I’ve said before that season six feels like an amateur effort in that it’s a distinct departure from the style of humor and story-telling that characterized the rest of the series. The Cart Before the Ponies is perhaps the best example of this change; watching it, I felt I could have taken off my glasses and convinced myself I was watching an entirely different show… one that I wouldn’t watch in the first place.
To me, most pre-S06 episodes followed a winning formula: tell a believable story, add in some cartoonish silliness, and garnish with subtle jokes. Rainbow Dash frantically stashing her Daring Do book and trying to act casual as her blissfully unaware friends inadvertently frustrate her is a believable but inherently humorous bit of story that the exaggerated movements and emotions of the animation make more impactful. The bits where Twilight rolls her eyes while calling out Spike on his “seven-hour bubble bath” even as the scene has already begun switching, and afterward shuts the door on the expectant mail pony, are examples of “garnishing” episodes with subtle jokes. I could spend countless pages listing these sorts of examples - which is what I love about the show and why I have such respect for the writers. Almost every episode from the first five seasons seems so carefully set up and played out in this way, and it’s been a unique feature of the show that has made it stand out among the many other entertainment outlets I’ve been exposed to.
In contrast… the story behind The Cart Before the Ponies was believable to a fault, by which I mean it was far too simple and predictable. Characterization was depressingly flat – literally an entire episode of the same few characters expressly repeating one thing they value… honestly I’m sad just writing that sentence. In terms of cartoonish absurdity and subtle jokes, I didn’t see any. I talked about the show moving to more “realistic” animations and models in my last post about Spice Up Your Life, and with it they seem to be backing away from the sort of delightfully silly exaggerations that used to punctuate episode plots and lend humor to otherwise mundane events (like when Twilight turns into Rapidash).
My experience with TCBtP was that it was nothing but a run of extremely predictable exposition with minimal subtlety and characterization, a reaction which I've unfortunately become pretty familiar with this season (and only this season). Ultimately it just doesn't feel like the same show to me, which is sad because I really liked it. Now of course I have my own interests in watching the show and these will likely differ from others’, and obviously there’s no wrong opinion here. If you wonder why I don’t just stop watching, it’s because I don’t quite feel that season six marks a permanent change in the show’s style, by which I mean I still feel justified in complaining about these episodes as “flukes” rather than cornerstones of the show. I know the show can be really good, even if recent episodes aren’t up to par, and I have hope that season seven or perhaps other episodes of this season can bring a return to normalcy, as it were.