For over a year now, I've been reviewing the first season of "Captain N: The Game Master". I've posited numerous conceptual, writing, and animation errors. Now, I'm going to take a look at the 13 episodes as a whole. I'm not going to complain about the designs of the characters, their speech impediments, or the animation mistakes. Those are fundemental problems of the series as a whole, and so I'm going to save those complaints for my overall review of the entire series.
In this Season 1 review, I'm going to be taking a hard look at the writing of Jeffrey Scott. I'll point out the good and the bad and give my opinions for what he could have done better. So now, if you have the strength, come along with me and revisit Season 1 of Captain N.
Plotholes (11:30 AM - 12:24 PM; Tuesday, February 4, 2003, 9:27 AM - 11:14 AM)
The biggest problem with Jeffrey Scott's writing is that it's filled with dozens of plotholes. If you don't know what a plothole is, it comes from the term pothole (as in roads) and is used to describe contradictions of continuity or lack of explanations in fiction.
I'm not going to list all of the plotholes here. You can read my episode reviews for those (and I'm sure that I missed some). But I'm going to look at the major ones: Mother Brain's army, animation vs. live-action, Mike Vincent, and warps between Metroid and the Palace.
Before we begin, though, I want you to read some quotes by Jeffrey Scott regarding his writing, which come from an interview that I conducted on Saturday, January 26, 2002.
"I'm normally very concerned to keep things logical and consistent, sometimes to a fault."
"As I am usually a very accurate writer, I can only assume that some part of the story was cut and left a hole. It couldn't POSSIBLY have been my fault. ;o)"
So, Jeffrey Scott thinks that he's a logical, consistent, and accurate writer, does he? Well, let's take a look at some of his stories:
In addition to these major plotholes, there are many smaller ones, such as which game Kevin was playing before he got pulled into Videoland, why Mother Brain was able to conquer only Mount Icarus in one week with unlimited power, etc.
Taking all of this into account, the season collapses in on itself. It can't, logically, occur.
Plot Devices (12:20 PM - 12:31 PM; Thursday, February 6, 2003, 11:30 AM - 12:26 PM; Friday, February 7, 2003, 11:30 AM - 12:19 PM; Monday, February 10, 2003, 11:02 AM - 12:18 PM)
In addition to creating plotholes, another major weakness in Jeffrey Scott's writing was relying on plot devices. In case you don't know what a plot device is, it's something that's inserted into a story simply to create a threat, get the characters out of jams, etc., without being given any real explanation. Think Unicron and the Matrix in "The Transformers: The Movie". A plot device is a big sign of weak writing. Here are some of the plot devices that Jeffrey Scott used in Season 1 of Captain N:
I'm sure that they are other plot devices that I've overlooked here, but you get the idea.
Characters (6:43 PM - 7:34 PM, 11:27 PM - 11:58 PM; Tuesday, February 11, 2003, 10:00 AM - 10:34 AM)
So, by taking writing shortcuts with plot devices and creating plotholes along the way, Jeffrey Scott must have had a lot more time to spend on characterization, right? Well, he should have had, but that doesn't mean that he made use of it. We learned hardly anything about the characters, and a lot of what we did learn wasn't very useful.
Let's take a look at each of the N Team members:
I'm not going to bother with Duke. See Kevin's entry above.
This isn't everything that we learned, but you get the idea. Most of it is useless information. Now, I'm a fan of small, insignificant details; it makes the characters seem more real. But small, insignificant details are almost all that we get. Kevin likes to play basketball. Great. So, what? Yes, we did get some background on Kevin and, to a far lesser extent, Lana, but what do we really know about Simon, Mega Man, and Kid Icarus' pasts? Nothing! So far, Kevin and Lana are the only "real" characters in this series.
We really don't learn anything about the bad guys either, but that's not as important as knowing the heroes.
Furthermore, all of the characters are idiots. Lana's the smartest, but even she fails to recognize the Eggplant Wizard in a robe, and she can be talked into going along with things that she feels are bad ideas.
