• Opinion Editorial: Is the Writing in MLP Getting Worse? Are New Writers Good or Bad? (Part 2)

    If you missed the first one in this series, you can catch up on it over here. For a quick recap, we've already covered how fan expectations are rising over the years, evolution of the mane cast, and how strong the dialogue between ponies is in the show. I also learned the difference between "worst" and "worse". Apparently the small amount of negative writing I do means I'm not very good at it.

    This series isn't about negativity though. I want to find a good balance between what the show has been doing well, and what it has been a little bit weak on. Opinions are abound here, so you have been warned.

    Anyway, go get my thoughts on new writers and writing for little girls TV in general below!

    Old Vs. New Writers: The Good!

    Friendship is Magic's writing staff has been like a revolving door for the past few years. They are constantly removing, replacing and shifting people around. It has gotten to a point where we've created a label specifically for all the new writer announcements here on EQD. While not the only factor, a lot of people see this as something that promotes a more chaotic overall episode quality.

    We all have our favorite veteran writers. I personally have been a huge fan of M.A. Larson since the earliest days of pony, while many others absolutely adored everything Amy Keating Rogers pumped out. Unfortunately, the field of show writing is rarely a stable thing. Many of these guys bounce between a slew of properties and side projects, as seen with Amy's jump to Disney and Larson's focus on his Pennyroyal Academy series. Unless you are one of the lucky ones that pitches an idea to a network where it sees a ton of success landing you a more permanent position, there isn't a ton of retention. Pony has always been one that seems to scoop people up for a season then drop them for the next, keeping only a few for the long term and filling holes up with fresh minds. 

    Season five and six, like their predecessors, brought a swarm of new talent in to replace the people being shifted over to the movie, many of them with little to show for writing credits. Some are absolutely rockin it, with Nick Confalone, Josh Haber, Mike Vogel, and a bunch of others becoming a few of the most well loved new additions out there.Others started off a little rocky but came back strong in round two like Joanna Lewis and Christine Songco.

    I'm not going to go through every single new addition here; you get the idea. The point I'm trying to make is that new writers, while risky, aren't always a bad thing. They bring in fresh ideas and new directions for the characters to take that a fully veteran writing team might not have ever thought of.  In a show where every episode is supposed to be able to stand on it's own without a big multi-season story, that isn't a bad thing.

    Old Vs. New Writers: The Bad

    Unfortunately, there are a few that really don't seem to "get" pony. The double edged sword of bringing in new ideas includes the negative side of recruiting people that are out of touch with what makes this show great. I really get the feeling that a few episodes from newer writers these past few seasons were bad simply because they mistook what exactly they were signing up for.

    We already know whoever recruits these people doesn't always aim for veterans in the industry or any kind of tie to the show, in fact they seem to usually go for the polar opposite if IMDB credits and Twitter accounts are any indication. It could be a budget thing, or simply a legal requirement to avoid anyone involved with pony, but rarely will we ever find a history of tweeting about colorful cartoon horses on their accounts, and some haven't been involved in show writing at all. These are the wildcards. They always seem to go two ways, (and I'm generalizing pretty heavily here):

    The Newbie Who Researches, Gets it,  and Rocks it

    Josh Haber came out swinging with Castle Mania. Either he was a pony prodigy, or he did a bunch of digging into why this show is good.  Many of his episodes have been well loved, and he definitely understand how to write cartoon horses with both the 12 year old target demographic and adults in mind. Sure he has a few that didn't go over so hot with our super high fandom expectations, but the ponies are usually in-character, and the plots more complex than someone who falls into the next category:

    The Newbie that Misses the "Vision"

    You can tell pretty easily when this happens, as the episode tends to be mind-numbingly simple with the mane 6 falling into the exact stereotypes you'd expect from someone who had the basic idea of their descriptions and set out to craft a story to entertain specifically little kids. They tend to be one-dimensional with ponies completely shedding anything they gained over the past few seasons in favor of falling into their basic roles. Applejack the traditional farmer, Spike is just a kid, and in general, scenarios just don't line up with what we'd expect from the ponies we've been following for 6 years. 


    Obviously it almost never lines up with those sections perfectly, but just based on conversations with people and comments across the ponynet, it's usually pretty obvious when an episode is meh or great, and duds are almost always because the story is too simple, or the protagonist out-of-character.

    The most scary times are when we are charging into an episode with an inexperienced pony writer and a synopsis that makes it sound like something huge is about to happen. Both seasons five and six had several plots marking the moment when one of our beloved ponies would hit that life-goal we've been following. These have been largely hit and miss, and probably one of big reasons why people would complain about the writing, as their effects tend to last far past a simple bland episode.

    That being said...

    It's Not All Black And While!

    It's pretty easy to fall into a trap of "This writer's last showing was boring, so the next one will be too!", but that is rarely the case. We've seen quite a few people either start big and fizzle out or start bad and create some of the best episodes of a season later on. Remember, these are people, not robots. A million scenarios could go into an an idea not turning out well. It could just be a topic they aren't completely comfortable with that originally sounded great, or real life issues creeping in and distracting them from what they wanted to do. Think about all the ongoing fanfics in the fandom that have suddenly died because the writer lost their muse. It happens for paid writers too, but they have no choice but to complete it. I'm not saying there aren't any kind of consistencies between some specific writers and their repertoire of episodes being either sub-par or great, but even the best have their bad moments.

    On top of that, we don't have any easy way of seeing exactly how a new episode is handled. Many of these stories appear to have several different people involved even if the script tends to be a single person. As M.A. Larson explained during a panel a few years ago, his original vision for "Magical Mystery Cure" was completely different than what he had originally put down on paper. A lot can change in the time between a script being written and episode airing.

    Pony is also an incredibly challenging show to balance. Remember, this is still written and created with 12 year and under girls as the primary target demographic, the same focus group for some of the junk that comes on before and after when it airs on Saturday mornings. There are a ton of limits on both storytelling and theme when writing kids TV; so many that most writers don't even bother to challenge themselves, as it was never really expected of them in that area before pony came in and tsunami'd expectations. As much as I'd love to see a press release in the inbox tomorrow speaking of a brand new adult-focused full season pony arc side show, it's probably not going to happen any time soon. Little girls aren't (usually) idiots, but we do have to expect a simplification compared to some of the other things we watch, or even the fanfics we write.

    We were incredibly lucky that Lauren and the original team found a good way to appeal to both adults and children in a sea of toy-selling cartoons that are absolutely terrible. Look up G3.5 of pony if you want a picture of what could have been. Friendship is Magic is a genre-defining cartoon that has spawned a slew of higher budget kids, and more specifically little girls TV.

    We still have a ton of great stories coming out each season from both new and old minds alike. While not every episode is stellar, the amount of quality still being produced is leaps and bounds higher than what other cartoons in the same age group are plopping down. In the end, I'll be around as long as the show and fanbase are entertaining, and so far neither has come anywhere near disappointing me.