Debuting today is the first part of a new series examining the writers of Friendship is Magic and their roles in shaping the series called Writer Appreciation Day. BartonFink takes the lead!
In the earliest days of Friendship is Magic, the very fundamentals of the show still needed to be translated from concept to screen. The pilots having been complete, Faust had also written an incomplete 11-minute script, entitled The Ticket Master. As the first non-pilot, ‘real’ episode of the series, there was likely a desire to set up the basics of every character, introduce a handful of key concepts in life in Ponyville, all the while setting a standard for the show’s brand comedy and staying true to the show bible which had been so crucial in the show’s formation.
This was a job for Amy Keating Rogers.
The path to becoming a writer was an unusual one. For her senior undergraduate year at Occidental College, Amy Keating Rogers needed to take a class to round out her theater degree, where her focus was on acting. Given the choice between a speech class and a playwriting class, it was only at the behest of a professor that she took the initial playwriting course, believing she would be a natural. This class would begin an interest that would lead her initially into writing her own plays, and ultimately become her profession.
When paying acting jobs seemed hard to come by after she earned her MFA from CalArts, she would find herself as a production assistant on Johnny Bravo, and then on The Powerpuff Girls. When Powerpuff needed another writer, Craig McCracken’s familiarity with her plays led him to give her a chance. This chance would eventually turn into a six year gig, earning four Emmy nominations to her name. Among other gigs, Rogers would subsequently work alongside Faust, as well as much of the eventual Friendship is Magic crew, on Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. She went into Friendship is Magic with very limited knowledge of the My Little Pony franchise, but a belief in Faust, an appreciation of the extensive show bible and a mindset to expand these concepts to a full-blown series.
Amy Keating Rogers has since written 10 episodes of Friendship is Magic: The Ticket Master (credited with Lauren Faust), Applebuck Season, Bridle Gossip, Fall Weather Friends, A Dog and Pony Show, The Best Night Ever, The Cutie Pox, The Last Roundup, A Friend in Deed, and MMMystery on the Friendship Express.
For lack of a better word Rogers may be the most “balanced” of the Friendship is Magic writing team. While the emphasis isn’t always equal, she’s shown an ability to get good material out of nearly every character: even from early on, with the aforementioned Ticket Master, it seems she has been relied on to establish the fundamentals of how characters work. In the realm of the comedic vs. the emotional, she would seem to lean towards the comedic end of the spectrum, and occasionally veering into full comedic farce mode.
Some writers, notably Meghan McCarthy, explore characters by pulling their world out from under them—think Party of One. Rogers usually is more interested in seeing what happens when a certain character trait is taken a few steps too far. Consider Applejack’s pride and competitive streak, Pinkie’s invasive friendliness, or Apple Bloom’s determination to get her cutie mark. These plotlines provide a stable setting for laying out any number of comedic situations, and she seems fond of morals about not letting your noteworthy character trait get the best of you.
Other episodes, such as Bridle Gossip, seemed patently designed to let out every funny idea that might’ve come up inbetween. Bridle Gossip gives a thorough introduction to Zecora—one has to wonder whether Faust’s original concept of a more prominently featured Zecora was still the plan at the time—but a lot of the episode focuses on the comedy that ensues from the touching of the poison joke, a step disconnected from the Zecora storyline and the overall moral. The upside is that the poison joke, as a plot device, opens up a number of successful comedic avenues that play off the character fundamentals. Given that Flutterguy singing Pinkie’s song is nearing 2 million views on YouTube, it would appear this strategy works.
While the show would gradually take on more specific character focus, particularly in season one, Rogers took on episodes which highlighted all six of the main cast. They all appear in a lot of episodes, of course, but there’s a fundamental difference between a momentary interlude and all six playing into the fabric of an episode. Beyond Ticket Master, episodes like Bridle Gossip and even Applebuck Season shows Rogers ability to maximize character screen time. The Best Night Ever is the most solid example: having an unusual amount of buildup from Suited for Success and Ticket Master, the episode efficiently sets each pony up with a goal (the song really helps pull off this one), has a moment of perceived success, quickly turning into failure, and finally climatic disaster. A gentleman who calculated the screen time of every episode finds that in fact Best Night Everis the single most balanced episode of at least season one. That the episode is able to find this balance without really feeling like it’s knocking off a narrative checklist is a testament.
