» TRS Round Table 039: Filli Vanilli Review

Put on your matching cardigans and get ready to read this weeks Round Table! While we’re slightly delayed due to server upgrades, it is finally time to discuss “Filli Vanilli” which aired February 15th and saw Fluttershy manage to become the temporary lead singer of The Ponytones.

Joining the discussion are BartonFink, Wayoshi, ShieldedDiamond, PictishBeast, The Doctor, ComradeCosmobot and drunkill.

 

drunkill: Returning after the highly successful episode “Pinkie Pride,” Amy Keating Rogers pens her second episode of Season four with the same levels of energy and smile-inducing charm.

BartonFink: AKR seems to have developed a complete comfort with the world of Friendship of Magic. Neither this nor “Pinkie Pride” explored new territory in terms of either the world nor the characters, yet both managed to feel completely fresh and effortless.

Wayoshi: An episode based off of one of the best early S1 episodes, and yet is completely unique and feels right at home with those early days. What more can you ask for?

ShieldedDiamond: Really had that nice feel of a Season 1 slice of life episode, and I loved it. I hope we can get more episodes like this.

PictishBeast: As one of the three people on Earth who wasn’t wowed by “Pinkie Pride,” I thought this episode knocked it out of the park. Just a simple, low-stakes outing that was sweet all the way through from its wrapper to its gooey center.

The Doctor: This episode did have a much more mellow feel to it.  No special trips, or special visitors.  The Ponytones are a hometown quartet, which was very unexpected.  The entire story is pretty focused and that works.  I agree with ShieldedDiamond that it had a slice-of-life S1 feel to it, and since S1 is my favorite, I am totally OK with that.

Quit jivin' me, turkey. Quit jivin’ me, turkey.

drunkill: Pinkie Pie was let loose this episode, although perhaps oblivious to Fluttershy’s fears. She got to chew the scenery, or rather, munch.

Wayoshi: Talking about the elephant in the room first, are we?

I’m on the side who thinks it was over the line, but just over. I think a couple tweaks in the dialogue here or there would have fixed things, although I can’t really identify what exactly to change. Just, her ridiculous rambling about ponies getting jealous and forming a mob was waaaaaaaay out there, and could have been cut. And yes, I know Amy herself has said she was in no-filter / super blunt mode, but even then how could “it’s like you lived your worst personal nightmare!” possibly be construed as encouraging feedback, even from her point of view? Ultimately I think the role was molded to exacerbate Fluts’ fears, because if all the Mane 6 were understanding, there may not have been enough conflict (since there’s very little anyways).

The Doctor: One rewatch of “A Friend in Deed” will remind us that tactless exuberance is nothing new for Pinkie Pie. I do think her behavior this week went a bit overboard as in both cases, it drove Fluttershy to tears. While Fluttershy is certainly a stronger character than she was in season one, when we see Pinkie Pie unwilling to pull a harmless prank on her, I do think this went a bit too far into the jerk category.

ShieldedDiamond: Yes, Pinkie Pie was a bit out of character this episode, and a little hurtful to her to be honest. But Amy Keating Rogers has occasionally written characters somewhat out of place. But you know, I’m willing to look past that, as even with Pinkie acting the way she did, it was still a lovely episode to watch. I mean, Pinkie Pie wasn’t even such a big role in the episode. If she had a much larger role, I think there would have been a problem. However, as it is, I believe this episode is still one of the best of the season.

ComradeCosmobot: I’ll give it some slack because it was in a tough spot: either Pinkie stays in character and you have a hard time trying to instill fear in Fluttershy (who is going to rile her up?) or she goes over the top, and…  well…  you get this.  Still, it doesn’t mean it’s not poor characterization for Pinkie (even if it’s not her typical “randumb” characterization).

ShieldedDiamond: That is a very good point. I feel like if there was another, new antagonist instilling fear in Fluttershy, (say a critic character) I feel like the episode would not have been so good. Because I felt this episode was perfect without an antagonist-character.

PictishBeast: I laughed at Hilariously Cruel Pinkie, even if half the time I was laughing in semi-shock (“hahaha what the hell Pinkie?”) It worked because the other ponies consistently called her on it, including a newspaper whack to the nose. This show mines a lot of humor from one character being rude to another. What’s not funny is when two or more ponies gang up on someone (e.g. Mysterious Mare Do-Well), and that’s not what we got here. One pony being jerky is comedy gold, but a group of ponies being jerky is a Group of Jerks. This episode got it right.

The Doctor: Now we know that hitting Pinkie with a rolled up newspaper is a totally acceptable option.

BartonFink: It’s worth noting that Pinkie has been painfully oblivious before; this is basically the entirety of “A Friend In Deed”. That being said, it was on the harsher side to do to Fluttershy, who Pinkie has been directly empathetic of before.

I’ll be honest, I’m willing to cut it some slack because it was pretty funny.

vlcsnap-2014-02-24-01h47m10s237 Bad Pinkie, stop scaring the yellow one.

 

drunkill: The Ponytones, Ponyville’s own amateur doo-wop cappella ensemble. Rarity and Big MacIntosh have a hobby it seems. How’d you like their music?

Wayoshi: Amazing. We’ve never seen an episode revolve around its songs as much as this. It was only a base of two songs, but we got plenty of repetition and colorful additions by Fluttershy that kept it very fresh the whole way through (also, Big Mac / Flutterguy’s voices).

The Doctor: I was certainly faked out by the previews and was prepared to dislike the “Big Mac doesn’t talk” joke being used yet again. I was happily surprised that they let Peter sing as Big Mac. The song itself was quite catchy, and I find myself hearing Big Mac/Flutteguy’s opening melody in my head.

PictishBeast: Like the Doctor I’m sick of the “eeyup” running joke, so I expected Big Mac to not sing a note. I was kind of amazed they allowed him to stay on stage to do the “bum bum bum da dum bum.” And I was blown away when they gave him an entire verse. When the show plays around with its own formula I want to give it like, a million bonus points.

BartonFink: It’s neat to work in little elements of Ponyville society without it having a grand event, or particularly large backstory. Rarity running a singing group on the side is a nice little believable slice of life.

PictishBeast: Let me talk about the music for a second. If you watch one of those YouTube “all the songs” compilations for this episode, it’ll become obvious how they use the same song over and over (so many “bum bum bum da dum bums”). But with each repetition, the song builds. At first it’s a cappella. Then they add instrumentation. Then Fluttershy gets crazy with her increasingly giddy ad libs. And finally we get Fluttershy singing in her natural voice and weaving in elements of her “Snow White” song from the cold open. As someone who hates everything, I have to admit that the song in this episode is genuinely joyous. And because it’s a foundational story element, the song elevates the entire episode.

ShieldedDiamond: I thought it was nice to see another hobby of Rarity, showing her other personal interests aside from of course her love of fashion. And you know me, always believing there can never be enough Rarity! And the Ponytones as a whole I really enjoyed. They really had some great music too! I am curious to if we’d see them again, as I would enjoy to see them return as a group.

PictishBeast: Finally, how great is it that the Ponytones weren’t some famous pop group from Canterlot, but a dorky local doo-wop glee club ensemble complete with matching sweaters? This show has never been cool but it’s always been sincere. In that respect, I think they nailed it.

And good on AKR for introducing two all-new ponies into the mix and not playing to the fandom with, I dunno, Bulk Biceps and Derpy?

ComradeCosmobot: A hometown acapella group is just the sort of quirky thing you’d expect to find in Ponyville, so I’m rather happy with how it turned out, given that the original premise made it sound like it was going to be some one-off pop group. And you’re absolutely right: it’s refreshing to have two new ponies who aren’t front and center (or even given names) for the first time in ages.

vlcsnap-2014-02-24-01h26m21s30 Ponyville’s greatest amateur doo-wop capella quartet

 

drunkill: The return of Flutterguy; with some handy exposition for newcomers.  Was this great joke in Bridle Gossip able to carry its own weight this episode?

Wayoshi: What sold it for me was that it really wasn’t used as a joke, it was all perfectly for the plot. Milli Vanilli semi-scandal with Fluts replacing Big Mac? Funny as hell plot. There were no “wow Fluts is now has a fucking jazzy voice, let’s point it out extra well” joke in this episode – Fluts only says maybe 5 lines tops in a regular voice as Flutterguy. Which is a nice reminder how odd it was back then, but all your attention is on her enjoying the hell out of her behind-the-curtains opportunity, not the funny circumstance that brought her there.

