I have to admit, I was never going to do a review like this, but after seeing a tweet from SteamTeam asking about what people thought of the concept, I felt rather inspired to make this, mainly because what I want to say can't be said in 140 characters. So, here are my thoughts on the Steam Team!
In 2009, a professor from the University of Alberta concluded in a study that Thomas and Friends consists of a hierarchical structure. On the one hand, you have to wonder "don't university professors have more important things to study?", but I've recently thought about whether this is true or not.
As far as The Railway Series goes, the answer is an emphatic "no". It's clear that each engine has their own roles to play on different parts of the island. To ensure there's no misbehaving, a manager is in charge to keep things in order. This isn't a "hierarchy", it's how a normal railway operates. Small engines are incapable of going long distances or pulling long, heavy trains that tender engines and large diesels can.
So that's it. Blog post over, right?
Nope. Because (and I think this is going to shock everyone) I believe that there's some truth to the professor's findings. But he's actually looking in the wrong place. Which brings me to... the Steam Team.
I'm going to say it right now: I hate the concept of the Steam Team. And no, it's not because it excluded Duck, Donald, Douglas and Oliver. It's because, I believe, it created the hierarchical structure that the professor found.
Think about it: all the characters it abandoned. All the starring roles going to Steam Team members. They were treated like they were the kings of the railway, while the other characters were left on the sidings or simply used as side characters.
And then there's the name: the Steam Team. Remember in my reviews during series 14-16 that portrayed the steam and diesel "rivalry" as nothing more than presenting racial undertones? To me, the Steam Team concept is flat out supportive of discriminating diesels, despite the fact that not all of them are bad. But the name of the group practically stated that diesels didn't deserve to be on the same level as steam engines. That goes beyond hierarchical. Hell, it goes beyond racism. What we saw with the diesels throughout the Sam Barlow era was sectarianism.
That is another reason why I really like the direction that the series is going. Yes, there are still episodes that include the main cast, but (apart from Thomas) none of them feel out of place any more. More characters are being given a chance in the spotlight with the Steam Team playing the supporting roles. The series feels more inclusive, like it did in the Railway Series and, heck, even the early TV series. Yet still, the Steam Team name lingers. Not only that, but diesels are being treated with a lot more respect. Yes, there's still a rivalry there, but that's all it is: a rivalry. They don't hate each other anymore, preferring to play the game of one-upmanship, which I really like.
Yes, the Steam Team name is good as a marketing ploy. But it just... doesn't feel right any more. I personally think that calling them the Really Useful Crew or Sodor's Mighty Heroes would be the solution to the problem. Heck, it may see sales rise. Who knows?
I know some fans will say that HiT and Sam Barlow had good intentions for downsizing the cast and giving it a fancy name, but the implications said name left behind leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
I've often said "never believe what academics and journalists say about a kid's show", but I'm starting to see things a bit differently now. I don't think their perspective should be ignored completely; rather, it should be given a bit more thought as to how valid their claims are. You never know what you'll discover if you do.