As far as characterization goes, Jeffrey Scott did a bad job and gets a "D" from me.
Filler (10:34 AM - 11:06 AM)
Another big problem with Jeffrey Scott's writing is that he seemed to be unable to come up with enough plot and characterization to fill up 273 minutes (that's my estimate on the length of the season by multiplying 13 by 21), so he added in a bunch of filler to, well, fill up time.
Filler is material that's inserted into a story for the sole purpose of filling up time and is otherwise completely useless. Some examples are the Kongoland scenes in "Kevin in Videoland", the arrow-testing scene in "Mr. and Mrs. Mother Brain", the horns scene in "Three Men and a Dragon", the Donkey Kong Jones movie in "The Most Dangerous Game Master", etc. Then there's the smaller filler, like King Hippo and the Eggplant Wizard falling, being dropped, being zapped, etc.
Writers should avoid creating filler whenever possible, but Jeffrey Scott set the standard for using filler and turned it into an artform. Here is the total amount of time, which I've calculated by adding up the times in my episode reviews, that was wasted in Season 1 of Captain N: 1,380 seconds. That's 23 minutes exactly. That's a little over one whole episode's worth of running time that Jeffrey Scott wasted on stupidity. Keep in mind that this is based on quick picks that I'd done after watching each episode. If I was to sit through all of the episodes and carefully remove what wasn't needed, I'm sure that the amount of wasted time would be much greater. Also, I haven't included the time that was wasted by showing the N Team playing sports and watching TV. I didn't include all of "Happy Birthday, Megaman" either.
There is simply no excuse for wasting an episode (or two) out of 13. I understand that Jeffrey Scott may have been working on other scripts at the time, but, if he took on an entire season of a series, he should have made it his priority.
Rip-Offs (Wednesday, February 12, 2003, 10:30 AM - 11:30 AM)
Jeffrey Scott stole a lot of his story ideas from other TV series and movies. From what I've been able to recognize, he has ripped off:
I'm sure that Jeffrey Scott has ripped off other things that I'm not aware of, too. These things, added to plotholes and plot devices, further decrease the quality of the episodes.
Unanswered Questions (11:00 PM - 12:00 AM; Thursday, February 13, 2003, 11:28 AM - 11:38 AM)
In the course of writing the 13 episodes of Season 1, Jeffrey Scott has failed to explain some rather important pieces of the story:
A few throwaway lines would have been sufficient to answer these questions.
Continuity (11:40 AM - 12:20 PM, 8:00 PM - 9:27 PM, 10:01 PM - 10:05 PM, 10:44 PM)
Continuity has two meanings. It means events don't contradict each other and that past events are referenced later. Jeffrey Scott did a bad job with both types of continuity and gets a "D" from me. See the Plotholes section for examples of the first definition. As for the second type of continuity, there wasn't much. Here is a list of the continuity that existed in Season 1:
That's it! Every other episode can be viewed in any order. Also, with the exceptions of "Kevin in Videoland", "Videolympics", and "Mega Trouble for Megaland", the status quo was restored at the end of every episode. Actually, the status quo from the beginning of "Videolympics" was restored at the end of "Mega Trouble for Megaland". This makes it seem like the characters are living in a magic box, rather than a real world with past events that can be recalled. This is a Magic Reset Button season. Here's Jeffrey Scott's explanation for why this was done, which come from the 01/26/02 interview:
"Most cartoon series don't have a progressing arc like some live-action series. One of the reasons for this is that sometimes episode 7 gets finished, and airs, before episode 6. So the episodes are generally written as separate entities, with no consecutive timeline. Thus it's not possible to progress the story or develop the characters over time."
