Monday, October 17, 2016

Review: Goosebumps "My Hairiest Adventure"

I just realized that this is the second puberty episode I’ve covered on this blog. And I also just realized that the first puberty episode I covered gives me the best possible gif to summarize this episode with.

Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.
Plot/Themes
With each of these episodes, I attempt the futile task of finding information about this show. The DVDs have no special features or commentary, and the internet has very little beyond “The show exists.”

Still, I try.

But during my attempts to find any nugget of trivia on this story, I discovered that holy crap everybody hates this one.

Not only is there a running gag (courtesy of the now-defunct blog “Blogger Beware”) concerning “the one where they’re all dogs or something,” but this is one that people seem barely willing to consider the merits of. As such, here are some of my favorite GoodReads review quotes regarding this book.

“A teenage boy considers finding a bottle of used tanning lotion to be “the coolest thing”… used tanning lotion? Weirdo.” –Rebecca McNutt, GoodReads

“Holy shit, this goes from best to worst like a ping pong game.” –Darcy McLaughlin, GoodReads

“Didn’t read it as a kid, didn’t enjoy it as an adult through “Blogger Beware.”” –Greg Kerestan, GoodReads

“Terrible. Sucks. Seriously sick.” –Mohamed Alwakeel, GoodReads

And probably the best, and most scathing, criticism comes from somebody known on GoodReads only as “Shaun.”

“A good twist ending is one you don’t see coming because it is clever and unique. A bad twist ending you don’t see coming because it is so ridiculously stupid that you couldn’t conceive of someone having an idea that bad. This book contains the latter.”

So let’s talk about people’s main points of contention. Which consists of the whole darn thing, so I’ll just go over the major two things.

1: Growing Hair
I’ve seen many people dismiss the idea of growing hair as “weird” or “stupid” or “gross,” but I personally think it’s freakin’ brilliant.

I can only imagine that R.L. Stine woke up one morning and decided it would be funny to try and make puberty scary. If so… I must salute you, Mr. Stine, because if I knew you personally two decades or so ago, I’d be right there beside you, nudging you with my elbow and saying “Holy crap, dude, that’s hilarious,” and he’d be all like, “I know, right?”

I have a great respect for writers who can get inside our heads and make innocuous things scary. As I always bring up, Steven Moffat likes to do that on Doctor Who all the time, most notably with the Weeping Angels making sculpture just a bit scarier.

And as I’ve already mentioned in my coverage of Goosebumps, this was also the greatest strength of “It Came from Beneath the Sink.”

So I have to say that R.L. Stine riffing on puberty, for me, works.

The problem comes with the thing that most people take issue with…

2: The Twist Ending
Let’s look at this from a writer’s perspective.

The story is set up with Larry… well, being Larry. Suddenly, his normal routine is interrupted.

This is the fundamental theme behind 99% of stories: an interrupted routine. You’ve never told your best friend a story where you went outside, got the mail, and went back inside. Something out of the ordinary happened to make you relate the story. Maybe it was raining. Maybe it was really nice outside. Maybe you got your neighbor’s mail. Something had to happen to make the story worth telling.

For Larry, the interruption in the routine was finding the bottle of Instant Tan. This leads to him growing hair in weird places.

In the book’s first real twist, it turns out that the Instant Tan isn't responsible. This is a good move on Stine’s part because we’ve reached the point in the book where Larry growing hair is starting to lose its novelty. And it shatters what we thought we knew about the story.

And then it turns out that Larry’s a dog.

And oddly enough… this is a fairly logical twist.

No, really.

It’s foreshadowed many times in the book, whether it be all the dogs chasing after Larry, or even the fact that his sweat glands don’t work (changed to “allergies” in the episode).

If I had to guess, I’d say that people’s biggest problem with this ending is the fact that it brings the narrative to an abrupt halt and doesn’t lead anywhere.

Let me put it like this.

“…Then Larry starts growing hair and all the other kids are disappearing!”
“Because of the tanning lotion?”
"No!"
“Oh, my goodness! Then what could possibly be going on?”
“As it turns out, Larry was a dog the whole time!”
"Really? Tell me more!"
"It's all because a doctor was doing experiments to turn dogs into humans!”
“Oh my gosh! Then what happens?”
“…What?”
“What happens next? How does the story continue?”
“…Well, the doctor starts experimenting on cats.”
“But what about Larry?”
“…What about Larry?”
“What happens to him?”
“He’s a dog.”
"...And?"
“And… don’t forget to read R.L. Stine’s next Goosebumps book, ‘The Headless Ghost’?”
“…What.”
It’s sort of the fact that it seems like the whole journey is kind of pointless when it just turns out he’s a dog and that’s that. Character growth? A life lesson? Good old fashioned hubris? P’shaw, he’s a dog.

That’s it, there you go. The end.

I can see how this rubs people the wrong way.

Characters
Larry Boyd (Aaron Bartkiw)
I like Larry. I don’t know, maybe it’s the fact that he reminds me of a guy from high school, but I have a soft spot for Bartkiw’s performance. It takes a special kind of actor to make Larry’s more ridiculous moments (smacking the corn, shaving while humming, et cetera) endearing instead of weird, but I think the actor nails it.

Lily Turnbull (Courtney Greig)
Lily, on the other hand, is… well, she’s defined by her looks. Instead of a personality, she’s a series of appearance traits. Her eyes, her gold coin, even her jacket has more personality than she does.

And this is a darn shame because the script removes some of her better moments from the book, like when she joked about being a werewolf. This episode’s version of that scene is just uncomfortable and awkward without the character’s original quirkiness from the source.

So, in the end, Lily is like a bad fanfic character who has no personality, but five paragraphs describing what she’s wearing.

Bandmates (Josh Wittig and Mauricio Rodas)
They’re fine. They don’t have much to do before they disappear, but at least they’re not as bland as many “best friend” characters can be.

Dr. Murkin (Dan MacDonald)
I just want to point out that a “merkin” is also known as a "pubic wig" for... well, obvious reasons. As if we didn't need additional confirmation that this story was riffing on puberty.

I see what you did there, Stine.

Visuals
The hair effects are honestly very good. Sure, Larry’s Teen Wolf form looks a bit cheesy, but the hair growing on his arms and legs looks realistic, if a bit thick, and it really does look like he’s shaving off tufts of actual hair.

Seriously, good job.
Barking Dogs: Too Many to Count

Child Grabbing: 1
The mildest case, all things considered.
Foliage POV Cam: No

Red Paint: No

X-Files Shout Out: No
Final Thoughts
While a lot of people dislike this one, I have to admit that I find it enjoyable. And if you don’t find the twist a deal breaker, as many people do, then you might, too. It’s certainly not the best, but it’s certainly not the worst.

Next time, where the cockroaches dance, you can wallow in romance, but… well, we’ll get to that. See you then!

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