There, I said it.
Go ahead, take a minute to giggle at the absurdity of a grown man enjoying a cartoon that’s targeted at young girls. I won’t stop you.
Alright, now that we got that out of the way, let’s move on to the interesting part.
Have you seen this show? It’s run for three seasons now, and there’s going to be a fourth along with a feature-length movie (which is getting a theatrical release and turns the cast into teenage humans for some reason; I feel ambivalent about this choice, but Amanda Marcotte at Slate has a cynical take on the development). The internet’s aflame with people who want to tell folks about this nifty cartoon and everyone else who just wants them to shut up about it. For anyone who somehow hasn’t stumbled across this phenomenon, the fans are called bronies because they are primarily adult men.
Go ahead, I know you’re giggling.
And yes, it’s a little silly for adults to be going gaga over a children’s cartoon, especially one that was conceived with the express purpose of selling toys. The difference here is that the creative team behind Friendship is Magic started with the idea that they wanted to make a series that wouldn’t condescend to its target audience. Yes, the subject matter would be simple and child-friendly (what does friendship entail?), but the writing and production would aim to be smart and relatable (and probably also palatable for any parents who might have to watch the show with their kids).
The end result was surprisingly good, and after the first season, which originally attracted the bronies, the team decided that they’d do more to let their unintended audience know they were grateful for the attention. So if you haven’t seen any Friendship is Magic but you’re curious enough to take a look, start with the season 2 opener “The Return of Harmony” where the Mane Six (I admit, that pun’s a little corny, but, you know, internet) have to deal with what is essentially a child-friendly Q from Star Trek (he’s even voiced by John de Lancie). So right off the bat in that season the show let everyone know it understood that it had a secondary audience made up of adult nerds with internet connections.
If you’re not really into the nerd scene (totally understandable; we’re a little weird sometimes), then maybe consider checking out the show on its other merits. The central cast of characters are all incredibly well developed with unique personalities and interesting relationships. Naturally there’s a character for every social clique: Twilight Sparkle, the nerd; Applejack, the country girl; Rainbow Dash, the jock; Pinkie Pie, the partier; Fluttershy, the wallflower; and Rarity, the socialite. You’d think that based on that diversity there’d be a character or two that you could gravitate towards and maybe one that would get on your nerves, depending on your personality. The kicker though is that none of the characters are annoying. There is no Wesley Crusher on this show. Wait, I take that back. There are actually three, and you’ll know them when you see them.
If none of that floats your boat, then just consider that this is a show that was made with young girls as its intended audience. And it gets the attention of more than a few grown men. I think that’s phenomenal just from a gender equality perspective. If more shows were produced with this kind of quality while still revolving around themes that are socially coded for girls but appeal to a much broader audience, there might be some significant shifts in how we think about gender in culture.
From a thematic standpoint, it’s just solid entertainment. When you subtitle a show Friendship is Magic you have to assume that friendship’s going to play a pretty important role in the storytelling, and it does. Every episode has someone learning something about what it means to be a friend, and while you’d think that could get saccharine, the reality is that it doesn’t. Yeah, some episodes are better than others. Yeah, you’re going to get sick of the Cutie Mark Crusaders. But the quality of the show overall is outstanding for what it is: a cartoon made to sell toys. It’s far and above any other show that falls in that genre (and this is coming from a guy who also thinks that Transformers and the X-Men are, objectively, the best things to have ever been put on television).
That’s all. You can go back to giggling. I’ll be watching one of the awesome musical episodes.