The Saddle Row Review has some solid reasons to be a good episode – each of the Mane Six are featured in somewhat distinct roles, the “flashback to restaurant” method of storytelling is pretty good, the story itself is fairly coherent for how spread out it is, and there are a handful of pretty clever moments that I genuinely appreciated when I watched it. Although Rarity’s storyline progressed, it felt like a slice-of-life episode because of how much focus there was on whimsical humor. On paper this has the makings of what I would consider a high-quality episode, and yet I really, really didn’t like it at all. To me, the vast majority of the many jokes were painfully obvious and poorly delivered, which made most of the episode dull or awkward. For all my verbose posts I still don’t really understand why I find certain jokes funny and others not, but I usually learn something in process of trying to explain it, so here goes.
Contrived – that’s possibly my biggest issue with this episode, when characters act strangely for seemingly no reason other than to deliver a punchline. The jokes here were fast and furious, to the point where you could pretty much rely on nearly every sentence being either a setup or a punchline. Aside from making most of the dialogue feel unnatural, this also made the jokes much more predictable. Humor is about going against expectations, and the more suddenly you break those expectations the better, which is why “brevity is the soul of wit”. As an example from this latest episode, you’ll remember the scene where Rarity complains about the loud music, which immediately cuts away to Pinkie expressing excitement about it. There’s no expectation of or built-up to the cut-away, it just happens suddenly, which caught me off guard and made me laugh. More on point, it didn’t feel contrived because it worked within the established characterization of both Rarity and Pinkie. Contrast this with the “sweep” bit, where AJ and RD spend some time explaining the chant and how it wasn’t catchy, and then we get the scene where Applejack, Rainbow Dash and Twilight are all chanting together. The whole bit takes half a minute, but the entire joke is obvious within the first few seconds. I saw what the punchline was almost immediately, but I guess the writer assumed I was still in the dark about it and drew it out for an insultingly long time. I mean, clearly that bit was for the “meme” crowd, meant as a spectacle gag, and as a result of forcing that one we got 30 seconds of uncanny behavior. I realize this is where I differ from many other fans, but my impression from the first 100 episodes was that chanting “sweep” in bizarre unison was never in the cards of practical behavior for the Mane 6, yet it’s sold here as practical. My point is, in an episode so saturated with attempted jokes, I found that most of them made the characters involved behave jarringly out of character, on top of simply being too obvious.
With the slight exception of Newbie Dash, this whole season so far has felt like an outsider/amateur effort. I think some of it has to do with Hasbro’s specific direction, but I get the feeling that the crux of the issue is that these new writers don’t get the subtleties of the older episodes. Either way I’m pretty disappointed so far.