Okay, now let me give you some examples of other 1980s series that had more continuity. There's Season 1 of "The Transformers". It was 16 episodes long and included two 3-part episodes as well as continuity between some of the one-part episodes. Sure, in Season 2 (which aired on weekdays), episodes aired out of order, and this caused continuity problems, but the writers did a good job in Season 1 (which aired on weekends). "Jem" is a big example of good continuity. Over one-fourth of its 65 episodes consist of multi-part stories, the longest being five parts long (which were actually created as shorter installments that aired over 15 weekends). Even events in unrelated episodes were referenced later on. Both of these series were animated overseas. "Jem" was even recorded in Los Angeles and New York. If these series, which started in 1984 and 1985, respectively, could have good continuity, then why couldn't Captain N? It seems that DiC couldn't do it as well as Sunbow. "How's Bayou" originally aired clearly unfinished. Maybe the fact that Captain N, as opposed to the others, was a network series, rather than a syndicated series, had an effect, but I don't see how. "X-Men: Evolution" has a progressing story arc, and it's a network series.
Even if we accept that the episodes have to be stand-alone, that's no reason to not develop the characters over time. Jeffrey Scott could have given two episodes to each character (except Duke) and the remaining three to Kevin, Lana, and Simon. He could have given the featured character a personal problem (such as a fear of heights or an inferiority complex) to overcome in each episode. These character developments could then have been written into a writers' guide for the Season 2 writers to reference. But I guess that developing interesting characters wasn't a priority for Jeffrey Scott.
I'll end this section with a quote from Jeffrey Scott regarding the continuity plothole from "Kevin in Videoland" and "How's Bayou" regarding which game Kevin was playing:
"Don't recall. Sounds like a simple production glitch, probably caused by having pre-production done in Hollywood and animation done overseas. When in doubt, blame it on the foreigners!"
Jeffrey Scott Regarding His Writing (10:06 PM - 11:33 PM)
Now, here is Jeffrey Scott (in excerpts from the 01/26/02 interview) to explain some stuff about Captain N (with comments by me after each quote, when needed).
How he got the job of writing for Captain N:
"Interesting story. I had written several series for Andy Heyward at DIC, and he asked me to write the Captain N series. It was my m.o. at the time to write entire series. I had been doing this, on and off, for about 13 years. So I agreed to do the series. But the Vice President of Childrens Programming at NBC, Phyllis Tucker-Vinson, somehow got the idea in her head that I wasn't that great of a writer. She told Andy that all of my Muppet Babies scripts had to be rewritten. I wanted to write the series, but more importantly, I wanted to disabuse her of the idea that my Muppet Babies scripts were heavily rewritten. So I called Jim Henson, who was shooting a movie in London. It's a testament to the quality of Jim's character and kindness that he took the time to actually call Phyllis and set her straight about my contribution to Muppet Babies. The next day I got the job."
Why he was the only writer for Season 1:
"As noted above, that was just what I did. Studios trusted me to write all of the episodes because I had done so successfully many times before (and after)."
Nah, too easy.
How familiar he was with video games at the time that he got the job:
"Actually, I wasn't that familiar with video games. So Andy shipped me a Nintendo system and some games, and I started playing them. I didn't have to do too much, because all I wanted was to know the lay of the land and to understand how the various characters related to the game. It wasn't important that I be a fanatic and know everything about a game, because we had decided that the stories would only be loosely based on the game environment. We wanted to tell stories about the people and explore parts of the world that were not part of the game itself. So I used just enough locations and characters and hardware references to keep the flavor of the games."
How the video games were selected:
"I believe the games were chosen for me by the network and/or Nintendo."
How much research he did on the video games:
"Not much. Now and then I would play a game to better understand the environment and characters, but mostly I would just ask some questions in order to better understand the games. This was necessary because I could never get all the way through a game, at least without spending weeks trying. So I'd get an outline of the game and characters from Nintendo. But I would play them a little so that I could get the feel of the action, music and interplay, and thus be able to bring this to the stories."
