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Review: "Strawberry Shortcake": This Scratch and Sniff Doesn't Smell Like Berries

In defending My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic from detractors, show creator Lauren Faust wrote:

On TV, though, I couldn’t tell one girl character from another and they just had endless tea parties, giggled over nothing and defeated villains by either sharing with them or crying–which miraculously inspired the villain to turn nice…Some of the more well-meaning, more expensive animated productions for girl audiences may look better, but the female characters have been so homogenized with old-fashioned “niceness” that they have no flaws and are unrelatable. They are so pretty, polite and perfect; there is no legitimate conflict and nothing exciting ever happens. In short, animated shows for little girls come across as boring. Stupid. Lame.

StrawberryShortcakeTitleI hate to say it, but the newest animated incarnation of Strawberry Shortcake is exactly the kind of TV show for girls that Lauren Faust was talking about. I’ve been effusive about the Hub’s offerings, since its programming thus far really got the idea that the target audience isn’t the only audience, ensuring that all their shows would be able to hold the attention of any member of the family from kids to parents, regardless of gender. To be honest, Strawberry Shortcake: Berry Bitty Adventures is such a bland show, I’m not even sure it will hold the interest of the target demographic, or even that it should.

I’d detail the setup for Strawberry Shortcake, but again, Faust has done my work for me: “I couldn’t tell one girl character from another and they just had endless tea parties, giggled over nothing and defeated villains by either sharing with them or crying–which miraculously inspired the villain to turn nice.” Except there are no villains in the two screener episodes provided of Strawberry Shortcake, and the tea parties are replaced in the first episode by a van full of stray puppies driven by the show’s only boy, Huckleberry Pie. That strange sensation you may be feeling now is indeed your teeth rotting out of your head by the amount of sappy saccharine in that setup. The rest of the episode has Huckleberry trying and failing to impress the denizens of Berry Bitty City until he learns a valuable lesson about being yourself, while those stray puppies all find homes. Huckleberry Pie figures prominently in the second episode as well, as he and his friend Blueberry Muffin try their hand at writing a mystery story in the vein of their favorite fictional detective. This leads up to a story about jealousy where I suspect even the dimmest viewers will realize what’s going on well before any of the characters do.

CherryBlueberryHuckleberryI am a little baffled how a show for girls with a nearly all-girl cast drives the plots of both of its earliest episodes around a boy’s actions and how those girls react to him. In fact, Strawberry herself does so little in these two episodes that an outsider unfamiliar with the franchise might wonder why the show is named for her and not him, since he seems to be the prime motivator for anything interesting to happen. At my most charitable, I’d say that Huckleberry’s gender is of no importance whatsoever, since he could have easily been a girl. However, this just begs the question of why isn’t he? Is it simply to set him up as the outsider to Berry Bitty City? If so, it would seem that there are other, far less potentially loaded ways to do that than changing his gender.

Thinking any harder about this yields other far less palatable ways to interpret his prominence in these first two stories, ranging from the idea that only a boy can cause anything interesting to happen because the girls aren’t interesting in themselves, to the idea that the girls should orient themselves and all their actions to the boy and what he does. The fact that nobody involved seems to have noticed this is probably the worst thing about these two episodes, since it implies–in a show aimed at girls, no less–that only boys and their opinions are important. At best, this is an unfortunate but unintentional slip and future episodes will hinge less on Huckleberry. At worst, it sends messages I find absolutely appalling, if not actively reprehensible. In contrast, none of the 26 episodes in the entire first season of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic needed a boy to work, since the girls/ponies are all more than capable of carrying interesting stories on their own. The same can be said of Doc McStuffins, which is carried almost entirely by the charm and intelligence of its title character. If Blythe in Littlest Pet Shop expresses interest in boys, they are a sideshow to her own independent actions in the earliest episodes of that show.

Of course, this criticism is all predicated on the idea that Huckleberry is interesting and causes interesting things to happen, and it gives me little joy to weaken my own arguments by noting that the show falters on both counts as well. Faust is unfortunately prophetic about homogenized characters, because none of the cast members of Strawberry Shortcake, including the title character, have any real personality to speak of. They don’t even have prominent character traits as much as they just have jobs that they do in Berry Bitty City, and you can swap any two characters with each other with no impact to the overall narrative. This may also be because so very little happens in either of these two episodes. Every single thing that vaguely resembles a sharp edge has been very carefully filed down, making this is an incredibly dull show. In the end, there is really not much narrative for these non-dimensional characters to impact. They might have been better compressed into a single half-hour’s worth of television split into two halves, as the Hub does with Chuck and Friends or Disney does with Doc McStuffins.

StrawberryFriendsAndPuppiesThere is no sense of humor in Strawberry Shortcake, which may be the second most damning thing I can say about it. There is not a single laugh to be mined anywhere in an hour’s worth of TV. There are very occasional comedic pratfalls or slapstick moments, but even these scenes have no edge. The animation is paced so slowly that the pratfalls don’t go “splat,” but float to the ground like feathers, draining them of even the most minimal comedic value. Again, as Faust has complained, characters “giggle over nothing,” since any laugh the characters have is not shared by the audience.

After all of the above, it’s only rubbing salt in the wounds to say that the CGI animation of the show is decent but uninspired. They have some impressive hair effects, considering the TV budget, but otherwise the visual style of the show has as little flair or personal characteristic as any of the characters.

I haven’t loved all the shows on the Hub, but everything else I’ve seen has had infinitely more to offer than Strawberry Shortcake. Any one of the criticisms leveled above would be enough to earn it a negative review; all of them combined make this a show that should be actively avoided, if not thoroughly and justly flogged in the court of public opinion. It’s a shock and a disappointment to see a network as innovative as the Hub, home to a bona fide classic in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, offer up such bland pablum as this.

Strawberry Shortcake: Berry Bitty Adventures premieres on the Hub on Saturday, February 23, 2013, at 8:00 AM (ET). Check out the Hubworld website for more details.

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