Thursday, 27 September 2018

Season 22: Thomas’ Animal Ark

That title makes little sense since arks are boats. But it was yet another sweet episode... with animals.

I’ve said this previous reviews, but it bears repeating. The team can’t complain about fans wanting a railway documentary yet turn a show about railways into nature documentaries. Don’t get me wrong, I like this one, but they’ve been using animals as a crutch far too often this season. It’s as though they’re being transparent about how threatened they are by Paw Patrol. If you want to make an animal based show, no one is stopping you. But the familiarity of these episodes is breeding contempt. At least for me.

Like I say though, I do still like this one. It’s another sweet, heartwarming episode that’s actually rather funny. Especially when the animals arrive in the sheds. Who knew one of the most entertaining dynamics this season would include James and an ostrich?

One thing I really like is that, although they’ve been hit and miss, Thomas’ worldwide experiences are having a practical use back home, meaning they’re not completely pointless. I’m sure a lot of fans will squeal “But Donald and Douglas!” but the Sodor episodes have enough of a bloated cast as it is. They don’t need more characters to add to the pile.

Also, the lesson of helping those less fortunate was just lovely. With so many people struggling these days due to greed or stupid decisions based on xenophobia and lies, it’s also more important than ever to help others if you can. 

I saw a complaint about the joke with Henry and the Fat Controller, saying “it says a lot about how they’re treating Henry!”. To that I say: it’s a joke as old as time. If you wanted a moment that was indicative of Henry’s treatment, look at Forever and Ever and how handwaved his absence from Tidmouth Sheds was.

Final Thoughts
It’s probably not saying much, but this is the one of the best episodes of the season. It’s funny, it’s charming, it’s heartwarming and it has a great lesson. You really can’t ask for more.
Rating: Great (10/10)

Season 22: Counting on Nia

It’s an educational episode that’s... actually good?

I like Nia. She’s feisty, takes no nonsense and she’s really clever. But I also like that she takes pride in her problem solving skills as it makes you feel sympathetic to her when she makes a mistake. And it makes sense for her character to not want to seek help when she needs it.

So to put her in a situation where she’d need help was a great role for her to star in. Granted, it’s her only starring role since the movie, which is a shame, but I guess they thought that was enough..?

I also like how they emphasised how intelligent Nia was. Usually, I hate that conflicts kick in quite far in to an episode (or, in an overarching narrative, far in to the season). But I feel it worked here as Nia’s mistakes had more of an impact, not just on her but the audience as well.

It also does a great job of emphasising the struggle of an immigrant coming to a new country, namely learning to recognise the new symbols and numbers they see. But by focusing on numbers, it does an even better job of being relatable for the target audience, especially those with dyscalculia. Heck, even adults with the condition would probably take something positive away from it.

Putting Nia with Annie and Clarabel was a brilliant move (why Thomas wasn’t taking them, I’ll let slide). The coaches have always been seen as level headed mentors throughout the franchise, and that shone through brilliantly here. It’s also a breath of fresh air to see an all female starring cast. Sure, it’s been happening for a couple of years now, but it’s still really nice to see.

The plot itself is focused, but... still fairly thin. In this case, it’s not the worst thing since the focus is on the lesson and how Nia learns to overcome her problems in her own way. But the team really need to work on that in future episodes and seasons.

Then there are the themes. “Ask when you need help” is a good lesson, but it’s been overdone so much by children’s media (this show included) that it’s another lesson that loses its meaning. Thankfully, this pulled that lesson off in a unique enough way.

The second is that people learn in their own way, which is a fantastic lesson and one that adults need to learn. They need to work with kids more to pinpoint the best techniques to teach kids rather than stick to a rigid, flawed syllabus that teaches them only one way. It leaves so many kids behind, and they deserve much, much more.

Final Thoughts
It says a lot when an episode makes you go out and look at real world conditions like dyscalculia to learn more about them. Because I think that kids (maybe even adults) who have that will gravitate to this more than the majority of people.

Sure, the theme of asking for help is another one that’s been done so often by this show, and in children’s media in general. But it’s done in a unique enough way that I don’t mind that much. Add the great characters and the plot that’s... not that strong, but fairly well paced, and you get a genuinely good effort!
Rating: Good (8/10)

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Season 22: Banjo and the Bushfire

For fuck sake... The end of the season is so close, yet it feels so far away thanks to episodes like this.

I’m getting sick to death of saying it, but it’s now reaching its nadir. People don’t come to this show to watch fucking nature documentaries! They come to watch locomotives have adventures! Leave the nature documentaries to the people who make them interesting!

The plot is also a mess. The main focuses of the episode (Banjo and the bushfire) last for a minute out of 7 (including the foreshadowing), then the rest just feels like a blatant PSA about cleaning up after yourself and protect all the animals. And as much as I love animals, the fact is it’s impossible to save them all.

Absolutely, they need to be saved from abuse, hunters and other things we can control. But you can’t exactly save koalas from being, from what I can tell, lazy bastards. We couldn’t save the dodo because it couldn’t adapt to survive its environment. We can’t save animals who are hunted for food either by other animals or humans who are desperate to survive. And that’s why nature documentaries are better than santitised bullshit like this. Nature documentaries showcase the harsh realities animals face. This is just saying “save all the animals... regardless of the circumstances.” Ironically, it’s just not realistic.

Also, Tamika is a thing. She’s just... there. I could find no character whatsoever with her. Like the park ranger, she’s either spouting exposition, telling Thomas off or congratulating him for saving the koala. As much as I love that the cast is more diverse, this is the problem with the franchise. There are far too many characters and very little time to give them all time and a personality. Mostly because Thomas hogs all the limelight (it’s called Thomas & Friends; it’s as much about them as it is him).

Final Thoughts
What a terrible way to end the international episodes. But, frankly, I expected nothing less at this point. The plot is a mess, the main conflict is introduced and resolved within a minute (maybe they should’ve focused on the difficulty of dealing with a bushfire? Then they could’ve taught kids about how dangerous fire can be? Then again, Fireman Sam did a whole film about something similar, and it was better) and the characters are, again, uninteresting.

When the only good thing about it was the fantasy sequence with crocodiles, you really need to re-evaluate where the show heads in the future, and how to handle the worldwide episodes better.
Rating: Atrocious (-9/10)

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Season 22: The Case of the Puzzling Parts

It took 7 minutes for Sidney to realise he needed repairing after an incident we never see...

I like the idea of episodes that have a bit of mystery around them. But when the solution becomes so obvious, even for a preschool show, that’s where I draw the line. It all becomes padding, and makes the whole mystery, and the episode itself, pointless.

And all it leads to is yet another lesson about teamwork. Yeah, we get it. Being part of a team can solve many different situations. Can we have a lesson that hasn’t been driven into the ground yet?

I’ll be fair though, and say that the episode tried to be entertaining at least. The fantasy sequence, and its set up, were actually pretty funny. As was Sidney’s “rubbish” joke. Sure, it was like a really bad dad joke, but... eh, at least they tried.

