My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic airs Fridays at 1:30 p.m. Eastern, 10:30 a.m. Pacific on Hub.
The last time I had this many people tell me a show was worth watching before adding on some sort of embarrassed admission to the effect of, “I know how it sounds, but trust me,” was with the Battlestar Galactica remake, where a number of friends spent most of the first season insisting it was much, much, much better than the source material. But where that show just had to overcome the fact that it was based on a show that had a reputation as one of the biggest flops in TV history, My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic has to overcome a great many things (including the fact that its title needs a colon and doesn’t have one). But the chief one is this: It’s about fucking cartoon ponies.
Let me be clear: Kids TV that doesn’t make parents want to slit their wrists out of irritation is to be treasured. There’s very little of it out there, and the few shows that come along in that regard tend to garner cult audiences, both among parents and bored twentysomethings with nothing else to do but watch TV. Yet when the cults sprang up around The Adventures Of Pete And Pete or SpongeBob Squarepants or Yo Gabba Gabba!, it felt vaguely natural. All of these shows, pitched at kids as they were, had vaguely outsider sensibilities, a sense that they were pitched not just at any old kid, but at the COOL kids, the ones who sit in the corner at day care wearing thick-rimmed glasses and making fun of the kids in ducky overalls. My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic is the very opposite of this approach. It’s a bright, happy show about how nice it is to love everybody. It’s a show built to advertise a toy line. It’s a show where the awesomest thing that happens is a pony flying through the sky and spreading a rainbow behind her. The only thing that could possibly make the title more irritating would be if it was in all caps.
With that out of the way, though, I’m going to say this: My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic isn’t just kids TV that won’t make parents want to kill themselves; it’s legitimately entertaining and lots of fun. The best word to describe it is probably “relentless,” in that it’s relentlessly cute, relentlessly happy, and relentlessly entertaining. In its own way, it reminds me of a movie like Singin’ In The Rain, in that both properties aim to overwhelm any cynicism directed at them via sheer and utter joyfulness. It seems like it should be easy to watch either property with an ironic sneer of detachment, but both utterly wear down all defenses. I think I realized this around the time I was giggling maniacally at a tiny cartoon pony being dragged against her will toward a giant rock, adorable frown affixed firmly to her face. She was such a cute little pony! Yes she was!
My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic is the work of Lauren Faust, who was previously a storyboard artist, writer, director, and producer on two other examples of kids TV that parents could also enjoy: The Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends. This is Faust’s first solo creator credit, and the world she’s created is utterly charming. Sure, it’s mostly meant to be a way to create new toy ponies to sell to little girls (Hasbro IS a part owner of Hub, after all), but Faust has somehow found a fun way to play around with the old kids TV idea of “just be yourself and things will fall into place.” I’m not going to claim this series is incredibly complex, but Faust’s characters are winning, and the world they live in is a lot of fun to visit.
Faust’s central character is unicorn Twilight Sparkle, who’s some sort of understudy to Princess Celestia, the undisputed ruler of Equestria, the land where the magic ponies live. Twilight Sparkle is so buried in learning all about magic and assorted other things that she’s never had time to make friends, so Celestia sends her off into the great wide world to meet other ponies and learn about just being a regular teenager who also happens to be a brightly colored magical horse. On her journey, she meets up with ponies for every possible little kid personality who could be watching the show, from outgoing, brassy Applejack (who sounds like she should be voiced by Reba McEntire) to shy, sweet Fluttershy, probably the show’s best character, if only for her love for woodland creatures and bursting into song. There’s also Rainbow Dash, the Peppermint Patty of Equestria, who’s so fucking awesome she’s got a LIGHTNING BOLT MADE OUT OF RAINBOWS as her “cutie mark.” (I can’t believe I’m writing about a show with things called “cutie marks.” I can’t believe I’m about to explain what those are.)
Cutie marks are the Equestria equivalent of tramp stamps, little symbols that appear on the horse’s hindquarters once it knows what it’s meant to be doing. Hence, the constantly over-the-top Pinkie Pie gets balloons (after she discovers how much she enjoys throwing parties for her family on their ancestral rock farm), while the glamorous Rarity has gems. One of the central threads of the show involves three very young ponies, still hoping to gain their cutie marks, who spend much of their time attempting to grow up faster than they really should and, thus, getting into all sorts of wacky scrapes. Faust has more or less built her show around the way that little kids often look up to and emulate teenagers, even though those teenagers don’t have it all together. The core ponies all seem super cool, but the show lets us in on their insecurities and problems.
A good example of this is the recent episode “The Cutie Mark Chronicles.” (Hub does a good job of providing clips on its Web site, and most episodes of the show can be found on YouTube, if you’re at all curious.) The entire episode revolves around the older ponies telling the younger ones just how they came to get their marks, usually through some moment of epiphany, where the world seemed to make sense and destiny was immediately obvious. (I’m still waiting for one of these moments.) The younger ponies are frustrated to learn there’s no hard and fast way to simply skip all of the waiting and just get on with the em-markening. The older ponies look back somewhat wistfully at when they were younger and less solidified. It also boasts a surprisingly complex story (for kids TV) where all of the flashbacks tie together and reinforce the sense of destiny.
Look. There’s not really a way to write about this show and make it seem like super sophisticated TV. It’s not. It just wants to give the kids a good time and hopefully find ways to let their parents laugh here and there, too. But this is a really fun show, blessed with great looking characters and brightly colored backgrounds for them to frolic through, as well as a nicely sly sense of humor. All of the characters are well-defined, and the show uses them well to come up with fun stories and bounce solid jokes off of each other. And yet what may be most remarkable about this series is that there isn’t an ounce of cynicism or calculation in it. In some respects, it may be a toy commercial, sure, but Faust and her team have taken something with cynical roots and made it the most joyful show on TV, a weekly half hour of bright colors, best friends, and rainbows galore.