My Little Pony vs. Star Trek: The Oppression of Continuity
Ever since commercial television became a thing in the 1940s, getting a show on the air has been very difficult. A show running for more than a season is rare, and running for several seasons is so unlikely that doing so qualifies as a statistical anomaly. Now halfway through its seventh season, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is about to double down on its anomalousness with the prosaically-titled My Little Pony: The Movie this October.
It will be the sixth feature film from this current My Little Pony generation, but unlike the character-driven and highly serialized Equestria Girls films, My Little Pony: The Movie will be the first to receive a wide theatrical release and not require familiarity with the show. It’s not even the first movie called My Little Pony: The Movie, which was also the title of the 1986 film which preceded the My Little Pony ‘n’ Friends television series. (A new My Little Pony: The Movie was also announced in 2003, but it fell through.)
Star Trek: The Next Generation coincidentally premiered a few days after My Little Pony ‘n’ Friends broadcast its final original-run episode in September 1987. Both The Next Generation and the 2010 Friendship Is Magic series were met with controversy and backlash about those franchises returning to television, and while there's never been any true overlap between the two show beyond John de Lancie portraying a trickster-god in each, the release of a theatrical film with Friendship Is Magic’s seventh season creates another coincidental parallel to The Next Generation, which also followed its seventh with a wide-release feature film.
As difficult as it is to make it to seven seasons just in terms of ratings, keeping the creative spark flowing when producing twenty-six episodes a year is even more difficult – and harder still when you’re simultaneously working on a feature film. This can account for why in both shows, the later seasons are when heretofore family members started getting trotted out, such as Worf’s stepbrother in “Homeward” and Fluttershy’s parents and brother in “Flutter Brutter;” Geordi’s father and quote-mother-unquote in “Interface,” Data’s quote-mother-unquote in “Inheritance,” and Rainbow Dash’s genuine parents in “Parental Glideance;” and Troi’s secret deceased sister in “Dark Page,” and Applejack’s erstwhile parents in flashback form in “The Perfect Pear.”
More in Magic than Next Generation due to the flexibility of animation, there’s also the clear temptation to revisit past storylines and/or fill in gaps which don’t need filling in, especially in this unfortunately prequel-happy era. Magic’s Season 5 finale “The Cute Re-Mark, Parts 1 &2” tripped through backstory and alternate timelines without saying anything interesting about them – all Princess Twilight learns is that she and her friends have saved Equestria on multiple occasions, which she already knew -- though thankfully Season 7’s “Rock Solid Friendship” did not retcon Maud Pie into other past events, as tempting as it surely was.
While none of this alone makes a given episode bad, the net result is seldom as fulfilling as stories which allow the characters to develop without having to juggle past continuity, which is why Magic Season 7’s high points (thus far) “All Bottled Up,” “Forever Filly,” and “Discordant Harmony” have been about the relationships between two established characters, but not necessarily specific events or plotlines. It may not be a coincidence that the strongest of the three, “Bottled,” was about characters (Starlight Glimmer and Trixie) who only have a season’s worth of history, but the pairings of Rarity and Sweetie Belle in “Filly” and Discord and Fluttershy in “Harmony” also pay dividends from how much all four characters have grown over the course of the series. By comparison, what should have been the otherwise simple romance of “Hard to Say Anything” got bogged down by the baggage of Season 2’s “Hearts and Hooves Day.”
And again, Next Generation felt the baggage-bog first. In the Season 7 Blu-ray set, Ronald D. Moore describes the writers as having felt “the oppressive weight of the continuity that we had created,” in that they had “so much material and so much complicated continuity that embroidering new stories was becoming very constricted.” (And this was in the early 1990s, when most online fans were limited to rec.arts.startrek, before they could harass the staff on Twitter or create stooopid Change.org petitions.) That feels like where Magic is now, and while the show will be continuing on to the eighth season that Next Generation never got, it might be for the best to follow the older show’s lead and bow out gracefully sooner rather than later.
Images: CBS/Paramount, Hasbro Studios