Why some episodes weren't based on video games:
"Once we established the characters and their relationships, we decided to tell stories about them rather than simply focus on the precise game worlds. I'm sure hardcore gamers would cringe when we'd take license with the accuracy, but if kids wanted to see only totally accurate game play they could always play the game(s). We were exploring beyond the games to what was happening "behind the scenes". So I had fun with the characters and their relationships, like when I had Simon fall in love with Mother Brain."
Who is this "we" that he keep referring to?
How much of the background and premise of the series he set up:
"I don't recall developing this series, which means that someone else probably laid out the basic elements. And I don't recall what, if anything, I added to the show."
Nothing would be my guess.
Why he didn't put Samus Aran in any of his episodes:
"Never heard of her. That could be why. :o)"
Um, okay, let's walk through this. Jeffrey Scott played the video games and received outlines on the games from Nintendo. What are the chances of him not reading an outline about Metroid? Chris Blair has theorized that perhaps Nintendo excluded mention of Samus from their Metroid outline to make sure that Jeffrey Scott didn't include her in an episode, because, if Samus was around, there would be no need for Captain N. But didn't Jeffrey Scott ever wonder who it was that he was playing in the game (assuming that he played Metroid)? Wasn't Nintendo or DiC concerned that kids that played Metroid might be upset that Samus wasn't on the show? And Valiant would blow away DiC's show the following year by adding a very cool Samus Aran to their Captain N comic book series.
Why Mario wasn't in the series:
"Mario wasn't used BECAUSE he was most popular. I think Nintendo knew that they wanted to save Mario for his own series. Companies like to develop their lesser known characters, and it's not uncommon for them to hold back the good ones for their own series or movies."
Lesser-known characters? Like Samus Aran, right?
Why the series' title was changed:
"The series was initally called Captain Nintendo: The Game Master. But it wasn't long before we got word from the network that we needed to eliminate the Nintendo name. At the time there was a big outcry that Saturday morning cartoons were becoming commercials for toys. And to have the Nintendo name in the title was just too much for the networks. It would have been like naming a show 'Mattel's Barbie'. So 'N' was as close as we could get."
The stages he went through in writing a Captain N episode:
"It was the same as with any series. Once you know the format and characters of the show, you come up with premise ideas that fit within both characters and format. So a story could come out of some piece of the environment or game action, or could come from one or more of the characters. Premises lay out the simple beginning, middle and end of the story. Once these were approved I'd flesh them out into outlines. A half-hour outline consists of 15-20 "beats" or scenes, broken into two or three acts. In the outline the entire story is told, including a description of all the action, gags and plotting. As with the premise, the outline is read by the network and studio and changes are made which are incorporated into the story. I rarely ever rewrote an outline, though this was occassionally necessary. The outline is turned into a first draft script, which simply transforms the outline into dialog and description, much like a live-action script. The script goes through as many drafts as needed to make everyone happy (though I'm always happy with the first draft). Most scripts take two or three drafts."
How long it took for him to write one episode:
"It varies. I've written many half-hour scripts in one day, though two is more common. I usually have a week to write a script, so sometimes I would write an outline or premise while writing a first draft script which would make it take longer. The best way to describe how long a script takes to write is in hours not days. I would say it takes me about 10-12 hours to write a script."
And I would say that it took me longer to review each episode than it took for him to write them.
Why the Stooges were mentioned in two episodes:
"Well, seeing as how my grandfather was Moe, I guess it's just something I think of now and then. If it made sense to make a Stooges reference, and was funny, I'd do it. Nothing more esoteric than that."
But the Stooges reference in "Wishful Thinking" was completely out of place, since 1) no one had wished for it specifically, and 2) no one except Kevin should have known who the Three Stooges were (unless Mother Brain and her lackeys watch episodes through her mind mirror).
Why he wrote so much slapstick humor into his episodes:
"When a series is bought the network ususally has an idea of how dramatic or comedic it will be. So I just put the level of humor in it that the studio and network wanted."