BartonFink: As the show has progressed, it seems like the concept of how to do a callback correctly has been a recurring topic. The Return Of Flutterguy is a sort of gold standard in how to do it. Working effortlessly into the logic of the plotline, a well-liked gag which had enough potential left in the tank is re-purposed into a new context. Not only is the voice still funny, Fluttershy’s mannerisms of joy take on that extra level of disconnected humor.

ShieldedDiamond: I feel like what really made it work was that it was not at all just a reference to Bridle Gossip. What made this episode strong was that Flutterguy was able to essentially hold herself up in this episode. If Bridle Gossip never aired, and instead of poison joke, Zecora said “I can  deepen your voice for a time, this is true because it rhymes.” and that would be how “Flutterguy” came to be, it would still be as good of an episode as it is. Though it was nice of them to reference a Season 1 episode.

ComradeCosmobot: It’s certainly better than the gratuitous references to things like Winter Wrap-up we’ve seen in episodes past.  If an episode can stand on its own without Season 1 but still work, I see no problem with it.  Still, I’d love to see less references if only because there’s so much more of the world to explore without having to re-mine every season 1 episode for something to re-do…

The Doctor: “Can these writers make an episode about Flutterguy entertaining? No way!“ I really need to stop thinking that with this show. No only did they work in a plausible return of Flutterguy, they did so without making it feel forced or pandering. They managed to mix in a good story with some continuity. Another bit of continuity I just loved was Cheerilee fainting while Big Mac sang.  Not only a neat callback, but her little stare after falling leaves open the same possibility as in “Hearts and Hooves Day.” Is she really into Big Mac, or is she just teasing him? (And more to the point, the animators got to tease us with it.)

vlcsnap-2014-02-24-01h23m26s69 A hoarse horse of course.

 

drunkill: Despite being frightened early on by Pinkie about singing in public, Fluttershy overcomes her fears and enjoys herself, getting to the point of accepting any chance to sing for the Ponytones.

Wayoshi: It was probably the strongest part of the episode that cleverly deviated from the stock plot. There was a straight-up lip synch semi-scandal, true to the episode title. Big Mac kinda struggles but no one is any wiser. So of course eventually, Big Mac will finally tire out and desynch, and Pinkie / someone will still hear the voice and it’s suspiciously coming from backstage… No. It’s Fluttershy enjoying herself more and more that eventually her groovy moves expose herself, because her little (cute and epic) additions to the song start desyncing Big Mac at the schoolhouse and things finally come crashing down (literally) at Sugarcube. Neither Fluttershy or Big Mac failed, Fluttershy succeeded too much out of passion.

ShieldedDiamond: It was very sweet ending, and I thought it was one of the better episode endings of the show as a whole. Pinkie Pie, despite not liking her behavior in this episode, she in a way represented Fluttershy’s own fears, in a physical form. And it was almost as if that by overcoming what Pinkie was saying, that’s when Fluttershy was able to overcome her fears and simply be able to enjoy herself.

PictishBeast: And huge props for the “baby steps” resolution. On first watch I assumed the musical finale would be revealed to be Fluttershy performing in front of an adoring crowd, but instead they pulled back to show (1) it’s just a makeshift stage to entertain Fluttershy’s animals, and (2) Fluttershy’s still not ready to perform in front of an audience. Small, realistic victories are the best victories.

BartonFink: In part due to the nature of her character, Fluttershy’s episodes tend to be focused on the smaller victories in life and moments of personal growth. I think that’s what makes a scene like her pure enjoyment of her singing — beyond the great work of the animation team, anyway — so endearing. It’s also why the ending rings true while avoiding a more cliche “Fluttershy is okay now!” conclusion.

The Doctor: It shows off Fluttershy’s kindness quite well that she wants to help all the ponies she can. While of course she loves to sing, she legitimately doesn’t want any disappointed ponies. Rarity’s knowing looks throughout the episode, knowing Fluttershy is loving performing, were also a very nice touch.

vlcsnap-2014-02-24-01h38m45s59 You’re gonna find, you’re gonna
Find you’ve got the music,
Got the music in you!

 

drunkill: We’ve seen progress towards Fluttershy tackling her shyness in episodes such as Dragonshy and Hurricane Fluttershy. Do you think the Baby Steps moral of this episode tells us what her future may hold?

Wayoshi: The truth is, every season or two needs these types of episodes to round things out — new fans in the target audience learning this for the first time and such. In addition to keeping everything realistic, this sets up several more Fluttershy episodes in the same vein. Hopefully they stay as fresh as this, although it might get harder as things go on.