Other than that, though, there’s really nothing to talk about. And that’s what’s frustrating about this whole season: even the good episodes just don’t stand out at all. There’s nothing that truly goes that extra mile. Maybe two episodes are bad in unique ways, but the rest just seem as though they’re coasting. Even the good ones are falling back on tropes that worked in the past.

Final Thoughts
This is an episode that’s designed to be watched once. And even watching the first time, the mystery is obvious, and Sidney is just made to look an idiot. As is whoever decided to have a flatbed delivered to the Dieselworks, only for Sidney to take it out again so that it can be brought back for him! I felt confused just typing that!

Bad storytelling, overused lesson, the fantasy sequence was pretty fun. This episode follows this formula for Big World, Big Adventures! episodes to a terrible art.
Rating: Awful (-5/10)

Season 22: Kangaroo Christmas

I get what they were going for here. But considering how so many festive episodes focus on family and being with those you love... was it really necessary to do it again in Australia?

That’s a bit harsh, in fairness. Because, overall, this is a really sweet, charming little episode. The heart is definitely in the right place and the kangaroos are cute as hell. And setting it in an Australian December was a great way to strengthen the message.

The story is well paced, it’s genuinely sad when the kangaroo takes the toy away with it and the theme is excellent. Again, not particularly original, but still great.

But... I feel that the theme is weakened slightly by the fact that they’re looking for a toy. Granted, if anyone took my Build a Bear Pikachu, I’d be inconsolable as well. But if the plot revolved around one of the girl’s parents being absent while working with kangaroos (especially one whose joey was missing), it may have meant a bit more.

Also, that kangaroo’s comedic timing when it threw the toy away was a bit ridiculous. Funny, and it led to one of the most charming moments of the reboot so far, but still a bit silly. Even for the cartoony nature they’re going for.

Final Thoughts
Nitpicks aside, I genuinely think this is the first great worldwide episode so far. The story flows well, the characters are great and the theme is excellent. I could definitely have done without so much exposition though. And yeah, the lack of originality holds it back from being a truly amazing episode.
Rating: Great (9/10)

Monday, 24 September 2018

Season 22: Rosie is Red

This is gonna be fun!

Ever since the Italian dub made its way online, this episode has been loved and hated in equal measure for one reason: fans think engines can’t love... for some reason. I’m not going to focus on that again, because I’ve already done a blog post about it. All I’ll say here is that love and sex are two different things. And if these engine characters weren’t meant to feel every human emotion, why bother anthropomorphising them?

Other than that, there’s not much to talk about here either. The story takes a while to get going in order to exposit the idea of Valentine’s Day to the audience. Although I completely agree with Percy that it’s stupid to show your love on just one day (especially when businesses take advantage as much as they can on that day). And the potential of two of the male station staff having feelings for each other was amazingly progressive.

Plus, the whole conflict just feels natural and easy for kids to grasp. They’ll go through this growing up, if they haven’t already. And it’s a great way to teach them how to go about things.

The theme of the episode is also excellent. It teaches that it’s OK to love someone, but it’s also OK to just be friends with them. It also feels more... powerful that the speech came from Thomas. So many men these days feel they’re entitled to a woman solely because they say hi to them. So to teach boys, through Thomas, that girls can be friends with boys and deserve respect too is fantastic. And if more of the season was like this, I would be sticking around. It’s such a frustrating season, that I feel will only get worse in the future.

Final Thoughts
Slow opening aside, this episode was wonderfully sweet and charming. It was experimental, it was fresh, it taught a wonderful lesson and it’s... going to be as undervalued as Diesel & the Ducklings, isn’t it? Ah well, it deserves all the love it can get.

Also, side note, why does this reboot have such an obsession with animals? We’ve had pandas, elephants, tigers, monkeys, the animals in the outback and now a cat? I’m pretty sure that kids don’t tune in to a show about talking locomotives to see animal antics..!
Rating: Great (10/10)

Season 22: Cyclone Thomas

I sometimes wonder whether this worldwide venture is worth it. Then I watch episodes like this and realise it really isn’t.

So Isla is a doctor’s plane... in the same way that Harold the Helicopter can be used for medical emergencies on Sodor. And the episode itself is just a rehash or Thomas and the Jet Plane. There’s nothing new or interesting about it. Even Jeremy is more interesting than Isla. At least he’s a bit cocky.

The theme isn’t even new either. It’s a cross between “play to your strengths” and “be brave”, which other episodes and specials have done better.

Final Thoughts
This is the shortest review I’ve ever done. But frankly, there’s nothing to talk about. Everything this episode did, minus the cyclone, was done on Sodor. And done better.
Rating: Bad (1/10)

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Season 22: Runaway Truck

This was another rather nice surprise!

No, it’s not perfect. Thomas having to learn how to shunt in a gentle way feels rather contrived since he’s been seen as a competent shunter multiple times before. And it featured another fantasy sequence where Thomas imagines he’s a hero, even though he’s been a real life hero many times before.

But it’s still got a really good dynamic between Thomas and Yong Bao. This, and Shane, have been a real highlight of this whole shitshow as far as I’m concerned. And to have a whole episode of that is lovely.

What’s also great is that they actually managed to mesh Chinese culture (in this case, Tai Chi) with an actual story that’s well paced. Granted, this shouldn’t be as surprisingly good as it is. But considering how inconsistent the writers have been with this...

Also, the chase scenes were actually pretty exciting. Yeah, they’re cartoony as all hell, but this is also a show where a truck was literally smashed up into the air, did a spin, then landed the wrong upside down before smashing when Gordon accidentally hit it, so..! Sure, it’s silly, but if it keeps kids invested then fair enough.

Also, I did like the theme of being careful. It’s one that’s been done before, but it felt relatively fresh here, and that’s all I can really ask for.

Final Thoughts
It’s easy to say that the whole worldwide venture has been a failure. But it is only the first season of this and there are still diamonds in the rough like this. Everything gelled really well, it was rather dramatic and entertaining and they actually applied a lesson within the episode itself to show that it had been learned.

It’s not perfect, but it’s not really bad either. Unless you hate the cartoony stuff. Then you’ll probably hate this regardless.
Rating: Good (7/10)

Season 22: Hunt the Truck

Edward, you magnificent bastard!

I’m pulling no punches here: I love this episode. And after all the nonsense that the writers have produced this season, this is evidence of what they can do when they really try.

Seeing Edward, Bill and Ben interact again - and be better than they’ve ever been - was fantastic, and something we probably never would’ve had if Edward was still in the position he was last season.

It’s also quite sweet that he interacted with Nia a bit. It won’t exactly calm the manchildren because they’ll still claim he should still be a star... even with all the evidence proving why that’s a terrible idea. But to see a bit of camaraderie between them was a really nice touch.