He didn't have to use slapstick humor - or at least not as much as he did. Verbal humor would have been better.
What age group the series was aimed at:
"I didn't think much about age groups at the time. In fact, I generally didn't think about age groups. I'd just write shows that I would like to watch. That said, I'd say the series was intended for the 6-11 market."
What sex the series was aimed at:
"I don't recall specifically what the demographics were, but I'm sure we added the female characters to attract girls, even though boys were more into video games."
Female "characters"? As in plural? Gee, I saw only Lana. I didn't see any other female characters. *cough*Samus*cough* Oh, wait, Mother Brain was female.. Well, not really. And I'm sure that the girls that tuned in loved poor, defenseless Lana. More on that later.
Why the N Team never went on the offensive against Mother Brain:
"I guess because it's not politically correct. Being "offensive" is something only a bad guys are supposed to do. Though you and I know that a good offense is the best defence, I don't think the networks could confront this concept."
Now, here are some quotes from Jeffrey Scott when I e-mailed him a few years earlier:
"It was pretty much WYSIWYG. On a personal note, I liked What's-His-Name the best (the egotistical big chested jerk). He was fun to write for. Really over the top."
"The reason the characters changed is because when you develop a series there are certain criteria to make the stories work. When video game characters are created they are developed to make the game work. These don't always jibe. That's why the characters have to be changed."
Right, because a serious vampire hunter would be too awkward for a cartoon series. It's better to have an "egotistical big chested jerk".
Season 1 Usefulness Ratings (Friday, February 14, 2003, 11:03 AM - 11:17 AM)
Here are the total usefulness ratings that I've figured for each N Team member in Season 1:
Kid Icarus: 23
Mega Man: 17
I admit that these results surprised me. Sure, Kevin is, predictably, in the lead, but Lana didn't even make it into the double-digit range. It's quite sad that a dog was more useful than a human being.
Of course, I guess that I shouldn't be surprised. We all know the reason that Lana is in last place: lack of a weapon. If Lana had been armed, she could have kicked some serious butt. It's quite sad that Lana was defenseless, especially considering that a concept drawing of her in the Nintendo Power article showed her holding a scepter, which was obviously dropped from the final product. If only TPTB had left that scepter in.
Then again, Duke didn't have a weapon either, and he still beat Lana. Would it have been so hard for Jeffrey Scott to have Lana push her teammates out of the way of attacks or to give her a new weapon in every episode? What about that spear that Lana got at the end of "Metroid Sweet Metroid"? She didn't use it later on. Did she decide "Nah, I don't need this; I've got Kevin to protect me"?
My Thoughts on Season 1 (11:19 AM - 12:24 PM, 8:42 PM - 11:09 PM)
I've had a lot of negative things to say, but I don't want to give the impression that I completely hated this season. I enjoyed it overall. It had some good points, such as humorous and sometimes witty dialogue. Of course, it also had a lot of bad dialogue. For every "Amazing they can fit inside that swelled heard of yours", there was a "You know, like Batman and Robin".
That's the sad part about Jeffrey Scott's writing: he mixes in the good with the bad. For example, there's Kevin's conflict with Mike in "The Most Dangerous Game Master", but it's got that stupid Donkey Kong Jones movie segment as filler (which you can remove). Then there's Lana's emotional good-bye to her father in "In Search of the King", but it's the result of that stupid Mirror World plot (which you can't remove). Jeffrey Scott's writing on Captain N ranged from great to rancid crap.
Also, Jeffrey Scott's stories seemed to be extremely superficial and had little to no explanation; sometimes not even the bare minimum throwaway line was given to explain just what the hell was going on. A lot of the lines seemed purely perfunctory, such as the escaped prisoner's "You've got to help us!" monologue in "Mega Trouble for Megaland" and Lana's "We've done it! Videoland is free at last!" line in "Metroid Sweet Metroid". There is no real depth to these words or situations. It's like "You must defeat Dr. