Friday, 22 December 2017

S21 Ep.18: Confused Coaches + Series Overall

THESE ARE SOLEY MY OPINIONS AND ARE NOT INFLUENCED FROM THE THOMAS & FRIENDS FANBASE

CONFUSED COACHES
Written by
Helen Farrall

Directed by
Dianna Basso

Produced by
Micaela Winters

Plot
Spencer and Gordon upset their passengers when their competitive behavior gets extremely uncontrollable.

Air Date
22/12/17

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This episode is a pretty standard Gordon VS. Spencer storyline. But I did find it entertaining with the dynamic between the two characters. The episode also gave me vibes of 'Wrong Road' with the two engines given the wrong coaches. I would've loved it if they had the signalman keeping signals down and points switched for Gordon and signals up for Spencer to complete that vibe. But how the way it came out in the end was good enough. But one of the things that intrigued me by this episode was the fact that this was set on New Years Eve, the first time that it was done in the show's history, not quite ground breaking but it amazed me none the less as I thought this was going to be set during the Christmas rush period. Like the stations are very busy and Thomas and Philip had shunted the wrong coaches due to the busyness of it all and gave the wrong coaches to the engines say Spencer taking Gordon's passengers to the mainland and Gordon stopping at stations with the Duke and Duchess. It wouldn't make much difference though.

As much as I like the comedy of the Fat Controller, I have a feeling that they are overdoing it this season. In this episode it had him falling down and all and I understand it's cartoony and the young audience would find it funny but there needs to be a time that they have to slow it down and maybe showcase more of his authoritative behaviour or add someone else to be the comic relief, like maybe one of his bodyguards or the stationmaster? As I said before, Thomas is more than comedy and it's not good for his character here. It was fine in S19 and S20 because it was balanced but I feel like they haven't balanced it well this season. Heck, he showed his authority side to Gordon at Callan Castle in the end! Can't we see more of that, please?

I love Chris Renshaw's score of 'Auld Lang Syne' it was beautiful and warm given the atmosphere of the end and with Philip being scared of fireworks was pretty adorable as it make him like a little kid being scared of the loud bang and I was one of them when I was young. Although I think it would've been great if they had Donald and Douglas there singing the song as well considering that the song is part of Scottish heritage and that they are from Scotland. The episode is pretty standard and not much happens until the latter part, but it was fine in the end and a nice end to the season and a nice end to Helen Farrall's contribution to the show, her CV showcased nothing for Thomas during 2017 as that is when the new show would be in production. She was one fantastic writer and it's sad that she won't continue on with her excellent writing. She gave the show its simple slice of life feeling towards it and I am very grateful for her for doing that.

SERIES OVERALL

I will say that this season feels a little mixed. It's not that it was bad though. First off it's the continuity. This was suppose to be set before 'Journey Beyond Sodor' but as usual there was no build up but it feels so mixed up bizarrely. In 'Cranky at the End of the Line', Thomas and Edward went to the mainland to pick up Carly and yet in the special, Thomas went onto the mainland (in Mattel's case) for the first time and yet in the special it felt excited like he was on the mainland for the first time! How do these two connect in anyway if you have the series before movie idea? It just makes no sense! It makes me think that the movie was just filler and that S21 was just its own thing so they can get ready for 'Big World Big Adventure' next year.

I also feel like this series had focused more on comedy and while there can be some good out of it, I feel like that they were pushing it a bit too much especially by Lee Pressman as most episodes written by him had much comedy in it. Some of it's OK but I think some were trying hard to make things funny, such as the Fat Controller for example. It's like I said before, Thomas is more than comedy. But there are times were Lee Pressman focuses more on story and less on comedy and 'Terence Breaks the Ice' is a good example of it. The story was simple, there were some action and it feels like something that Christopher Awdry would write. It's not just Lee Pressman when it comes to comedy though, Helen Farrall, who is one of my favourite writers from the show and it's a shame she's not going to take part of the show next year, her CV didn't have any info on S22. But she had implemented some comedy too more on the Fat Controller slipping and bumping into things. It's not as much as Lee Pressman's way but the way she had done for the Fat Controller in 'Confused Coaches' was kind of showing that the slapstick humour was getting old and sometimes unnecessary for him and it's lacking the authoritative nature of him being a railway controller.