But the whole thing revolves around the theme. And the theme is excellent. Games are no fun (and jokes not funny) if only one or two people are in on it. So anyone bitching about “oversensitive” people “not getting” your joke, it’s either because only you know the context or your joke/game is just shit.

Also, I imagine fans with get pissy over no BoCo in the episode. First off, that’s on you for hyping yourself up about the idea... again. Second, what purpose would he have served that Edward couldn’t? Sure, it would be nice if he returned. But not for the sake of making you happy. He’d need to make sense for the story.

Final Thoughts
Since the news was announced that Edward would be removed from the main cast, I said it would benefit him more as he could showcase more character in a supporting role. Along comes this episode and proves my point magnificently. He’s the best he’s ever been, as are Bill and Ben. The theme is also brilliant and it’s also one of the best paced episodes this season.

Although I don’t know whether it’s amazing or sad that two of the best episodes of the season have been written by a fan..! But congratulations to Michael White (Whitehousefilms on Twitter) for living your dream and congratulations for writing two knockout episodes in a row!
Rating: Great (10/10)

Friday, 21 September 2018

Season 22: Seeing is Believing

Remember the Apology Impossible review where I laser focused on the theme since the episode itself had little else to talk about?

Ding ding. Round two.

The theme they’re going for here is that “playing make believe is fun”. Fine, that’s their intention. And if the episode ended that way, it would be alright... even if that’s all Merlin’s character amounts to.

The message I got, however, is that it’s OK to believe something exists, and insist that’s the case, and not be challenged about it. And that is incredibly harmful to a child, as far as I’m concerned.

I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t be imaginative, have imaginary friends or believe in fairy tales, unicorns or something like the Easter Bunny. But what do parents do when their child comes up against a tactless arsehole who crushes their dreams by telling them those things don’t exist?

This episode should have gone down that route. Make it a two parter, make James the antagonist again and have him show Percy that Merlin is a real engine. Because he is. This whole thing falls apart because we’re talking about an engine that’s pretending to be invisible. It must be why the ending segment tried to highlight the episode it did, because they knew they messed up after the episode was finished.

Also, consider all the damage that people have done over the years in the name of fictional deities. All the innocent people (mostly black people and women) they’ve killed and abused. All the children they’ve raped. All the children they’ve refused to vaccinate because they’d rather believe bullshit conspiracies over health professionals. All the LGBT people they’ve killed/thrown out of home/refuted service to/whipped and brutalised. Excuse me while I don’t treat lessons like this with utter, utter contempt.

Stubborn people with backwards lessons in the name of these fictional deities need a smack or ten with reality. And the thought of lessons like these emboldening them makes me sick. Absolutely, it should be a nice, charming lesson. But when applied to real life by real people..!

Remember Ghost Train where Percy was bragging about a story his driver told him and his driver laughed and put him in his place? That was the way to handle it. Quickly and efficiently. Sure, Percy felt disappointed. But he dusted himself off because he (and kids in general) are resilient when dealt with in the right way. It also helped that he ended up using the story to get his own back on the bully that I imagined earlier.

Back to this, and the story is poorly paced. It takes so long to set up the conflict that they only have two minutes to work with after that. It’s telling that an episode that was 4:30 in length had better pacing than this. Sure, you could put it down to them being used to the 8:45 time length, but... well, these are supposed to be paid professionals. Working to a time frame is an important writing skill.

Final Thoughts
Honestly, that whole lesson and how it was dealt with leaves an awful taste in my mouth. I know there are good people who believe in imaginary things and people. But knowing this could embolden the bad ones (especially since they’re gaining so much attention in the media recently) is horrifying to me.

Other than that, the poor pacing really detracts from what should be a fun episode. I just feel bad that Trevor is always being dragged into the bad ones. He (and Merlin, for that matter) deserve better...

At least Hugh Bonneville is still voicing Merlin.
Rating: Atrocious (-10/10)

Season 22: The Water Wheel

I don’t give out “You Tried” medals. But if I did, this would be the first recipient of one.

Honestly, there’s really nothing to talk about in terms of the story. They just use an overused trope of Thomas taking a shortcut and things going wrong. This time, however, there’s literally no need for him to do so, other than to contrive a conflict.

Speaking of contrivance, that ending. Of course the water wheel would end up travelling through the water to save Thomas from trouble. It’s just lazy storytelling.

And... then there’s the theme. How does “don’t waste water” correlate to anything that was in the episode itself? Absolutely, it’s important to not waste resources. But if you’re gonna teach these messages (like the show itself did in School of Duck), at least tie them in to the story! And no, just showing water doesn’t count...

Final Thoughts
I can’t wait for the season to be over so I can be done with the franchise for good. I’m doing what I can to get these reviews done, but the fact is it’s wearing me down fast. If it’s shown me anything, it’s that the writing team has zero investment in this little experiment. And if they don’t... well, why should anyone else?

This episode was scrambling to reach mediocrity and it couldn’t even get there. It’s so nakedly contrived and weak that I had zero investment from the get go. They tried to make it entertaining, but with how far they travelled, it feels ludicrous more than it does entertaining.
Rating: Bad (2/10)

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Season 22: Tiger Trouble

A story that’s let down by the first half, really.

I like the message and theme this is trying to convey. We really should do more to protect animals and punish the evil bastards wanting to hunt and kill them for fun. But that aspect got only half of the story’s focus.

The other was all about Thomas and Rajiv wanting to take the safari train... that’s never seen or mentioned after the story leaves the station. Heck, Rajiv even starts the episode with one train and ends it as a hired engine for the poachers. And there’s very little transition between the two, either. It feels like filler in order to get to the main meat of the episode, when they could’ve just gotten to that had more focus been on the latter plot line.

Maybe the story has Rajiv hired out from the start and, because of his high and mighty attitude, he doesn’t realise what he’s a part of until it’s too late. Maybe the poachers actually catch the tigers and Thomas and Shankar have to track them down. Then, Rajiv has to reflect on his actions so that he’s brought down a peg or two.

Also, that fantasy sequence was really random... but not in the right ways. Like the one in The Other Side of the Mountain, it adds nothing to the story and feels more like they’re wanting to sell a toy. It’s the only one this season I can say that I don’t like.

Also, Thomas’ tiger design looks off. If you’re going to make him look like a tiger, make sure the design also covers the running board as well. As it was, it just stood out like a sore thumb.

The poachers were also complete idiots. Which makes sense since real life poachers are also idiots (and evil). But... why did they run over the railway lines where everyone could easily have caught them? Why not turn around and run through the reserve where the trees would’ve hidden them better?

Final Thoughts
Nitpicks aside, I thought this was alright. The theme is incredibly important, and one that kids can easily grasp. But it would have been better had that been the entire focus rather than half of it. Since the other half was pointless, my rating can only be one that goes straight down the middle.
Rating: Average (5/10)

Season 22: Apology Impossible

Episodes like this should be a reminder that quality isn’t guaranteed just because an episode is set on Sodor.

