Apr 26, 2014

TV Rewind: Pinky, Elmyra & The Brain - "Mr. Doctor/"That's Edutainment"

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.

"Mr. Doctor"

It is the time of the year where Elmyra (Cree Summer) decides to send her animals in for a check-up with Doctor Tarantella (Fred Willard). This includes Mr. Pussy Wussy (Frank Welker), who is now barking like a dog. This makes Dr. Tarantella very curious about how this happened and immediately tries to figure out ways to exploit this discovery. Meanwhile, Brain (Maurice LaMarche) and Pinky (Rob Paulsen) are being unfrozen from a block of ice in a nearby sink. As they come through, they discover where they are. Brain decides to use the moment to his advantage by having Tarantella's fascination with Pussy Wussy lead them to media coverage, even if it gets them in trouble with the government yet again.
Brain is also beginning to realize that this whole trip is a result of his past failures. Pussy Wussy is starting to become violent towards Tarantella and Elmyra's other pet, an alien, eagerly tries to escape. One thing leads to another and soon Elmyra is convinced that there is evil lurking in the office and runs away. She ends up in a park, where the alien escapes and Brain admits defeat. Not much really happens, but it is an existential moment for Brain to look back on his past attempts at power.

Rating: 3 out of 5

 "That's Edutainment"

Brain decides that the best way to take over the world is through public access TV and a program called Brain's World. This quickly gets noticed by the head of ZZTV: a channel that is forced to air cheap and dull educational programming. Brain decides to use this to his advantage to try and brainwash kids into making him their leader. Elmyra wants to be on the show, though Brain manages to help her pass out when she places a flashlight on the wall and she knocks herself unconscious.
During the show, Brain parodies Mister Rodger's Neighborhood and Pee-wee's Playhouse. He also has catchy music and games. Things are going fine, in that they are dull and educational, until Elmyra shows up. She demands to be on the show and immediately begins to abuse the mice on camera. This creates a spike in their ratings and causes the show to be a hit. Unfortunately because of that, the show is immediately cancelled, leaving Brain defeated.

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

This episode is kind of impressive on two fronts. For starters, both feel like authentic subpar Pinky & The Brain episodes. The second is the impressive undertones that make up "Mr. Doctor." Even if has the underwhelming payoff of nothing happening, the build-up is a clever way to reflect everything that the show has done up to this point. With cameos by past creations, I appreciate this on the fact that it manages to show the continuity to a series that seems very much slapped together at any given point. Instead, those few moments allow for a sense of retrospective and a deeper understanding within the character's realm. It is only when things end abruptly that it loses steam.
By comparison, "That's Edutainment" is kind of a bizarre miracle. It has all of the unfortunate flaws of the series. The pop culture references don't make sense to anyone outside of the 90's. The most obvious is Pepper Ann, which was a great cartoon, but has the distinct recognition of being very much a 90's product. Even the structure of the episode feels like a take on Wayne's World down to the TV executive in the car. There's so much there with the pun of Brain's World being the most obvious. Even then, the show's tribute to other daytime kids shows like Pee-wee's Playhouse and Mister Rodgers Neighborhood is a little weird and dated, even if these two have fared rather well. The "Let me be your leader" parody of "Let me be your neighbor" had some charm, but it did feel too slapped together.
Yes, the series still has a streak of making Elmyra a bullish figure. In these segments, she has her own moments of animal abuse. While it feels like a tolerable tie-in to the overarching themes of the first one, the second is a little stranger. There is a desire to see violence on TV. In fact, the whole segment has a meta streak, which results in plenty of moments coming off as apologies from the writers of the show. Brain's World feels to be essentially Pinky & The Brain appealing to its highbrow audience. Elmyra's desire to crash the show feels like the crossover: a train wreck of some proportion.
The show has managed to tone down the rough edges, which we all must be thankful for. Where it began by relying on gimmicks, it has now evolved into a somewhat competent program. When it wants to, it can present scenarios and tell their stories with predictable yet solid execution. The quality is distinctly 90's and of its time, but that is more of a feature on the show to isolate it from its previous incarnations. They don't always work and often feel desperate. Even then, the show's attempt at nostalgia boosts have become admirable. Unlike all of the other superior shows, this one feels the most dated and appeals to what was relevant at that moment. It is in ways the strongest time capsule, even if they aren't the best of episodes.

Note: Due to an unexcused absence from last week, I will be posting an additional Pinky, Elmyra & The Brain piece on Monday to get us back on track for the final recap next week.

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