** ALL KINDS OF SPOILERS **
You know, there are certain advantages to a creative product's having a small and intensely devoted fan base, as opposed to a large and somewhat diffuse one. I don't recall having many irrationally negative reactions to any of the post-first-season DT episodes. Sure, some episodes were disappointing and some downright rotten, but never once did I complain that the new eps were "betraying the spirit of the show" or threaten to turn in my "fanbership card." My primary emotion was gratitude at the fact that we were getting new episodes of ANY sort. Judging by the wildly mixed reactions to the last four new MLP:FIM eps, that sort of "steady-as-she-goes-and-we'll-ride-out-any-storms-together" attitude seems to have become somewhat passe. Now, each new offering is either an opportunity to crow over the "justification" of one's view of the series or to bitch about the subversion of same.
Filli Vanilli," in which the perpetually-crowd-shy Fluttershy helps out Ponyville's a cappella group, the Ponytones, by surreptitiously filling in for its bass, Applejack's brother Big Macintosh, who has lost his voice. (No, Fluttershy can't naturally sing bass. In order to understand how she could possibly go so low, you'd have to watch the episode "Bridle Gossip" first.) The singing is great (with leader Rarity displaying another one of her myriad talents -- again, is there ANYTHING that mare can't do?), and the ep displays a refreshing sense of realism in that Fluttershy eventually does manage to conquer her stage fright... but only up to a certain point. Perhaps they are holding her big professional bust-out in abeyance for some future adventure. However, even amongst the plaudits for this generally successful endeavor, there was controversy a-hoof over the characterization of Pinkie Pie, who, to be frank, acted like an oblivious douche here, thoughtlessly bringing her friend Fluttershy to tears not once but twice. So, was this a natural extension of Pinkie's over-the-top character, or was this a case of a writer "Flanderizing" Pinkie beyond all reason? Cue the (virtual) brickbats. Myself, I made the point that Pinkie was the one thing that kept this ep from being truly great and then, Fluttershy-like, slipped quietly off the stage.
"Twilight Time" saw the Cutie Mark Crusaders attempt to use their friendship with Princess Twilight Sparkle to gain popularity with their schoolmates, a gambit that works about as long, and about as well, as you might expect. I found the effort fairly dull and somewhat questionable in that all of the youngsters in Ponyville seem to have just recently learned that Twilight had become an alicorn, a transformation that occurred some time ago. The one meme that seems to have been carried forward from the episode is that Twilight likes to eat -- messily -- in Ponyville's equivalent of a fast-food joint. Suffice it to say that no one was rushing to the barricades to attack or defend that particular position.
Somepony to Watch Over Me," which goes the route of taking a character trait (Applejack's strong sense of responsibility to her family, in this case) and stretching it to, and possibly beyond, its limits. As in, Applejack becomes so concerned that Apple Bloom can't take care of herself that she makes her little sister wear a crash helmet, covers the edges of pieces of furniture with plastic wrap, etc. Seeing as how Apple Bloom and the other Cutie Mark Crusaders are clearly starting to age before our eyes (not to mention in our ears), this sudden attack of overprotectiveness comes off as forced... yet not entirely out of the realm of possibility, since AJ has shown similar concern for AB's well-being before. Hopefully, there will be no threats sent to the writer of "Somepony" because of this slightly sticky characterization, as there were to the writer of "Fill Vanilli" over the portrayal of Pinkie. (You think I'm kidding... Nope.) I liked the episode, on balance, but primarily because I like the character of Apple Bloom so much.
Now, with apologies to Joe Torcivia and the tradition laid down by his THE ISSUE AT HAND, "let's crack those covers" and look at the latest MLP comics offerings from IDW.
Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Pinkie Pie's plunge into "The World of Books" to piece the ingested tales back together, and characters from the consumed stories popping up in Ponyville, and... at some point, I figuratively threw my hooves up. The pirate arc in MLP #13-#14 was crystal clear compared to this muddled mess. At least Amy Mebberson's artwork is nice to look at, as always. Storywise, though, Katie Cook can't return soon enough for me. Thankfully, she and Andy Price will be back with a promising-looking four-issue arc starting in MLP #17.
#1. I had some concerns about how well Discord would translate to the printed page, given his predilection for quick transformations, the creation of chaos, and so forth. Writer Jeremy Whitley and artist Tony Fleecs provide the snarky draconequus with a solid vehicle for his printed bow-in, and even have a little fun at the goofy guy's expense; the "off-the-wall" ideas that he creates to help the Cutie Mark Crusaders discover their "hidden talents" turn out to include more than a few notions that the ever-imaginative CMC have already tried in the past. The story manages to match the "tweener" approach that the TV series has taken with Discord ever since his "reformation"; you're never quite certain whether he's really trying to help the girls or setting them up for some kind of major fall. Fleecs' artwork is clunky in places (what's with drawing character with detachable mouths there, buddy?) but is still a considerable improvement on his work for the MICRO-SERIES comics. Hopefully, this fine effort will represent the "new normal" (if such a term can be used when Discord is involved) for future issues of the team-up book.