Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Series 20: Pouty James

So with Saving Time being frustrating to watch and Ryan & Daisy being a fantastic, fresh take on the overdone "work together" moral, how will Pouty James shape up?

I'm going to start by saying I'm not much for a character type like James'. Arrogant people really annoy me, especially when there's little to nothing to be arrogant about. It makes sense for Gordon; he's the largest engine of the main cast and he pulls one of the most important trains on Sodor (unless you consider Thomas and his Friends where Pip and Emma took over, showcasing some brilliant development for his character). Since series 1, where he had to earn his place and his livery, what has James done to truly "earn" the right to brag?

This episode was where his character really reached its nadir. I can usually watch James' episodes as, while his arrogance and vanity is on show, it's not too overbearing or infuriating. This, though... This was taking the James from way back in James and the Coaches and turning the dial up about 10,000 notches. This is the worst portrayal of his vanity that I've ever seen, and by far the most infuriating (no other portrayal of his vanity has made him look this stupid and oblivious). It says a lot when Philip, a character who's supposed to be childlike, acts more maturely and reasonably than a character who's 69 years old...

"But it's Railway Series-esque!" I've seen the defence force say. And to that I quote a certain policeman from said books and series 1: "That makes it worse!" You can replicate the feel of the books and the classic era without copying the character traits from them. Not only that, but it does a huge disservice to said material; at least they developed the main characters (and kept it) from time to time!

In addition, that does a huge disservice to 30 years of work in the TV series where James' character has developed on occasion, too. Series 8-12, considered one of the worst periods of the show, did its best to develop him - even if things didn't stick. But no, we have to have the James and the Coaches portrayal despite a) fans complaining so much about "purists" these days and b) his arrogance being only a small portion of his character!

Another complaint I have is a nitpick, but I'm gonna call it out regardless: why is James only pulling two coaches? We've seen him pull six in the past, so why not just let him pull that many on a permanent basis?

Back to legitimate issues: there's the moral. Not only is it one that James should've learnt by now (heck, he did back in series 1), but it's shoved down your throat so hard I swear you'd end up farting it out by the time the episode's through. That's a huge problem with Brenner as a whole. He teaches good lessons, no doubt, but more often than not the narrative is so forceful with them that it makes you say "OK, we get it; that's what we're supposed to learn" rather than "that's a very good, thoughtful lesson".

The worst part though is the ending. I legitimately hate endings that flat out state that the moral didn't stick. Not only does it mean that James could continue down the path that this episode started - making him more one note and flanderised - but it makes the entire story feel meaningless. What is the point of going through a character arc when the reset button is going to be pressed either by the next episode or, even worse, at the end of the one that the arc's a part of?

The worst thing about that line is that it's a completely pointless addition! It clashes with what we're actually shown. James passes Thomas and acts rather jovial, as though he's not taking himself seriously. If they'd actually ended it like that, it would've been great. It provided the development that he desperately needed, it gave the episode a reason to exist and I'd have forgiven his behaviour beforehand. But that one line from the narrator tarnished the good work of the episode's narrative completely.

But do you know what's really sad, though? That development I've been talking about is on show... only the other characters are the ones to showcase it. Henry, like Percy before him, has become one of the best characters this series, while the saddle tank engine continues to grow from strength to strength. And Emily (who hasn't particularly developed, but has had her character solidified) was brilliantly cast as the sisterly member of the group.

Heck, even Gordon got a great moment or two. It was rather nice to see him given a more jovial, comedic side to go with his more arrogant, boastful self that fans have come to expect.

But, by far, the best character of the episode was the Fat Controller. I love his comedy bits; it makes him feel more human and it makes you really like him. But when he's a no nonsense manager like he is here, he really does shine. Forget about him saying "we have a railway to run", he needs more roles where he does just that: run the railway, punishing the bad engines while rewarding the good.

Fan Reaction

The Mad Controller's Corner (STRONG LANGUAGE)

Final Thoughts
I think the Twitter account of Sir Topham said it best: back in the days of James and the Coaches, this episode would've been fine. Heck, even during series 17, it would've been fine. But this far in, it just does not fit. We've already seen (in Toad's Adventure, Duck & the Slip Coaches and Duck in the Water to name a few) James' vanity get in the way of his better judgement and get punished for it. So to see it again is more regressive for his character and, actually, the show itself.

At this stage, the main characters need to be more well rounded and developed. The team have done this very well with some, but it's obvious that others need work. They don't all need one episode where they're completely one note in order to have it happen either; just build on the foundation that previous episodes have laid down. Until that development process happens, James will still be one of my least favourite characters, and a show that has all the potential to be great can only be considered good.

Episode Ratings

Series Rating (so far)


  1. Wow. 2/10. Really? Well, again, hey, that's your opinion, but whether it was the story or just James in general, I can't be too sure. I for one enjoyed this. It brought out the classic James which Andrew Brenner had faith in, and he squared against TFC with affection and amusement at the same time. A huge improvement from Brenner against the likes of Saving Time and the Phillip episodes (from S19) if you ask me, but I agree; James could have some more rounded development in future. This might be just a testament to how much Brenner favors the character, so I like it. 8/10

    1. I hate James' character, I hate the "forced down the throat" moral and I hate the one line from the narrator at the end that made the whole story meaningless. I've explained that.

      There's really not much to say about the story itself; it's fairly bog standard for the show and relied on the characters to drive it. The character they chose though was written terribly.