Feb 1, 2014

TV Rewind: Pinky, Elmyra & The Brain - "Patty Ann/Gee, Your Hair Spells Fantastic"

Welcome to TV Rewind with the doomed crossover series Pinky, Emlyra & The Brain in which two flagship series join forces for a short-lived, ill conceived show. Over the course of this series, we will look at all of the episodes as presented on the DVD set and analyze if the show was really that bad and if it does any justice for the beloved 90's output between Warner Brothers and Steven Spielberg, who parted ways afterwards. Check back every Saturday for a look at the latest and make sure to check out my other recaps as well.

To kick things off, I thought that I would give a statement of why I chose this series as a follow-up to my TV Rewind series on Freakazoid!. For starters, I am an enthusiast of Animaniacs and its many iterations. The only issue with reviewing either that show or the equally great Pinky & The Brain is that their body of work is audaciously large and thus would be challenging to fit into a reasonable output. That is why I have tried to tackle the smaller shows, if just to find deeper appreciation for them. As it stands, I come away from my experience Freakazoid! as a bigger fan.
This column sort of started on a whim. I have seen the opening credits sequence on Youtube a few times and have been really saddened by the very concept. A quick read on Wikipedia would even inform that people left the company because of this show. It seems almost toxic, as this was the end of the Spielberg/Warner Brothers era. It essentially ended on a whimper, as it seemed to feature neither show's characters at the height of their creativity. Also, why stick these three together? It made no sense. For a large part, Pinky & The Brain was insistent on placing highbrow against lowbrow in exciting ways. Taking the character from Tiny Toons who gets credited in the theme song as "Being a pain" is just too much.
Still, the show has won a Daytime Emmy Award, so that is something, isn't it? I want to believe that there is more to this show than really bad foresight. That is why I took it upon myself to use the release of the DVD as motivation to finally give the entire series a shot over the next 13 weeks. Hopefully it gets better than that theme song. I really hope so.

"Patty Ann"

In the introduction to this universe, we meet Elmyra Duff (Cree Summer) coming home with a bag of ice. While on her way there, she runs into Rudy (Nancy Cartwright), who doesn't feel as affectionate towards her as she does towards him. She drops the ice and decides to try and give him a great big hug. This quickly goes south until she is forced to continue on with her day.
It is soon discovered why she has the bag. She wants to reenact Titanic by having Pinky (Rob Paulsen) and Brain (Maurice LaMarche) ride down the toilet in a miniature boat. Upon exiting into the sewer, Brain unveils that his plans involve the tunnel and the back-ho that is currently doing construction on the street outside of Elmyra's house. He plans to create sympathetic media coverage to gain political power.
Over the course of the night, Brain builds a robotic body to walk around in under the guise of Elmyra's cousin Patty Ann. This unfortunately attracts the attention of Rudy, who has fallen in love with her. Even at Chuck Norris Grammar School, where everyone attends school, things begin to get romantic. Rudy tries to convince Patty Ann to watch him do grotesque stuff and all Brain can think of is trying to get rid of him. It even gets to the point where they visit an ice cream parlor, at which point Brain knocks out Rudy with an ice cream cone. 
Through the grapevine, Elmyra discovers the mysterious Patty Ann as Rudy's crush. She is a jealous type and refuses to let this woman take her man. This causes Elmyra to duct tape Patty Ann to a chair in her room. Upon escaping, Brain realizes that the back-ho is already in process of fixing the hole and making his plan practically useless. He admits defeat and calls it a day.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

"Gee, Your Hair Spells Terrific"

After discovering the Elmyra has gotten home from school, Pinky and Brain decide to try and hide from her. They don't desire to be involved in what she calls "Mousey Ballet" in which they are dressed up and forced to dance. Instead, Brain convinces her to do her spelling homework. At this point, she reveals that she is a terrible speller, which infuriates Brain to the point of helping her spell the word "Rabbit" correctly along with the genus and species for additional credit. This convinces the teacher to have her enter the spelling bee.
The only thing is, since she is a terrible speller, Brain sits underneath her hair and whispers the spelling to her. This gets her past the state competition and into the finals. At this point, Brain is desiring to get the top prize, which is $25000 dollars, which he plans to use in order to do studies on a fossil that he has. The only downside is that Elmyra has a fancy new doo which causes her ears to be exposed and the prospects of Brain helping her cheat to be a little more challenging.
At the finals, there is guest judge Baloney (Jeff Bennett), whose vibrant cutesy speak captures the audience's affection. He also becomes susceptible to Pinky and Brain, who are sitting in the audience and having a loud conversation that is revealing the answers. When Baloney catches on, he chases them into a kitchen and demands his revenge. When Elmyra gets into the mix, it turns into a threatening cutesy speech-based argument that sends Brain into a frenzy and he gives up.
In closing, Brain finishes the day defeated. Things quickly elevate from simply not getting the money to also having Elmyra ruin his fossil by carving out the skeleton at the core of it. He has nothing left to do but prepare for tomorrow night.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Overall Rating: 2.5 out of 5