I know what the intention of this episode was. It was meant to show that James is too proud to apologise... even though this theme has been done frequently in the franchise. Fact is, however, intent means nothing. The execution of the story matters. And in that regard, this episode is atrocious.

It started well; hammering in that James still sees Philip as beneath him and Philip getting frustrated about that. I was hoping that it would lead to a scene where Philip finally stood up for himself against a bully.

But... nope.

Once again, Philip backed down. And the worst thing is he had THREE ENGINES AS BACK UP! They could’ve easily pushed James out of the way and that could’ve led to a scene where everything could be ironed out.

But we couldn’t have that. We just had to have James get his own way and inconvenience everyone else. Again.

“But he looked guilty and apologised in the end. That makes it alright, doesn’t it?”

Well, no. Because the apology felt incredibly hollow and was only accepted by Philip because he’s a naive child (not a knock on him, just describing his character). Not only that, but I’ve watched the show long enough to realise that James will learn nothing from this. He’ll still be incredibly arrogant and think the world owes him everything.

Yes, that little segment at the end says that “you should never be too proud to apologise and own up to your mistakes”. But all I can take from it is “you should never stand up to your bullies”. That is a horrible, toxic lesson to teach, especially to the preschoolers watching this.

Final Thoughts
Philip gets a rough deal with so many episodes he’s in. And this is the nadir of his mistreatment. It’s the same problem he had in The Great Race, only magnified (it was the main plot point here) and made worse (in the former, Vinnie got some comeuppance and Thomas and Ashima were actually there to help him).

The writing team should be ashamed of themselves for letting the episode come out in this state, and it’s earned the title of worst episode ever.
Rating: Atrocious (-10/10)

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Season 22: School of Duck

I’m no Duck fanboy or anything. Heck, I wasn’t even bothered if he’d appeared after season 12. But after this, I honestly think he deserves more.

This was Thomas, Percy and Old Slow Coach done right. The plot was more focused, the characters were better and at least Dexter has more of a chance to have more screen time than Slow Coach (who deserved so much more than she got).

The theme was great also. I’m very impressed that they managed to weave one of the UN’s goals into the show in a natural, logical way. I also like that a seemingly random conversation between Reg and Duck actually led to the plot’s resolution. Even the trumpet wasn’t forgotten about, being used as a makeshift flower pot.

Dexter is also a really nice character. It’s a bit of a shame that he’s not a GWR-based coach, but I can understand that budget and time constraints would prevent that. It also makes more sense to use an NWR style coach rather than a Furness Railway or GWR Clerestory randomly appearing. But he’s a character that would make children want to go to school, and that’s lovely. Plus, Mark Moraghan provided an excellent voice for him. I’m glad he’s been given a new role now the narration is done by Thomas.

The episode was also rather funny. Reg playing the trumpet and Duck’s interaction with Gordon being particular highlights.

It’s a bit of a shame that Ryan was nowhere to be seen since he works on the Harwick extension as well as Daisy, but I can understand if he had no reason to be in it.

Also, and this is less an issue with the episode, but it’s an issue that it brought up. Why can’t Toby just have two coaches? Why does Henrietta have to be excused out of a story for Hannah to be used? The first time I can understand: it was the main focus of the episode. But this time?

Better yet, why were the Slip Coaches with Edward? Why are characters in really random locations these days? It completely devalues the locations they’re supposed to be at. Philip, for example, works at Knapford yet stays at Wellsworth. Why doesn’t he just work at Wellsworth? Thomas working everywhere makes sense (sort of) since he’s the character the show now revolves around.

Final Thoughts
This was a really good episode. Duck is at his most endearing, and shows that he cares despite his no nonsense Great Western attitude. The theme is important since these kids will have to be responsible for the messes that the idiotic older generations have left behind.

It basically does everything a good episode needs to do.
Rating: Great (9/10)

Friday, 14 September 2018

Season 22: Outback Thomas

If An Engine of Many Colours was a surprise, this was an absolute bombshell.

This episode had what so many international episodes have lacked. There was a focused plot that was fairly well paced and there was some actual entertainment value throughout. Out of all the international characters this season has focused on, Shane, Aubrey and Aiden have such a sense of fun about them, and they clash with Thomas’ inquisitive nature well.

It’s also one of the few episodes where I felt that going global was necessary for a plot to happen. Thomas truly felt out of his depth (in other episodes, he took over and just... appeared to fit in as though he was on Sodor) and he actually suffered some sort of consequence for his actions.

That’s not to say it’s perfect. First off, the theme has been done before to a similar quality. What doesn’t help is that the ending segment put a spotlight on the episode the lesson was taken from. It was also learned by the exact same character as well, so it makes the lesson feel even more redundant. This is another example of why using Thomas for every international episode was a bad idea. They should have used a character that can a) bounce off Shane well and b) actually needed to learn not to lie.

Also, Thomas taking Shane’s train was really contrived, only happening because the plot demanded it. We even saw Shane rescue Thomas and it’s never explained where he’d been. At least when Thomas took Henry’s train back in the day, they played off his illness. Here? Nada. It’s poor storytelling.

Final Thoughts
This was a really enjoyable episode. It had its storytelling issues and the theme was nothing new (even for Thomas’ character), but it had strong characters and genuinely felt it was well paced. The time flew by watching it.

I think it helped that they actually hired an Australian born writer to script it, whereas other episodes have been written by British writers. Basically, this should be shown as proof as to why a more diverse writing team is essential. Had they hired an Indian and Chinese writer for those episodes, I can guarantee they’d they’d be much better.

Side note: Tim Bain is rather handsome..!
Rating: Good (7/10)

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Season 22: An Engine of Many Colours

Well, this was a nice surprise!

Let’s be blunt here: as good as the Sodor episodes are, especially compared to the international ones, let’s not pretend that there haven’t been bad ones. I’ll freely admit that I judged the episode harshly when I first saw the description.

But then I saw it... and genuinely loved it! Although there are two real sticking points for me.

James’ fear of being painted blue primarily comes from a quote that was made 34 years ago. Yep, it’s another instance of fan service jarring a story completely. Why? Because James has had so many different accidents and incidents over the years, and not once has this ever been brought up again. Hell, it didn’t even need to be brought up here. They could’ve just said there wasn’t enough red paint, only for some to be delivered just as James is repaired.

The other jarring part is that this episode airs halfway through season 22. I can understand why it wasn’t aired during last season since Mattel cut it short. But why didn’t they air it at the start of this one? We’ve seen James many times this season, so there’s no tension or doubt that he’d be painted red again. That’s not a fault on the writing team as they’ve no control over what airs when and in which season. But couldn’t Mattel have...

No, wait, this is a company that just canned two ranges to try and recoup losses rather than look at what they have created, realised they fucked up and take things back to the state where consumers would buy their stuff. Especially since tablets and mobile games are a thing. They’re also thought that taking Thomas worldwide - with the personality of a deck chair - and dominate everything while he’s in those countries was a brilliant idea that would bring viewers in...