I know one of the big 'controversies' is Edward leaving the 'steam team' because he was not 'marketable enough' and that Henry will be leaving too next year. But over the months, I began thinking about Edward, this my opinion and as much as I love the old blue engine, I think he adds nothing new to the table. Now before anyone jumps to conclusions, I am not a huge fan of this idea as I do know that Edward is probably one of the most important characters in history of this brand, he was the first character to come into the Rev.W.Awdry's mind when he was entertaining Christopher while he was sick with measles. But the reason that I said that, the nothing add new to the table business is because most of Edward's stories are just him trying to prove his worth over being old.

I mean in the classic series it was fine because we were just getting to know them. But they've developed his character after that and it wasn't used again until I think by the time of the show's sixth season. The episode, 'Edward the Really Useful Engine' despite being one of my favourites was really the start of the repeatable 'proving his worth' plots for him. The same can be applied for 'Old Reliable Edward' and I considered that to be one of the best episodes for Edward in recent years. To me I think Edward works well as a secondary character more given his personality of being the old but wise engine giving advice to the other engines who are younger than him and with him and Philip being paired together, there is good story potential and character dynamic for the both of them!

Edward had not been 'killed off' as some fans are led to believe. Mattel had confirmed that he and Henry will be featured heavily in the new series so they are still in the show it's just that they aren't going to be part of the main cast anymore and that's fine by me. Edward is out looking after Philip at Wellsworth sheds.

I can say the same with Henry. He had such great character development during the early years with him suffering illness due to his small firebox until he got his new shape. Afterwards he was just this grumpy side character with some traits of him being the friendly giant. I think why they went with the wimpy role during the Miller/Barlow era is to force him some new stories to give him the spotlight and then brought back the special coal stuff as well to make him have a flaw disregarding any continuity from the past! The problem for Henry is that he was forced to have these things onto him even though it had been resolved earlier for him as a character. But these are just my opinions not any actual fact.

The two new engines, Nia and Rebecca, have to prove their worth other than just being these girl characters and I'm willing to give them a chance even though some people are already writing off Nia as bland despite that we don't anything about her yet because the final product is not out yet. Plus I'm pleased that the offical Thomas website stated that Henry and Edward will be featured heavily but that could mean anything. They could have cameo roles or secondary roles and maybe a few episodes focused on them, I don't know what they would do but we would just have to wait. It's a shame though that Henry didn't have a farewell episode like Edward this season but I hope the production team give him a swan song for him in the new revamped series. I don't consider of calling BWBA a 'reboot' considering from the video of the new intro that was released a few months back, there are still things from this season that will carry on (e.g - Carly and Big Mickey). A 'reboot' is unplugging what the show use to be and restructure the whole thing from scratch and adding new things along the way to make it all new. Sort of like S8 but without some past traits like the overused 'steam vs diesel' cliche. The term 'reboot' is more of a buzzword nowadays.

One thing that sort of surprised me was that this season has to be the shortest season in Thomas history since S11-16 had 20 episodes each, that now makes them second shortest. This is all confirmed from Mattel via twitter:

But the one thing that did surprise me was that Mattel had cut down eight episodes of this season! SiF had confirmed this last week on twitter:
And if you look through more of the tweet, Rosie was going to have more than one episode! All because they want room for the development of 'Big World Big Adventure'. I'm not going to be attacking the new show as this is critically towards the higher-ups of Mattel. I feel like fans have been cheated by this because for years they've demanded for Rosie to return with a bigger role and have better characterisation and just having Mattel taking those years of waiting away by not showing more of her character progression feels so much of a let down. There could've been more with the three cranes, Bulgy and I bet Hugo. I remember earlier this year SiF had said there were more plans for Hugo and it's such a shame because we only got two episodes of his last season and they were not good in my opinion. I am annoyed by this move but I just got to take it as it is in the end. I hope with the Sodor portion of the new series we see those episodes having their share of the spotlight. But we just got to wait and see in the end. If not, well I think it's unfair for the hard work that the production team put into writing those episodes and Mattel should've just let S21 go at its own pace rather than abruptly cut it down. At least we know Rosie's job is being a station pilot at Vicarstown as shown in JBS, at least that is her job?

