Not really many people talk about this, probably because there are more important issues with Thomas and Friends at the moment :P. But I was reading a post on SIF's blog concerning whether there should be a "Steam Team" anymore and one of the topics they talked about about is whether there was too much of Thomas on our screens. And that got me thinking: why IS there so much Thomas?
Fans of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends have always been fond of classic episodes because, in every episode, there would be a different engine having a different adventure on different parts of the island. In fact, many fan favourite episodes don't have Thomas as the star - or even in the episode/story at all. Yet during the reboot of the show in 2004, more emphasis was put on the main 7 characters - plus Emily - while other characters were shunted into the sidings. But most of the emphasis was put onto Thomas. I've been doing the sums, and here's what I've found. There have been 186 episodes since HIT's revamp, and only 7 of them haven't included Thomas in any way, shape or form. While there are some negatives, there ARE, from HIT's point of view, some positives.
- Sadly, the Thomas and Friends that we know now is not the same show that many people grew up with. It's no longer a show about talking locomotives, it's not even the brain child of an Anglican clergy anymore. It is a brand, a franchise if you will. This means that, basically, success is determined by the amount of profit that is made rather than the popularity of the show (hence the change to CG animation, since the cost of the model series was so high). By including Thomas in the majority of episodes, the brand will flourish and the toys and merchandise will fly off the shelves - as long as parents can afford it.
- As Thomas is the star of the show, the more episodes he appears in, the more that kids are going to learn from an episode. Unfortunately, this can also be a curse, especially with some of the "morals" that are being spewed out these days: always listen and talk to strangers (Misty Island Rescue), you're only successful if you're "normal" (MIR, Thomas and Scruff, James to the Rescue, Diesel's Special Delivery) and playing in workshops is OK (Day of the Diesels, Kevin the Steamie) to name a few.
- Let's face it, the more Thomas appears, the more people get sick of the sight of him. It's getting even worse in the CG series as most of his appearances are pointless. But it's not really that bad (really :P). While he's only missed 7 episodes since 2004 (and many more besides from Series 1-7), he HAS missed episodes. Stars of other kids shows like Pingu, Fireman Sam, SpongeBob, even shows like the Simpsons haven't missed one episode since their debut episodes.
- It means that, after a while, episodes ideas involving episodes starring Thomas are going to run dry and plots are going to be really similar - or even identical - to each other (e.g. Thomas and Skarloey's Big Day Out and Stop That Bus, Creaky Cranky and Stuck on You and The Lion of Sodor and Thomas and the Pigs). But then again, even those episodes that Thomas doesn't star in are similar - or identical - due to the annoying three strikes formula. Trust me, I've been thinking of stories to write about where Thomas is the star and I've only come up with one. THAT'S how overused he is.
- This, for me, is the biggest drawback, and it concerns the new characters. In all but one (Whiff's) of the new characters' introductory episodes, Thomas has been the star, or majorly involved. Because of this, their personalities hardly develop, they're pretty much the same as most existing characters. Dennis was like Daisy used to be, Billy was like Gordon and even Stanley's a bit like Thomas. Also, none HIT's characters have ever made an impact, and I think that's because of the Thomas emphasis. The only character that had a REAL back story was Hiro. Near enough every other new character just came out of nowhere.
Let me give you some examples of what I mean by that. In Duck Takes Charge, Duck only appeared in half the episode, but he made such an impact in such little time that he became an instant favourite and you just knew that he's an engine not to be messed with, yet he can be one that you can really get on with. In Escape (the story rather than the episode) you followed Oliver's journey from certain doom to preservation on Sodor. You could even connect to Donald and Douglas as you wouldn't have wanted EITHER to leave in The Twin Engines and you felt their despair whenever they did anything wrong and you felt their joy at the end of the book. Now though you can't feel that way about ANY characters as they have the same personality as everyone else. And the root cause, for me, is Thomas' involvement. Because of him, no one else has time to shine.
From HIT's perspective, having Thomas in every episode and on every package for merchandise (even Hornby) it is a good move as it boosts sales and profits. For me? It's called Thomas and FRIENDS for a reason. The series is about Thomas AND ALL his friends rather than Thomas on his own with his seven henchmen and other lackeys that are introduced just for the merchandise. By all means, include new characters, but more thought should go into them and Thomas should stay well away so that the newbies can have a time to shine.
To quote SIF's blog post, I want less of Thomas, more of his friends.