Anyway, the episode itself was a lot of fun to watch. It was the best way to showcase what the fantasy sequences are capable of, and they made things much more entertaining to watch. It hid the fact that the story was fairly thin really well, and that’s all they really need to do. Also, James acting like the new paint was a placebo was hilarious.

Another thing I liked was that Stanley actually said something! The character himself has really lost his lustre since The Great Discovery (which is 10 years old now!), and became completely irrelevant as soon as Ryan arrived and had more character than the silver engine could dream of. But I still like him, I like his design and always appreciate when the writers do something with him.

I also really like how the writers handled the theme of “looks aren’t everything, it’s the personality that counts”. As a gay man who sees a lot of arrogant, vain, close minded guys who think only muscles and abs matter, it’s a theme that resonated with me a lot. It made me feel a bit more confident in my own skin and made me feel I was doing something right by trying to showcase my personality more. And anyone who doesn’t appreciate that isn’t worth my time. It’s a theme that kids really need, and the fact they managed to teach that through these characters is fantastic.

Final Thoughts
It’s rather interesting that some of the best, most entertaining episodes in the last two years have starred a main character that I disliked. But it seems like the writers and Rob Rackstraw are really hamming up James’ vanity and it’s working wonders. He’s honestly one of the most entertaining characters in the main fleet now, and this is a brilliant showcase as to why.

It definitely could’ve done without the fan service and it should’ve aired much sooner so the outcome was less predictable than it was. But the journey to the destination was entertaining enough throughout, and that theme is an incredibly important one.
Rating: Great (9/10)

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Season 22: Thomas and the Monkey Palace

So bored...

I’ll be fair with this one: while it does still have a minimal story, at least there is a story being told. The problem is that it’s all over the place.

The title says that the focus will be on the monkey palace, yet it’s only seen in one shot. Instead, the focus is on the coconuts with the monkeys getting in the way (by the way, the “coconuts falling out of the truck” thing felt so contrived. Ignoring the fact they used a truck that is normally used to transport animals, that bash felt far too overblown for what it was. But then, this is Thomas & Friends in 2018, so I guess that’s to be expected).

And then there’s the thing that always plagues these worldwide stories: not much happens in them. Sure, it jumps from plot point to plot point, but the stuff between them - even the plot points themselves - just aren’t interesting. There’s simply nothing at stake to be invested in. And that’s because all of the focus is on Thomas and the monkeys and none is put on the impact the lack of coconut water is having on the people.

I don’t even think the fantasy sequence was that interesting either, and they’re usually the best bits of these episodes. It has little to do with the story and it’s just not as bombastic or flat out weird as ones we’ve seen before.

The theme of “paying attention” kinda works, but it’s been done before and done better. That’s... all I can really say about it.

Final Thoughts
I read a tweet saying that these episodes are “solely for the younger audience”. Ignoring the fact that every episode of the franchise has been aimed at a younger audience (except maybe season 5), that’s no excuse to not put any effort into the story. The last two episodes (that aired in the UK) have felt like they’re using animals as a crutch to carry them through, which is lazy storytelling regardless of the target audience.

Other than that, there’s little to talk about. It’s just a boring story with an abrupt ending, barely any character (or even character interaction), and a theme that’s been done better before. It’s like I said when I reviewed Thomas in the Wild: it’s all style, no substance.
Rating: Atrocious (-9/10)

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Season 22: Thomas & the Dragon

So I thought I’d review another episode that Australia aired first: Thomas & the Dragon!

And... it’s much better than a lot of the international episodes. Although, considering the quality of the others, that’s not saying much. The big thing it did right was mix all the cultural aspects with an actual story. Granted, this shouldn’t be praiseworthy. But the other world based episodes have failed more often than not in that department, so...

Also, that fantasy sequence was possibly one of the best ones so far. I’ll always prefer the one in What Rebecca Does because of how wonderfully bizarre it is. But in terms of tension and atmosphere, this is on another level.

Unfortunately, this suffers from a problem that, actually, has been prevalent for a series that’s trying to up the pace: the plot is so thin that it exposes the slow pace of the storytelling. Granted, there were funny moments scattered throughout this episode to try and distract from this - like Yong Bao and the chicken. But had these been more consistent, this issue wouldn’t be as noticeable. It’s how SpongeBob made its way, and that’s been on air for nearly 20 years.

Then there’s the whole thing with the dragon and, seemingly, how Thomas had forgotten what one is. First off, we don’t know what sort of “carnival” that dragon was going to (come to think of it, that was a plot point they never completed; it was only ever seen in front of Thomas). Although that could be due for being too scared to be cultural back then. It’d also explain why the bank holiday was changed in Bulgy since America wouldn’t know what one was.

Second... yeah, it is kind of silly that they didn’t mention that dragon. But I’ll go one further and say their idea of continuity is ridiculous. I’ve said it before and it bears repeating: they really need to stop using continuity for fandom points and use it more for good storytelling. But then, if they used it here, it would break it a bit since Thomas would know that they might use a paper dragon to begin with. Ergo, the minimal plot they had would be pointless.

One thing I really loved though was Thomas’ connection with Yong Bao. It’s like his friendship with Edward, which I’m perfectly fine with. I think it could be a bit better if Thomas was given more character, but it’s still one of the few high points of the whole worldwide half of the season so far.

And the “it’s OK to feel scared, just talk to someone” theme was OK. Although it’s one of those lessons you learn in hindsight rather than as it happens, hence it was mentioned after the main episode had ended. It’s a unique way to utilise that segment, since every other episode has used it to emphasise the lesson the bulk of an episode tried to teach.

Final Thoughts
I’m still not sold on this whole worldwide idea (mostly because the episodes themselves haven’t exactly endeared me to it), but this episode is still definitely one of the decent ones. Not one that you have to go out of your way to see, but it’s pleasant enough. The character dynamic was actually really fun and the fantasy sequence was excellent. But it does have the same issue that other episodes like this have: all style, little substance and not enough humour to hide that.

At least it’s not as bad as the last two episodes. It’s not saying much, but I’ll take any positivity I can get from the show at this point..!
Rating: Good (7/10)

Season 22: Thomas in the Wild

Can this little international experiment just... end after this season? Or, at least, hire writers that’ll actually give episodes like this more of a plot?

I read a quote a while ago. It was from Ian McCue’s press tour, and that quote was highlighted in a tweet.
Basically, the team is sick of fans complaining about “realism” and all other non-criticisms of the show. He then goes on to say that fans should watch railway documentaries if they’re that bothered about the issue. And you know what? I agree. This show lost the realism argument when the machines gained sentience. And, as much as I love The Railway Series, some of the stories could have done with a bit more entertainment value.

Also, this argument is coming from fans who think season 5 - the most ridiculous, over the top, destructive season - is the best one. Basically, they only pull out the “realism” argument when it suits them. In the same way that misogynistic, bigoted gamers complain about the realism in the latest Spider-Man game. A game that includes Pride flags and rainbow painted buildings. This despite the fact that New York, the state the game takes place in, looks exactly like that. And they’re alao using the “realism” argument for a game about a teenager (well, young adult now) that’s been bitten by a radioactive spider!

