Review: The Hub June Premieres: “Pound Puppies,” “SheZow,” “Aquabats Super Show,” “Wizards vs. Aliens”
The passing of the Memorial Day weekend means summer’s here, and the Hub Network has a heaping helping of premieres slated for June 1, 2013, with two new series and two returning shows. In the order that they are scheduled to premiere on June 1 (all times Eastern).
I agree with my colleage Maxie Zeus in asserting the quality of Pound Puppies while noting the injustice that it is often overlooked in favor of the trendier My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic . Pound Puppies is every bit as good as My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic in providing high-quality, all-ages, cross-demographic entertainment that perfectly balances sweetness and humor. Why one has become a pop culture phenomenon while the other remains in relative obscurity is rather puzzling.
However, by now the success of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic may be working against it, since the latest changes to the show and continued tinkering with the formula haven’t met with universal acclaim from the fanbase. In contrast, the third season premiere of Pound Puppies does pretty much exactly what the show has done all along: tell incredibly entertaining tales of an intrepid band of dogs dedicated to ensuring every dog finds a home with his or her perfect human. The beauty of “Working K-9 to 5” is that it sticks to the formula the show has had since day 1, and the joy is that the formula still works beautifully. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
To earn her puppy, young Dolores has to prove to her newspaper editor-in-chief father that she’s responsible, meaning a paper route to the local senior community. Of course, disaster strikes: a one-block paper route takes 3 hours to complete, leading to numerous irate customers and an investigation by the Pound Puppies. It’s all done with genuine heart and good humor, yielding lots of solid laughs along the way. As always, the endearingly stupid Niblet (John DiMaggio) and the street-smart Squirt (Michael Rapaport) get the best lines of the Pound Puppies, but everyone is upstaged by Dolores’ dad, whose look and motor-mouth patter by the priceless J.K. Simmons mean the crew pulled off a cameo by J. Jonah Jameson from the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies.
“Working K-9 to 5” does a better job of keeping us guessing a bit longer than the average episode, but of course it all works out in the end as everyone gets what they deserve and comes out a bit happier in the deal. Like My Litle Pony: Friendship is Magic, the merits of Pound Puppies are hard to articulate because it’s just a show that does everything the way it should be done, and does it so effortlessly that it looks obvious. It’s charming and sweet without ever falling into saccharine and it’s a show that really should earn more widespread accolades than it does.
Pound Puppies season 3 premieres on June 1, 2013, at 9:00 AM with a second new episode following at 9:30 AM.
I admit that the announcement of SheZow tantalized truly madcap, insane, off-the-wall humor, while also holding out the possibility of subtle examination of traditional gender roles, especially as they’re expressed in pop culture in general and superhero narrative in particular. It’s a bit much to expect for a gender-driven version of Gentleman’s Agreement in a kids’ superhero show, but if the X-Men can be taken seriously as a parable for bigotry, why not? Shows where a teenage boy turns into a superhero are a dime a dozen. Shows where that boy turns into a female superhero? Not so much.
Unfortunately, based on the two screener episodes of SheZow, this potential must go unrealized, since the show isn’t much more than average superheroics mixed with “hur hur dude’s in a dress” jokes. When the Hamdons inherit the house of their late aunt, twelve-year old Guy Hamdon ends up her successor as the amazing superhero SheZow. It’s up to him, his sister Kelly, and his best friend/occasional sidekick Maz to protect the city from the usual forces of evil. Those forces in the premiere episodes are a band of semi-inept pirates, and then a Mr. Freeze wannabe named Coldfinger, who tries attacking Guy at a SheZow fan convention.
SheZow is funny or exciting only sporadically and it hasn’t a millimeter of depth. We’re inundated with superheroes these days, so if you’re going to make your mark in that space, you’ve got to try a little harder. Coming up with creative alternatives to obscene language isn’t adequate (even if that turns out to be one of the funnier elements of the show). Kelly is a dedicated SheZow fangirl, supremely dedicated to the heroine and her exploits, and yet she hasn’t a shred of resentment that her entirely undeserving, unappreciative brother is the one who gets the magic ring. SheZow’s fashion choices are tacky, but nowhere near as openly sexualizing as the average female superhero. I suppose it’s a lot to expect a kids’ show to tackle some pretty loaded issues (many of which are openly and repeatedly denied or trivialized), but SheZow doesn’t even seem aware that they might exist, if it’s not actively reinforcing some less savory gender stereotypes.
Conservative pundits are apparently up in arms over SheZow and the prospect of transgender values corrupting the sensitive, helpless, unthinking children of America. If I consciously ignore the fact that most political pundits earn their keep by using half-truths and distortions to make people panic, they still need not worry about SheZow. The show does more to scuttle itself than any amount of political bloviating ever could.
SheZow premieres on June 1, 2013, at 12:30 PM.
Fortunately, the Hub has a much more daring superhero show in The Aquabats Super Show!, returning for a second season of inept derring-do as the quintet of rock star superheroes battle guys in giant rubber suits and generally trip over their own feet. The season 2 premiere “The Return of the Aquabats!”, picks up where the season 1 finale left off, sending the Aquabats back to Earth to be greeted as heroes. In addition to another rubber monster, the Aquabats’ biggest foes are the elevated expectations of the populace that the Aquabats can’t quite meet.