I'm also very sad that this would be Mark Moraghan's last season as narrator. He had such great enthusiasm when it comes to telling a story much more better than what Angelis did during his latter part as the storyteller. Mark had put great effort into his narration and he had that feeling of Ringo Starr, Johnny Morris and Michael Angelis combined. But a part of me is not really put off by the idea of no storyteller next season and I think its because it worked when the show was converted to CGI considering that things can be expressed more better when it comes to emotions. Show don't tell. When Brenner and McCue first started, the narration started to decrease most particularly around S19 and the characters were the ones telling you the story with their dialogue and with the wonderful voice acting and visuals.

I think that the narrator worked well when the show was in its model format. The expressions are static and it works for the narrator to tell the audience how the character is feeling, since it was going for a picture book like feeling when the show started in 1984. I think the idea of Thomas telling the audience is a good idea considering we had those life lesson videos from the official website, DVD releases and on PBS Kids in the US. I do hope they let kids to digest the moral of the story though. I know that the storyteller is one of the key parts that makes Thomas great, but I think the show could work without one. I wish Mark all the very best and to give him thanks for entertaining Thomas fans young and old. I do understand that he said, via twitter months ago, he could be voicing a new character in the new series, I hope so.

It wouldn't just be Mark who would loose the storyteller role. Plenty of non-English narrators will loose their storyteller role too in favour of Thomas such as Jon Kabria from Japan. He had narrated the show when 'Calling All Engines!' debuted in Japan in 2008, three years after the release in the west. But I believe the Japanese fans might be use to Thomas talking to them as shown in their DVDs.

Speaking of voices, I love Colin McFarlane. He was superb as Bulgy with the gruff in his voice, it suits his character very well and it was so different to his Beresford voice in JBS, so distinct. Even Lucy Montgomery was a great new addition to the show as her voices are very different to each other for such characters like Carly and Hannah. But I do think the most disappointing voice was Terence. His voice is just Rex without the Southern english accent. You think with him being a tractor he could have the sound of a farmer, particularly like Johnny Morris' voice in RWS audio books.

Chris Renshaw's music was pretty good but not as good as last season. I feel like last season he can play different styles of music like rock, jazz etc. But this season it was mostly rock and while I like that compare to Robert Hartshorne's filler music, I like his work but I feel like his music was just placed there. Nothing felt thematic. There's got to be more styles of music for him? I mean 'Journey Beyond Sodor' didn't have just rock music it was orchestrated.

In the end this isn't as good as last season. It was clunky, strange and is very unfinished but it was still very good none the less. There were some enjoyable stories and plenty of big surprises along the way such as Big Mickey's face reveal and Bulgy's unexpected return, which I have to say I haven't felt that surprised since Harvey's return in 'Thomas' Shortcut' back in 2013. I do think we will see more episodes with characters like Bulgy next season as the ending to 'Unscheduled Stops' does seem to offer more. Rosie, despite her new colour, really didn't showcase her suppose to be persona. I hope we get more of her in the new series, hopefully next year as she was rather flat. The season isn't quite as good as S20 in my opinion as last season had some terrific stories whereas here it's more comedy focused.

I don't know which episode is the actual conclusion considering that most of these episodes would be out of production order because the episode order is different on the series compilation DVDs. But if 'A Shed for Edward' is, and most likely, the true ending then I can say it was a lovely end to the series and to an era.

So as we conclude S21, I hope 'Big World Big Adventures' offer more than what we were given so far from teasers and press releases. I hope the new characters offer more, unlike some who had written off Nia as a bad character despite that we hardly know anything about her other than being a strong female character, yeah they said that at Cannes, other than she's from Kenya! And that some recently had written off Rebecca now as a 'dumb blonde' stereotype for some reason despite the fact the small clip of her braking is based off the flaws of her actual basis. Look, I understand that no one likes change but it's no boogey man. Sometimes things change for better or worse to keep the show fresh and new instead of rinsing and repeating itself again otherwise it would get stagnant. Getting angry about these new changes and venting about it on social media, in a terrible way, won't solve anything in the end. A bit like Star Wars' fanbase hating some new stuff for some reason in 'The Last Jedi'. I suggest give the new series a try. It's not even out yet and see what the finish product is like. Writing it off based on what little info press releases are saying is not good enough in my opinion because there's so little about the show. We haven't seen the entire finished product yet and that won't happen until later next year. 
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That wraps up all of S21! Be on the look out for the annual DVD retrospective post which will now come out on December 23rd 2017, which will be my last post for the year!

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