Make ‘em Laugh
At the risk of simplifying, Friendship is Magic’s appeal comes from a mixture of comedy and heart. Almost every episode tries to have both comedic scenes and sentiment, and both are based in the characters, but usually one aspect of the show trumps the other in focus. Rogers, if one accepts this logic, likely falls hard on the comedic end of the spectrum. Using her aforementioned strength in the character fundamentals, Rogers’ writing style is usually more gag-oriented, with little downtime without some sort of comedic stimulus.
For this reason her episodes tend to favor a faster pace, more roller coaster than smell the roses, usually not stopping for any downtime. The Last Roundup, which may be the most Rogers-styled episode of them all, is the pristine example: the plot focus shifts, there’s little time wasted between gags, with every pony getting some screen time. Similarly, while she’s not quite Larson, she likely earns second place in insertion of pop culture references—think the Benny Hill chase in Ticket Master, or the reenactments in MMMystery on the Friendship Express.
This may also be the reason why Rogers episodes tend to be the “horsiest.” While a count isn’t (yet) available it seems like Rogers manages to work in the most horse puns per episode—quite a feat, considering that every writer indulges in this somewhat. Even beyond the puns, Rogers seems more willing to present the characters as being equine in nature. Think of the daffodil and daisy sandwich from Ticket Master, the conversational horse carriage race in The Last Roundup, enlisting the service of fellow horses as transport at the beginning of The Best Night Ever, or the use of digging across numerous episodes. The conclusions to draw here are arguable, but whether it provides decent comedy fodder or fulfills some larger objective, Rogers is not afraid to remind the audience that these are horses we’re dealing with.
Given all this, it’s fitting that MMMystery on the Friendship Express seems to function as a final run-through on her comedic style: a collection of one-liners, parodies, situations, and setups that feel as if they didn’t quite fit into a given episode, but were too entertaining to pass up doing. In what was likely her final episode, Rogers seemed to be getting it out of her system (intentional or not).
Rogers’ comedic instinct even comes through in moments of sentiment. While not always taking on the most dramatically heavy episodes of the series, Rogers does include d’aww-inducing scenes of reconciliation and realization. But even then, they’re almost always leveled off with a self-knowing wink to the audience. Spike visibly disapproves of the sentiment expressed in Ticket Master, earning Applejack’s (ultimately misplaced) anger a moment later. Dash laments Fluttershy for making her get ‘all sappy’ in The Last Roundup, Apple Bloom’s heartfelt confession in The Cutie Pox is delivered during the peak of her cutie mark-induced insanity. Cranky and Matilda’s reunion and old-timey flashback in A Friend in Deed is the most straight-forward exception, though it’s observed and quickly followed by an overenthusiastic Pinkie, ready to inject some fireworks and excited monologues into the situation. The pull-back is a classic comedic technique that isn’t unique to Rogers on the show, but she may be the most consistent in making sure to keep the comedy bits flowing.
Pies and Apples
There is no on-the-record statement on Rogers’ favorite pony, but it’s incredibly hard to watch her episodes and not reach the conclusion that it simply has to be Pinkie Pie. As noted, Rogers seems to have enough of a grasp on just about every pony that she can handle any of them, but the energy just seems to pop out a bit more when Pinkie is on screen. This isn’t surprising, as Rogers’ love of free-wheeling comedy is a perfect fit for Pinkie, and if her various interviews and Twitter account are any indication, seems to match up with her own personality the best.
While Rogers occasionally utilizes the fourth wall breaking portion of Pinkie’s character, she spends a lot more time simply enjoying Pinkie’s regular Ponyville behavior. The first act of A Friend in Deed, up to and including the quintessential Smile song, basically amounts to a full celebration of Pinkie’s worldview. The Last Roundup, while often considered an Applejack episode, is rather Pinkie-heavy, particularly the the free-wheeling, visual-gags-and-one-liners Pinkie. Perhaps most famously, she’s given over a minute of screentime to simply be a weaponized annoyance meant to break down Applejack’s resolve. Yes, at one point Pinkie does manage the impossible feat of jumping down from the top of the screen, but the heart of the scene is that Pinkie really does love saying kumquat that much.
Not only does every Rogers episode have at least some Pinkie, but she’s always given some time to shine, even when not involved with the main plot line at all. The Cutie Pox manages to squeeze in a fun little Sugarcube Corner interlude alongside the classic corn cakes sequence despite not calling for Pinkie at all. Fall Weather Friends cleverly uses the color commentary supporting role to logically add Pinkie to the episode’s action.
Beyond Pinkie, Rogers has the most Applejack-centric episodes of any writer. Her obvious interest in the character doesn’t result in deification; while Applejack is occasionally presented as high standard of ponydom in other episodes (usually used in more of a passing reference type fashion), Rogers is a bit more three-dimensional, willing to explore AJ’s character flaws alongside her better moments. Namely, Applejack’s pride is the foremost antagonist in all of her episodes: Applebuck Season has her pride lead her to mental ruin, Fall Weather Friends shows that her competitive streak can go too far, and while The Last Roundup is a group episode in many ways, Applejack’s pride ultimately leads her away from her friends and family. The “I’m stubbornly not talking to you about this” Applejack from the middle of Last Roundup might indeed be AJ at her darkest. Rogers has also expressed that a number of Applejack-isms have worked their way into her daily vocabulary, indicating this relationship is not a one-way street.
Between the group episodes, internal conflict, and use of comedic farce, there isn’t a lot of room left over for tag team episodes. Fall Weather Friends is a notable exception: while fitting the fast-paced, jokey nature of Rogers’ usual style, and a plot line/moral right in line with her usual techniques, this is her only episode which focuses on the interrelationship between two specific characters. The Rainbow Dash and Applejack “friendly but fierce competitiveness” dynamic seems to be a recurring favorite of Rogers’, showing up as early as Ticket Master, and has worked its way into the show’s overall fabric.
Of her entire run, the one episode that seems to stand out as unusual for her style is A Dog and Pony Show. Rogers herself has commented the episode was a challenge, being the first time she put a strong focus on Rarity. It is also the only Rogers episode to feature monsters as antagonists and doesn’t involve much in the way of internal conflict—in fact, Rarity’s posh and grace has the situation basically under control from the get-go. Even so, sequences such as the “whack-a-Diamond-Dog” sequence or Rarity’s whining monologue have a strong Rogers feeling to them, and makes one a bit curious where more Rarity-centric Rogers material would’ve gone.
Embracing the Fandom
Rogers has been quick to embrace the attention the fandom has brought her. She has granted an exclusive interview to this site, set up a Twitter account, and attended numerous fan conventions, most recently BronyCon (in which she gave EQI a lengthier interview). Rogers was somewhat thrust into the center of a fandom controversy, following her insertion of Derpy into a scene in The Last Roundup. Derpy won’t be relitigated here, but Rogers’ thoughtful response to the controversy deserves credit for being a voice of reason amongst a sea of hyperbole. After leaving a major mark in the first two seasons, Rogers has since moved on, taking the job as story editor on Care Bears: Welcome to Care-a-Lot. But her interest in the fandom remains—at the time of this writing, she has both an upcoming podcast interview and is planning a convention appearance with M.A. Larson.
Amy Keating Rogers’ style will certainly be missed in future seasons. Usually more grounded and balanced in her emotional center, she uses high quality gag-writing skill and a keen understanding of what makes the characters tick to realize their comedic potential. Her episodes are a mix of character introspection and comedic farce—when they can come together, as in The Last Roundup, the results are classic. And she has treated her newfound fame in the fandom with a positive attitude that would do Pinkie proud.
If Belly Bros do in fact exist, it appears they’ve lucked out.
For more biographical info on Ms. Rogers, check out her official site. ■