"Mudpit": Remember, "Mud" Spelled Backwards Is...
After watching TELETOON’s new premiere sitcom Mudpit, I’ve come to the conclusion that my major beef with most teenage sitcoms is that they insist on treating their characters and their audience like complete idiots. With two exceptions, everyone in the cast of the show is overly exaggerated and generally acts like a complete moron, which takes the show’s decent-enough base concept and makes it nearly insufferable to sit through. I also find that its mishmash of styles, genres, and influences don’t meld together as well as they’d like to, leading to a show that’s only fitfully successful.
Mudpit is the band name of a teenage quartet of rockers, started by lifelong friends Reese and Geneva (Vas Saranga and Carleigh Beverly) who are joined by Geneva’s annoying younger brother Mikey (Daniel Magder) and the dreamy but sheltered music school prodigy Liam (Jesse Rath). The four unite to play in the virtual world of Musika, a music-themed MMORPG that holds out the promise of a real recording contract, a world tour, and fame and fortune to the best musicians in the game. In the virtual world (rendered in CGI animation on the show), musical instruments have power, with Reese and Liam’s guitars (or “Dodge” and “Lamb” in the game) blasting out lightning and freeze rays, respectively, while Mikey (known as Booch in the game) sends out sonic booms with his bass and Geneva (“G” because she couldn’t think of anything else fast enough) seems to be able to do whatever she wants with her drumsticks. The obstacles of the show are meted out in the virtual world by Slime (Rob Tinkler), the vaguely Joker-esque virtual emcee/host of Musika; and by the dirtbag antics of Reese’s stepbrother Kyle in the real world. The series premiere “The Show Must Go On” shows how the kids all get together to form Mudpit; the second screener episode provided, “Rhyme and Punishment,” uses a rap competition and a video game challenge to set up an ethical dilemma for Reese, who’s trying to impress Geneva by winning her a set of golden drumsticks in the game for her birthday.
Decent TV shows have been made about teenage performers, and I would have appreciated a show set purely in the fantastic musical world of Musika. I think there’s real promise in the premise of “music is power” for a cartoon. However, mashing both together and making Musika a MMORPG just seems like a desperate attempt at combining things that teenagers have liked recently. “The kids like Rock Band and the kids like that Warcraft thing, so let’s put them together and make a show about it!” Unfortunately, it doesn’t let either world feel very well developed. The major benefit I can see is that CGI allows the show to do bigger, splashier musical “concerts” every episode without breaking the bank. Perhaps the CGI world also allows a less musically talented cast to play a musical show, although the actors play their own instruments pretty convincingly during the live-action segments. The pilot episode seems to do the best job at melding the two worlds successfully; I must admit feeling a bit of a thrill when the band gets together for the third-act climax, meshing together for the first time in front of a virtual audience of millions. However, “Rhyme and Punishment” can’t quite decide if it wants to be about video games or music, since Reese needs to beat a video game segment to land a spot in Musika’s big rap competition (and the less said about the quality of the rap, the better). Finally, the CGI also allows for some good old-fashioned cartoon mayhem, and I must admit that the comically exaggerated violence inflicted on Booch in “Rhyme and Punishment” did manage to elicit a surprisingly big laugh.
Like most teen sitcoms over the years, the scripts all hand the actors big, obvious plots written in big, obvious dialogue to be acted out as broadly as possible. Everyone in the cast is handed a single defining character trait, which they flog mercilessly at every turn. Mikey is annoying, Reese is socially inept, Kyle is evil, the owner of their hangout is a goofball. Liam and Geneva lose out a bit in that contest, since he’s left with “shy” and she’s left with “sensible,” which doesn’t really give either one much to do on a show like this. An additional problem is that characters come out looking dumber than they should because of their complete obliviousness to the painfully obvious. Geneva looks pretty thick for not recognizing the obvious crush Reese has on her, and I felt genuinely bad for Carleigh Beverly for the flustered dialogue she has to stumble through when she’s smitten on meeting Liam. The twist to “Rhyme and Punishment” is that Reese has to use a cheat code to beat the video game challenge, setting up a moral lesson on the importance of being honest with your friends. I’m finding it hard to believe any modern teenager would get worked up over anyone using a cheat code in a video game, and the show isn’t too credible in trying to build it up as something serious. It made the entire setup feel so artificial that it robs Reese’s admission of guilt of its strength. It’s as though the creators of the show didn’t trust their audience to get it if they weren’t pounded over the head with it, which goes back to my point of teen sitcoms treating the characters and the audience like complete idiots.
All that said, teen sitcoms are often pretty critic-proof, and I’m sure that Mudpit will find a receptive audience for whom this stuff is new. It’s not as insufferably awful as the sitcoms I catch occasionally on Disney Channel or Nickelodeon, and I appreciate the show’s stab at having a South Asian kid rock. I also must admit a morbid curiosity at the last show logline provided, “Rasho Mudpit,” which involves all the cast members recalling the same incident differently. In the end, though, I find I enjoy something like Nickelodeon’s The Fresh Beat Band more, even though it’s aimed at a younger audience, simply because it doesn’t feel like it’s condescending to that audience.
Mudpit premieres Thursday, January 5, 2012, at 7:30 PM (ET/PT) on Teletoon