As with the episodes in season 1, “The Return of the Aquabats!” punches straight through the stupid barrier to become clever again. They’re more than happy to fall flat on their faces for a laugh, and succeed at that much more often than not. At least from the review screener episode, the new season seems to be setting up a few more long-term plot threads and generally feels a bit more ambitious than the last season. It’s still the same low-budget/no-budget clowning as before, but the extra added bits help to freshen up the formula a bit. I expect a few small hints and dropped references will ultimately lead up to something appropriately, hilariously dumb. The budget and general production values seem a notch better than before, though the show still manages to hold its low-fi appeal. Keep an eye out for pro-skateboarders Tony Hawk and Eric Koston popping up in the unlikeliest of cameos.
At least for the first five episodes, The Aquabats Super Show! promises to use the cartoon segments to tell the origins of the Aquabats, except that all five members of the band have different recollections of how they united to fight crime and rock out, and each band memory will be animated in a different style. “The Return of the Aquabats!” features Eaglebones Falconhawk’s memories done in rotoscoped animation highly reminiscent of a scene from Heavy Metal that is entirely age-inappropriate for the target audience of this show. But it’s awesome and I can’t wait to see more of these. Like Pound Puppies, The Aquabats Super Show! is perfectly content not to fix things if they aren’t broken.
The Aquabats Super Show! season 2 premieres at 1:00 PM.
Nerd Confession Time: I’m totally not into the new Doctor Who series, so having Doctor Who alumni Russell T. Davies and Phil Ford as co-creators of Wizards vs. Aliens wasn’t really a selling point. I find the new show has many of the same traits, good and bad, as Doctor Who and its spin-offs: the series is clever but not as clever as it thinks it is, and works marvelously well except the bits that don’t, which fall and make loud “thuds” on the floor.
If nothing else, Wizards vs. Aliens cannot be accused of false advertising or of wasting much time in establishing its premise, summed up within the first five minutes, as a wizard and his apprentice son are abducted by aliens named the Nekross who feed on magic. Teenaged Tom Clarke (Scott Haran) is growing into his magical power, with the help of his grandmother Ursula (Annette Badland), and their discovery and escape from the aliens sets up the conflict that will drive the season to come.
Of the assorted Doctor Who series, Wizards vs. Aliens‘s closest kin seems to be The Sarah Jane Adventures, except without the screen charisma of the late Elisabeth Sladen. Unfortunately, without a character like Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith, I find it a bit harder to root for the wizards on anything except general principle. Tom is rather flat as a character, while Benny, Ursula, and Tom’s father Michael (Michael Higgs) all fall into stock stereotypes. On the flip side, the aliens have the benefit of Gwendoline Christie’s surprisingly compelling performance as the alien Lexi, the second-born daughter of the Nekross king (who, in another major plus, orates in the booming voice of Brian Blessed). Despite her clear competence, she’s relegated to distant-second-in-command to her brother Varg, and her resentment is still clear even under layers of makeup and alien body armor.
As mentioned, when the show works, it works marvelously well. The show’s opening depiction of magic and aliens are both appropriately awe-inspiring (especially considering the budget effects used in the show), and Tom’s first manifestation of magical power is a real “hell yeah!” moment (even if Tom’s one-liner doesn’t quite carry it off). Arthur C. Clarke’s rule that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic has a fiction-writing corollary that both have to be driven by rules to work, first to keep things interesting and then to generate power when the rules are broken (don’t cross the streams, a ship can’t fire when cloaked, no man of woman born may defeat me, etc). Wizards vs. Aliens works quickly to establish the basic rules of the game, and a late-story plot twist in the second episode is a perfect demonstration of how breaking the rules can get you out of a corner while creating another “hell yeah!” moment.
However, the show’s can be maddeningly inconsistent about its own rules. Much of the first episode (and quite a bit more of the second) has different humans insisting that something doesn’t exist despite ample evidence to the contrary right before their eyes. This gets tedious quickly because the whole show is predicated on both magic and aliens being real. Sometimes, the aliens fly their whole ship to Earth to transport a human or two aboard, but other times they’ll just use their transporter from their hiding spot behind the moon and there’s no visible reason why they choose one over the other. The aliens can successfully hit a man-sized target with that transporter beam from hundreds of thousands of miles away, but can’t achieve even marginally accurate fire from laser blasters at ranges of ten feet. Cool tech is used to explain a plot twist, and then forgotten when it might have proven even more useful. People monologue and deliver exposition dumps when they really should be panicking or paying more attention to the enemies right in front of them. All these things are nitpicks, but they’re all obvious plot hammers practicing selective ignorance to push the story in one direction or another. Thud, thud thud, thud.
I should be clear that I liked Wizards vs. Aliens a lot more than I didn’t, because the effective moments easily outweigh the fall-down-go-boom bits. It’s a very good show and one that definitely has promise. I just wish all those little thuds didn’t keep interrupting the cool stuff.
Wizards vs. Aliens will have its one-hour premiere at 7:00 PM.