Back to Ian’s point, turning a show about talking locomotives/machines into a fucking nature documentary completely undermines it. Surely if fans wanted to watch one of those, they’d seek out something by David Attenborough?

No, wait, that’s not fair. Attenborough documentaries are actually interesting, insightful and worth tuning in to. This... isn’t. At all. Frankly, it’s the most boring episode I’ve ever had to sit through, and this is from a franchise that shat out Thomas’ Frosty Friend and Topped Off Thomas! Genuinely, the reason it took so long for me to talk about this after I’d seen it for the first time (for context, I’m writing this at 1pm BST. I saw the episode at 10:45 BST as I’d recorded it) is because I couldn’t be bothered.

There is so little to enjoy, or even remember, here. The animals are adorable and the scenery is wonderful, but commending Jam Filled for great animation is a moot point: that’s their default setting at this point.

The only thing I really enjoyed was the fantasy sequence. I genuinely laughed at it because it was just so weird and fun. Something the rest of the episode lacked.

Also, that environmental theme that Thomas tried to feed to kids in the Vicarstown segment felt incredibly forced and had no correlation to the actual story. Also, like that Bollywood episode, this completely goes against the show’s design! Surely steam locomotives have a huge impact on the environment as well?

I don’t want to blame the UN for what the show is becoming. It is, after all, the writers’ responsibility to work with what they’re given and try and make something entertaining. But putting messages like this in a show that isn’t designed for them shows they don’t understand the franchise all that well. Although, I’ll swing it back on the writers since they were the ones who made a story that had nothing to do with that message.

The only thing I could take from it was “never give up hope”, but... well, other episodes have focused on this theme and produced a much more satisfying end product.

Final Thoughts
I said it on Twitter, and I’ll say it here. These international episodes can be described like this: all style, no substance, the fantasy sequence is the best bit. This is the epitome of that. The animals are adorable, the scenery beautiful and the fantasy sequence is so wonderfully bizarre. But the story is full of nothing.

If you couldn’t tell, I’m angry. This is supposed to be entertaining, and it’s failing. But I’m also disappointed. They had so much to work with taking the show global. They could have told some really fun, interesting stories. But they give us none of it, preferring to make a boring as piss documentary with no character and a theme that’s pulled out of their arse.
Rating: Atrocious (-10/10)

Monday, 10 September 2018

Season 22: Samson & the Fireworks

Australia is airing season 22 as well, but they’re airing different episodes than the UK (we got the God awful Bollywood episode). So rather than leave your Monday empty, I’m going to review the episode Australia aired today since it’s also been uploaded to YouTube: Samson & the Fireworks!

I’ve not been the biggest fan of Samson’s episodes in the past. The writers have always seemed to laser focus on his stubbornness and how many shenanigans that could cause. But the last two episodes he starred in have been frustrating and boring to watch since the former made him look stupid and nothing happened in the latter.

Thankfully, this changed that. Instead, they focused on Samson’s fear: sudden loud noises. And it made his best episode to date (granted, the bar wasn’t that high, but still).

The story played out really well. The pacing was tight and the characters were entertaining throughout. Plus, they focused on a fear that a lot of children can really understand and identify with. And that makes the conflict worth investing in.

Adding the fog detonators was a great touch. It really hammered home how flustered Samson gets when he’s scared (Bradford’s hilarious, deadpan reaction to the situation really helped).

The theme was well handled as well. Facing fears and battling on is a great theme for kids to learn, and out of all the episodes to teach it (Wharf and Peace, The Old Bridge among a few others), this was definitely one of the better ones.

The only real downside isn’t with the episode, but it is one the episode highlighted. It seems like Rebecca is getting a lot more focus in episodes than Nia so far. Sure, Nia co-starred in the latest film, but... what has she done since? One minor role in Forever and Ever and a couple of meaningless cameos. Meanwhile, Rebecca has had two starring roles and a few cameos here, even being one of the engines at the fireworks display.

I don’t know whether it’s because they’re scared of screwing Nia up or, worse, they have no ideas for her. If it’s the former, maybe hiring a female of colour as a writer could help? The writing team could do with being more diverse (only one woman has written an episode so far, and Helen Farrell left after last season). If it’s the latter... what was the point of including her in the first place?

Final Thoughts
It’s tough to talk about an episode that does pretty much everything well. But this was a really fun one with great characters and a fantastic message. It is a shame about Nia, and it’s disappointing that we didn’t go to the Blue Mountain Quarry. But it’s easy to focus on what the episode doesn’t have. What it does have is fine storytelling, and that’s all that matters.
Rating: Great (9/10)

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Season 22: Thomas Goes to Bollywood

When will the writers actually provide an entertaining story to go with the international setting?

I’m not going to question whether kids will be interested in the Bollywood industry or not (nor will I question why Ashima refers to her own railway as “the Indian railway”. Or why any of the railways around the world are only called the “insert country’s name here” railway). But to make a “story” that’s so thin with “characters” that are barely entertaining. That is when I begin to question: is this really worth it?

Frankly, this is the nadir of giving Thomas all of these roles. Because the writers would rather him be just an inquisitive character over anything else, he has no opportunity to display any other traits. He was cheeky here for two seconds, and he displayed his competitive nature in Number One Engine, but that’s about it.

You want to know how to make this better? Give James the title role and have him and Rajiv square off. Having two massive egos fight over a movie role would’ve been hilarious, and would probably have kept kids engaged better than seeing loads of nothing happening until they actually start filming at the end.

Also, the theme is completely undermined because... well, the actor was in no danger to begin with. They only wrote the ending the way they did to make Thomas feel special. It’s a plot contrivance to teach a lesson that also feels contrived because “we have to end this somehow!”

But this episode’s worst failing is that it completely negates the need for this to be an episode that revolves around locomotives. At least when Chuggington had scenes on movie sets, a) they had the sense to make the episodes ntertaining throughout, b) they fit in the world the writers had created since the show isn’t completely grounded and c) they created a character that was a believable action star. Replace all the locomotives in this with humans and the plot remains exactly the same.

Final Thoughts
I wrote a DeviantART journal when the Italian dub was first uploaded and said it was awful. Having watched an English dub, I find it to be just as bad, if not worse. The story is completely non-existent, the theme is OK, but completely undermined and contrived, and the characters are... well, bland! The promotional image I used for this review makes the episode look better than it is.

The only saving graces are Rajiv and knowing there’s a female railway manager in this world. But the former is completely wasted and the other has nothing to do with the story itself.

Frankly, this is the worst episode since Rocky Rescue. There’s so little redeemable about the final product that it can only get one rating.
Rating: Atrocious (-10/10)

Friday, 7 September 2018

Season 22: What Rebecca Does

Rebecca returns! And all is right with the world.