The episode as a whole isn't quite that bad for an introductory to the series. With that said, it doesn't feel like a series with a lot of prospects. With the fact that "Gee, Your Hair Spells Fantastic" ending with Elmyra taking Pinky's iconic line of "What are you going to do tomorrow night?," it almost feels like the show is forcing change. It makes no sense and in a large way, it feels like this show is just an excuse to have a protagonist be abusive to animals. The only difference really is that Elmyra never kills or permanently bruise either Pinky, Brain, or the additional animals which are nothing but referenced as background characters here. 
If anything, I don't get the appeal of Elmyra's bully nature. Her cute voice and girlish innocence feels like a subpar Mindy without any of the ingenuity. She has cutesy talk to back her up, but when combined with Brain, it feels undermined by being an extremely stupid version of Pinky. At very least, one who is less pacifist towards Brain. 
I will admit that on top of all of this, the references range in quality, but most feel rather lazy. Animaniacs pop culture references are fantastically detailed and range from obvious to subtle. There's context and historical notes that add weight. Here, things take a turn for the less interesting on the sole basis that Elmyra has no idea what anything is a reference of. The only logical excuse is that she is meant to say these references because they are popular. They serve no purpose to her character to do anything besides flush the two rats down the sewer and shout cutesy talk.
The most notable, confusing introduction to this lazy pop culture reference comes shortly following when Brain, upon noting Elmyra's obsession with Titanic, states "Let's hope she never rents A Clockwork Orange." That seems too dark for a children's show and with physical violence already being a thing, what are we to expect? Is it referencing the rape, drug testing, or the aggressive beatings? It is kind of disturbing if you take time to analyze it as the introduction to Brain, who once made smart quips of this nature such as "I would have called you Dumb & Dumber, but that name was already taken." It served context. A Clockwork Orange does not.
It also hurts that the first plot feels highly pointless. Brain wants to causes a media frenzy, but ends up not because of Elmyra. Instead, we are introduced to Rudy, yet another dumb character in this universe. It is fun to see Brain fight alongside his professionalism in the face of juvenile behavior, but there needs to be another dignified character to make any of these jokes land. As it stands, Brain is the lone straight man and if failing in his powers because everyone around him is in some regards an idiot.
However, I do give some leeway to "Gee, Your Hair Spells Terrific" largely because it covers the bases that a Steven Spielberg-produced show needs to. It covers familiar, iconic properties almost in an undertone fashion. First with the Jurassic Park shot (pictured above) and later with the kitchen scene in which Baloney chases Brain. Both parodies work because of the context and while the spelling bee allowed for some interesting gags to happen, it is mostly because Brain wants to succeed. There is a relationship building that causes investment as he shouts out the answers from the audience.
Then again, I am a fan of Baloney back from the Animaniacs segment "Baloney and Kids." Himself being a parody of Barney and Friends is something that is distinctly 90's and may not date well to everyone else, but remains enduring for me. His goofy charm is undermined by everyone's cynicism and lack of acceptance for his behavior. If anything, it shows how rebellious Animaniacs and its spin-offs could be. This unfortunately uses him for the sake of giving Elmyra someone a person to argue with in cutesy language.
In closing, I don't quite get the large appeal of this crossover series at all. I do hope to get a better understanding and study it as I get further along. As of now, I feel like everything is undermined by everything and there's no clear focus. Everything is too goofy and Brain is unfortunately caught in the whirlwind of failure because of it. That isn't a lasting business model. As stated in the intro, I do feel like there's a reason that this series lead to the end of the Spielberg co-op. I just want to fully understand why.

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