Saturday, July 16, 2016

Review: Teen Titans Go! "The Date"

Sometimes, dear readers, I feel a little bad about what I do here.

One of the things I try to never do is personally attack the creators behind these shows. And I don't mean that I have to stop myself from busting their kneecaps with a baseball bat, or anything. While I'll criticize scripts, performances, animation, and so on, I do understand that time and effort goes into everything I talk about. Even Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.

But sometimes, I worry that the things I say could be taken personally by the people who create the stuff I talk about. After all, they're the ones pouring time, effort, and creativity into something while I sit at my computer and write thousand-word essays on where they succeeded or failed.

I didn't come here to uniformly bash Teen Titans Go!, I came here to take it one episode at a time and judge each one in turn. And yet, once again, I'm about to discuss why this episode failed.

But now I also get to talk about how at least a couple aspects of it are on the right track.

The episode is really an amalgamation of two things; Robin disguising himself as Speedy and the voice in Robin's head. And together, these elements create an episode that doesn't quite gel naturally.

But at first glance, they absolutely do, right?

Robin commits some horrible acts, only to be continually chastised by a voice in his head. Sounds about right for a Teen Titans Go! episode.

But at its core, this episode should be about the Speedy/Robin/Starfire love triangle. Not only is the date the very title, but the very idea of this date fuels the progression of the story before becoming the story's climax.

Seriously, there was a mountain of untapped friction between those two sidekicks.
And yet, the action literally stops to allow for the narrator to spout off paragraphs of Robin's feelings, each time ending in the same joke that Robin should be worried about the voice in his head.

Now, this idea could be very funny, but these scenes aren't very visually interesting, since the camera usually just focuses on Robin's face. And after the first time, it becomes obvious that the punchline will be about Robin's growing insanity.

I get the feeling that the writers used the voice in Robin's head as a bit of a crutch. They use it to pad out the episode, they use it to get Robin to confess to his actions in the end, and they use it to end the episode quickly.

The end result is that an episode that should be about conflict is continually interrupted by the same joke over and over. Which is a darn shame, because the rest of the episode has a vibrant, almost Looney Tunes type of energy to it.

Narrator (Ricky Jay)
As a parody of an after-school special narrator, his performance works, even if the character's presence sometimes wrecks the flow of the episode. 

I don't have a problem with Robin's new characterization.

Teen Titans Go! lives in the shadow of the fan-favorite original series, and changes are necessary. Not only to differentiate Teen Titans Go! from the original show, but also to have Teen Titans Go! carve out its own niche and create its own identity.

From this point on, Robin will start being more and more neurotic, paranoid, and... well, psychotic. Personally, I like the idea of this, if not the execution. Giving the leader of the Titans an inferiority complex is fertile ground for humorous interactions with the other characters, although the writers are still shying away from the extent with which they can take the idea.

And come on, the kid was raised by a man who dresses up a bat and hangs out in a cave. There's a lot of dark humor that you could craft from that basic idea.

What I like about Starfire here is that even though she's essentially a prize for Robin to win (which I usually hate because it tend to steal focus from female characters' actual interesting traits), she's blissfully unaware of this fact and continues to act like an actual character.

For contrast, look at Wendy from Gravity Falls. Most of the time, she's a smart, funny, snarky, spunky, funny character. But every once in a while, she becomes little more than an object for Dipper to acquire. And when the show focuses more on that, Wendy all of a sudden loses those traits which make her interesting to watch.

And sure, this episode focuses for a bit on Starfire's physical attributes in order to determine why Robin finds her desirable, but the scene where she assumes Robin's babbling is some kind of game is classic Starfire. Which automatically makes her characterization here a huge step up from her hair-sandwich antics in "Legendary Sandwich."

Speedy (Scott Menville)
There was a bit of an outcry from Teen Titans fans that Speedy was recast with Scott Menville instead of bringing back Mike Erwin to reprise his role.

But, personally, I'm fine with the recasting.

The joke, obviously, is that Speedy and Robin are pretty much identical. And you know what? They basically are. Speedy was created specifically to rip off Robin, back when Green Arrow also had an Arrowsignal, an Arrowcave, and an Arrowmobile.

They must be chasing after the Puzzler. Or maybe Dogwoman. Possibly the Prankster.
So using Robin's voice actor to play Speedy is kind of an necessity because that's what sells the joke. And Menville actually manages to make the two voices slightly distinct, with Speedy's being slightly higher-pitched.

But I can understand why this rubs some people the wrong way, since Speedy is a fairly popular character whose fans would get a little irked that the character is being used as a walking joke.

And honestly, I wish more was done with that joke; Speedy never gets a chance to pretend to be Robin in any meaningful capacity before the final fight begins.

There's a certain energy during the fight between Speedy and Robin, and it's definitely the highlight of the episode. There's some surprisingly good choreography, and a few funny sight gags, along with good comedic timing.

Final Thoughts
When it comes down to it, this episode is nothing to write home about and it fails to take proper advantage of both the plot and the similarities between Speedy and Robin. But at the very least, the writers seem to be finding their voice, despite their efforts to pigeonhole themselves into what they thought they should be making.

Next time, Robin's new characterization cements itself as the others teach him how to relax. See you then!

...Unless the internet first crucifies me for comparing an aspect of a Teen Titans Go! episode favorably to Gravity Falls.

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