Sure, it’s another alternative of the “be who you are” message (which isn’t exactly calming my fears that the show is creatively stagnant), but it does feel different enough in its application since Rebecca feels like she should be more than she is. It’s a situation that kids these days can easily identify with. Peer pressure, and having all of the latest things, is an issue they’ll end up dealing with unfortunately. So it’s nice to see that the show is sitting them down and saying “you don’t need that stuff. You bring something amazing in your own way”.

Other than that, though, there’s not much to talk about in terms of the story. It follows similar beats that other episodes that have similar lessons followed: character is in a situation that makes them feel bad, they try a quick fix, the quick fix fails, it falls on her friends to help see the best in her. On the plus side, at least they showed a benefit of having good friends around: they help to pick you up when you feel down.

Also, that fantasy sequence was wonderfully bizarre. How she knew what Diesel 10’s claw looked like, despite them never being seen on screen together, was a bit odd. As were the faces from the engines behind her; they looked more like creepy stalkers than admirers. Or a majority of Thomas fans whenever they see that a female likes the same show they do.

Final Thoughts
I wish this post would be longer than it is, but as much as. I like it, it gives me very little to talk about. It succeeds in similar ways that other “be who you are” themed episodes succeeds, it has fun character moments, it has charming ones, and it includes Rebecca and Daisy - two of the best characters on the show.

Oh, and Bill and Ben have new voices. They’re fine, but like Ryan’s, they’ll take a bit of getting used to. At least now that they’re being voiced by cast regulars, they may end up appearing more often than they did.
Rating: Great (10/10)

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Season 22: Trusty Trunky

And back to mediocrity we go..!

This episode was the point that made me truly realise where the problem with these world-based episodes truly lie. It’s not just that they’d have to try and make different customs and cultures work within this world (which, to be fair, this did fairly well), but they have to make Thomas an interesting character since he’s going to be the character we spend time with the most. And here... he’s not. He’s inquisitive, but... that’s it.

Here’s the thing that the writers don’t seem to get: protagonists don’t have to be morally pure to be a) protagonists and b) interesting. Characters sometimes have to be in the wrong to get their comeuppance and properly learn their lesson. All Thomas learns here is... focus on the task at hand and things can be done differently. But wouldn’t he have learned that rescues can be handled differently in Rocky Rescue, as bad as that episode was?

This episode would’ve been so much better had Thomas been a cheeky, arrogant sod. And I’m not saying that because I’m nostalgia blind, I’m saying that because the episode’s lesson would’ve had much more of an impact if that had been the case. Instead, it feels like they’re condemning their own storytelling device, when most people know that these fantasy sequences aren’t going anywhere.

Because of that, the episode is boring. It’s an absolute slog to sit through because no one plays off of anyone. The only characters who seem to have any sort of chemistry is Rajiv and Jehan, and they only share a couple of seconds together. Ashima is still as boring as a slice of bread with no character to speak of, and as fun as Rajiv seems to be, he still feels like an Indian version of James.

Also, as cute as the scene with the cow was, it begs the question: how many trains in India are severely delayed by sleeping cows? Why didn’t Ashima just try and find a crossover rather than just stare at it? It doesn’t add too much to the story, so it’s not a huge deal.

The themes were... fine. As much as I criticised the writers for seemingly condemning their own storytelling device, it was nice that they showed the impact of daydreaming when doing something really important. And the main theme of “different ways of doing things” was relatively well handled.

Final Thoughts
I haven’t seen a 7 minute episode drag so much since season 10. It had its entertaining moments (the fantasy sequence was wonderfully bizarre and the elephant rescue was rather funny), but the characters were just so dull and uninteresting that it’s really easy to zone out.
Rating: Average (4/10)

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Season 22: Confusion Without Delay

It’s fair to say that yesterday’s review was a bit of a shambles. Constantly changing throughout the day because I was so indecisive about whether it was a good episode or not. I was finally satisfied after the third edit, and decided to not release a review until I was confident in my opinion from now on. I can only apologise for the amount of edits you kept seeing of it.

With that out of the way, Confusion Without Delay!

This is the first episode that I can truly say was great this season. While was one was an uninspired story propped up by a good theme, and the other was a good story with a half baked theme, this was where they got it right on both counts.

First off, the story is really fun. The beginning conflict kicks in a couple of minutes in, which is its only real drawback, but considering they had to introduce Rebecca and give her a story as well, the pacing was bound to suffer somehow.

From there, though, the story really shines. Well, more the characters within the story. Ironically, this does fix the issue I had with yesterday’s episode that there were no positives offered to the changes made to the show (this doesn’t mean yesterday’s episode was better because of this, by the way. It still should have been dealt with in that story). Gordon was angry that he was getting help, but warms to it when the new engine helps fend off his brother. It’s a nice touch.

Also, Rebecca is just the most precious cinnamon roll in the show. Don’t get me wrong, I like Nia’s optimism and willingness to lend a hand, but I feel I gravitate to Rebecca more. Struggling to fit in, wanting to impress and making mistakes doing so are all things that kids can relate to. I know I worry about being late to meetings I have quite often, then getting impatient when I’m waiting. Plus, I have my own insecurities due to many factors that can be boiled down to “the world can be cruel sometimes”.

There were a couple of really funny moments. Rebecca and Diesel at Brendam (seriously, those two need an episode together) and the Fat Controller being in a situation where he couldn’t use his catchphrase.

The fantasy sequence really hit home for me as well, to be honest. I often think my friends are amazing, and I often feel like I’m left behind or in their shadow. So I can empathise a lot with why Rebecca would want to try and impress as much as possible.

The theme is... OK. The one they went with was “it’s OK to make mistakes so long as you learn from them”, which is fairly basic but still one that’s important for children. There were a couple of others that the episode didn’t focus on. There was the “change can be good” lesson which, while being an episode overdue, was well done. There was “patience is a virtue” and there’s one that, I feel, is rather important.

It’s a really subtle one: you don’t need to try so hard to impress, just let your personality shine through. That’s a lesson I can really appreciate, since I feel I’m trying way too hard to make friends (and searching for a boyfriend) by buying new clothes and thinking about changing my hairstyle. I just need to be more confident and show them who I am.

Final Thoughts
Davey Moore can write some real stinkers. But when he’s good, he knocks it out of the park. Confusion Without Delay is one of his absolute best. Is it perfect? No. The pacing at the start isn’t that great (understandably so, but still), and the constant glossing over why Henry moved is really starting to annoy me.

But the main story is good, the characters are great and the themes are varied and easy to digest for kids. Oh, and Gordon and Rebecca seems like it could be a really interesting, yet sweet, dynamic. What more could you ask for?
Rating: Great (10/10)

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Season 22: Forever and Ever

Well, this is gonna be fun..!

