for a second. Shows like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
Over the years, TV Tropes has actually got me to watch a great number of movies and shows that I have come to enjoy heavily. I knew, going in, that if I found a show heavily linked in TV Tropes, that I would probably like it. Choosing to actually find out whether I would like My Little Pony is my own fault. I knew this was going to happen.
So, yes, I’m a fan now. God help me, it’s a good show.
Not a horribly complex show, mind you, the ‘deeper’ readings prolific within the TV Tropes archives are taking things a little further than intended. This is popcorn entertainment at its best, and really, I’m okay with that. Not everything has to be Mass Effect levels of social commentary, or Battlestar Galactica style religious examination. Sometimes you can just have a show about colorful ponies having fun with magic and making friends.
I wonder when it was decided that to be a grown-up a person had to be jaded? I admit to a fair amount of belief in this concept myself, but watching vector animated magical ponies with my 2-year-old son, I sort of wondered if we’d all just gone horribly wrong. The world IS a pretty nefarious place, but it doesn’t mean you have to BE nefarious to survive. It certainly doesn’t mean all your entertainment has to be cynical and dark to be enjoyable.
Or maybe it’s about balance. I’m playing Mass Effect 3 right now, which is a very dark game. I’ve talked about it a bit already, but if Star Trek is about showing us the glory of humanity out in a vast and unusual universe, then Mass Effect is about showing how small humanity can be in a universe that is just a little too full of life and just a little too small when the elder gods come calling.
In any case, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is a “reboot” (did the original cartoon ever have an ongoing storyline?) of the merchandising line and centers on a place called Ponyville, in the Kingdom of Equestria — yes, there is no creativity in the naming here. If you’re not familiar with My Little Pony at all – and, yes, even if you’re a guy you should at least have been passingly aware of your sister’s collection of toys… you know, the ones that always got mixed in with your He-Man ‘action figures’ – each of the main characters is a pony and each has a magical ability (or heightened skill) that is represented in some manner by a colorful mark they have on their hind quarters. In pony-parlance, it’s called a ‘Cutie Mark.’
Yes, it seems like a very girly show. Bear with me for a minute.
The main character (at least in Season 1) is Twilight Sparkle. She’s a unicorn – oh, yeah, there are also unicorns and Pegasus characters, as well as other animals including other breeds of horses – who talent is that she has vast amount of raw magical ability. Equestria is reigned over by a pair of binary gods named Celestia and Luna, and Twilight is apprenticed to Celestia to learn magic. However, Twilight is a bookish shut-in who lives in a library, and Celestria insists that she get out and learn to make friends. Thus, she is ejected from the castle – which is in ‘Canterlot’ – and sent to the commoner town of Ponyville where she meets the other principal characters and sets the stage for the remainder of the series.
Despite her odd situation, Twilight is actually our audience surrogate character because she’s never been to Ponyville before and the only life she’s ever really known is in her library and in training to the regent of their kingdom. So when she meets the Sugar-infected-super-happy-party-addicted-hyper-OCD pony called Pinkie Pie, she is thoroughly convinced that everypony in Ponyville is insane.
She’s not all that wrong.
And it’s fun! Yes, there are five main characters and each has a different temperament and power that conveniently compensates for their eccentricities. Yes, insane things happen in the name of friendship. Yes, every episode ends in ‘lesson’ about friendship that Twilight learns and mails back to Celestia in a scroll. Yes, nothing really happens between episodes 3 and 22. But that’s okay!
Because the show light hearted, it’s got characters who are fun to watch and gradually develop over the season, and because it’s pretty self-aware, you can excuse the fact that 50% of episodes are just about growing up and accepting yourself.
Oh, also, it’s pretty funny. I mean, this show was made by one of the people responsible for PowerPuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, two very entertaining shows that don’t have on-going storylines but also don’t debase themselves with gross or inappropriate humor. I’m pretty vocal about my dislike of Spongebob Squarepants, and I can say firmly that this show is nothing like that.
But it’s definitely not for everyone. Certainly, I wonder if my son will continue to like this show when he realizes the feminine undertones (although, the creator explicitly stated that she wanted a show with female characters that don’t obsess of typical girly things like makeup, boys, and fashion and so far she’s succeeded). If he rebels and calls it girly… well, he’ll be wrong. This isn’t a girly show.
It’s a show starring ponies painted in bright colors, but it’s about being positive, friendly, and happy. And not just on the surface; not just being silly. Anyone can laugh, but being happy is harder. And My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic takes a pretty firm stance on this issue. You can laugh on your own – in fact, it’s easy to – but happiness is rooted in community. Twilight Sparkle could very well be the most powerful magician in Equestria, but what use is magic if there’s nobody to share it with.
And right now, I’m happy to share this show with my son.