ComradeCosmobot: It wasn’t so bad this episode; it was far worse in “Bats!” in my opinion, where Fluttershy seemed to have forgotten everything she had learned in prior episodes in which she tackled her shyness (e.g. “Putting Your Hoof Down”).  Even so, it’s hard to criticize Fluttershy’s slow progress; that’s just how she is.  What would be nice though would be to see her retaining some gains…

BartonFink: Writer enthusiasts already know that AKR has expressed a preference for writing Pinkie Pie, but given the amount of episodes she’s written, it’s still surprising to see that “Filli Vanilli” is really her first dedicated Fluttershy episode. During her press Q&A session at BronyCon, AKR expressed a liking for “Hurricane Fluttershy” — speculation, but one wonders if she was trying to capture some of that same energy.

ShieldedDiamond: Each of the Mane 6 has flaws. I’ll talk about Fluttershy of course here, since this was her episode. I believe that the “baby steps” moral will show that Fluttershy, by the end of the series, will actually overcome her fears and her shyness. It would be a very interesting way to develop the character, as to finally at the end of the show, have her conquer her fears and have her flaws behind her. Perhaps is this the path of the show, to have each of the Mane 6 conquer their own flaws? I see it as a possibility.

The Doctor: It made me watch What About Bob? immediately after the episode. I really like it, though I do hope it does lead to more things. Good at this episode was a lot of the problems have been overcome by Fluttershy before. Just look at the ending to  “Hearths Warming Eve” when she acts and sings in front of a Canterlot audience with everypony else. In the end, despite some consistency issues, this episode was really just a whole lot of fun. Happy Fluttershy is best Fluttershy.

vlcsnap-2014-02-24-01h39m17s120 She’ll get there someday…

drunkill: This weekend we get to see the CMC bother Twilight Sparkle and use her status for nefarious means in Twilight Time. What do you expect?

[Ed: The Roundtable was sadly delayed due to server upgrades with Twilight Time airing before we were able to publish this article]

Wayoshi: What I want to know is how Twilight can be exploited for popularity. S4 has done so little with Princess Twi, this episode might define a lot for us — and I hope it’s sensible.

ComradeCosmobot: I’ve complained about Twilight’s rather cardboard-cut-out/motherly characterization in this season before, and from the synopsis, I really can’t see this episode doing much with Twilight to help re-establish her as an interesting character as much as it will the CMC.  So unfortunately Twilight will now be two half-episodes for 15, which is a shame.

The Doctor: I’m hoping for more stories establishing Twilight as a Princess. I think she’s been pretty boring this season and it would be nice to see just how becoming a Princess has changed things for her. Beyond the “Oh right, she can fly sometimes” animation nods. It’s always a plus to see the CMC so I think I will enjoy this episode.

ShieldedDiamond: I’m hoping this episode is more of a joint Twilight-CMC episode, rather than just a CMC episode. And I agree with Wayoshi, S4 has done so little with Princess Twilight, I hope that’s changed here. And yes, I myself am getting a bit tired of the “Look, Twilight can fly, too!” animation bits, and I’m really looking for something more than that. 

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  1. I believe the issue with Pinkie Pie in this episode was not that she was being “out of character”, but that one aspect of her character was “out of proportion”. Was she being overly insensitive to Fluttershy’s feelings in this episode? Yes. But she was also wholly oblivious to how uncomfortable she was making Rainbow Dash in “Pinkie Pride” from their very first scene together; it took RD getting a pinata the size of a building dropped on her head just to get Pinkie to realize it.

    And speaking of tactless exuberance being “nothing new” for Pinkie, it’s happened in many more episodes than the ones mentioned here: it took her a while to notice Gilda hated her in “Griffon the Brush-Off”; she didn’t even pick up on Impostor Cadance’s insults in “A Canterlot Wedding”; and don’t get me started on “Luna Eclipsed”.

    Insensitivity is a recurring flaw to her character; she lives in her own little world by her own little rules, which leads to miscommunication with her friends. Like Twilight’s neurotic tendencies being cranked up to eleven in season 2, so was Pinkie’s obliviousness. Because it’s happened so often, and because we have five years ahead of us, I only hope this will lead to an episode where Pinkie learns to mind how she acts in the future.