I had my reservations about this one, to be honest. Not because I’m insulted or annoyed by the changes, but because I know how bad episodes that seemingly attack the critics can be. Fame and Misfortune from MLP is a prime example on how to do it wrong. The episode was three years too late, it addresses criticisms that have already been addressed, it uses their purple mouthpiece (Starlight Glimmer) to pin the blame on the town (and, by extension, the fans) for their own mistakes as a writing team and the song was basically them sticking their fingers in their ears and saying “I’m not listening!”. And to top it all off, it supposedly bored its target audience.

This episode has none of those problems. Sure, you could argue that Nia is a mouthpiece for Mattel, but I disagree. Because they’re playing off what Nia is actually going through in her own mind, it feels much more natural to the story rather than having a character with no character spouting nonsense because the writers are incredibly petty.

But let’s be honest here, Gordon was absolutely amazing here. His reactions are the perfect caricature of conservatives (conservative Thomas fans especially), and anything that upsets them is perfectly fine in my book. They even had him imagine that the track was going to turn rainbow. I genuinely want that so much now!

The story itself is... fairly thin. It’s another plot about an engine learning to accept changes in their lives. Daisy had to go through the same in Daisy’s Perfect Christmas last year (which I’ve since found that fans have forgotten about, which is a shame). But, I feel this episode can be forgiven of that since they tweak it enough to make it feel fresher.

And... then we come to the theme. I’ve been going back and forth in my head before and after the review originally went up, thinking whether it was a good lesson to teach to children. I’ve now reached the conclusion that yes, it is a great lesson for kids. In fact, it’s an important one. Friendship never dies no matter how far away you are and how often, or little, you see of each of each other. My best friend and I haven’t been in touch that much since he started his new job last year. But every time we catch up, it’s like we were never apart from each other.

There are a few issues though. When Gordon realises there could be a new addition to the sheds, he acts the same way he did at the start of the episode. It makes his whole arc feel pointless and reinforces my idea that his behaviour needed to be dealt with in a more direct, less coddly way.

This also could’ve been fixed by them acknowledging the benefits of these changes as well. It’s all well and good saying “change happens, it’s OK to feel bad about it”, but when you’re not told what the plus sides of these changes are, and something else happens to change things further, the cycle will begin again. The episode does a good job of understanding change and its effects, but it doesn’t go into the acceptance of change and why that’s a good thing.

Also, Henry’s leaving is completely glossed over. After A Shed for Edward, I was thinking they’d do something similar for Henry. Heck, maybe that was the original plan before they decided to cut 8 episodes out of the last season. But to treat it as an afterthought for another character’s story is... well, kinda sad. I know Henry never really had a fair shake in the leading roles, but he deserved a far better send off than this.

It’s never explained why he wants to stay at Vicarstown, he just... does. It’s basically what fans thought A Shed for Edward’s ending was; something pulled from the writers’ backsides in order to accommodate a new character in the shed.

I was also a tad disappointed that they didn’t tackle the theme of toxic masculinity either. A lot of anger from people comes (apart from taking a book as gospel and using it as an excuse to be a terrible person, ignorance, stupidity or a combination of the three) from the terrible gender roles that society has arbitrarily placed on itself. But it’s a 7 minute episode that was focused enough as it is, so it was silly to assume they’d add something else to the mix, in hindsight. Although, considering the ending leads on to the next episode, there’s still a (slim) chance..!

Final Thoughts
After a lot of thought and rewatches, I think this one is... alright. It’s a good way to ease kids into the meta changes by making a story that they can relate to. But it simply doesn’t go far enough in saying why change will be beneficial.

I honestly still prefer Daisy’s Perfect Christmas in certain areas, especially in terms of the theme’s execution. But this is more entertaining, makes Nia more loveable and Gordon entertaining as hell. Seriously, writers, make fun of conservatives more! That’s the sugar daddy likes. Oh, and a rainbow railway would be lovely as well..!
Rating: Average (5/10)

Monday, 3 September 2018

Season 22: Number One Engine

Well, the time has come. After nearly a year of childish tantrums, racist, sexist meltdowns and cynical blog posts, Big World! Big Adventures! the series is upon us. With the movie not impressing me all that much, this season has a lot to prove. And starting with a world-based episode was a bold decision. But was it one that paid off?

In the biggest area, no. Not really. At least not this one.

Here’s the problem: they’ve made so many changes to the format (which I’ll talk about in a separate post), yet they’ve failed to fix the biggest problem the show had. It wasn’t that “Thomas never went anywhere”, it’s that the stories began to feel so similar to ones that have been told before. And this one feels incredibly similar to Thomas’ Shortcut.

However, in other areas, the new episode format helped significantly.

First of all, the main story clocks in at 7 minutes, like it did in series 8-12. So when they said “the stories would be faster paced”, what they meant is that they’d be shorter. That said, it works to their advantage. Since they have to be more focused with their storytelling, there doesn’t feel like there are any scenes that are wasted, nor do any feel that they drag. That is a big plus.

Second, I liked that the fantasy sequences actually showed us an insight into Thomas’ imagination, so we could enjoy his delusions as much as everyone else (and it was pretty funny that AnAn and Ling Yong were having none of it). It’s perfect “show, don’t tell” storytelling. Well, they do tell us as well, but that’s beside the point.

Third, Thomas as the narrator. I love Mark Moraghan’s work as narrator to death. He’s the best the show has had. But I completely get why they’d have Thomas take over. If this is his story, it’s only right that he tells it. The only problem with this is he could, potentially, be forced into situations where he doesn’t fit solely so his role as narrator fits. Maybe if the other characters narrate their stories as well (especially the Sodor based ones), this would work even better.

You’ll notice I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on the storytelling changes. That’s because... well, the story itself doesn’t give me much to talk about. It’s like I said before, it’s just Thomas’ Shortcut, only in China. The different setting just means that Thomas is overcome by his new surroundings.

The characters were... fine. But I don’t think that Thomas and Hong Mei click as well as Thomas and Bertie do. I feel that the tank engine and bus is more interesting since Bertie knows how to push Thomas’ buttons. Whereas Thomas only wants to race Hong Mei... because she’s number one on the railway he visits. He’s annoyed at a convenience in the visual character design rather than something she says or does.

That said, I do like Hong Mei as a character. She’s energetic, she’s fun, but she’s also a bit reckless. That’s all that can be said about her, but that’s also all that needs to be said. She suits her role well, and that’s great.

Also, An An and Lin Yong were brilliant. They’re like the opposite of Annie and Clarabel, encouraging Thomas to be careless so that he can get into trouble, like Ace only they’re constantly there to drive the story along.

And, as much as I dislike how much the story takes from a previous one, the theme of fair play and “friendship is better than competition” is fantastic. If this is how the UN ended up contributing to the show, I’m all in favour of them doing so for as long as the show continues. It’s just on the writers to not botch the themes completely..!

Final Thoughts
Overall, this episode is a mixed bag. The story itself blatantly unoriginal, but I feel that the characters and overall theme stop it from being truly bad. It’s just... weak, really.
Rating: Average (6/10)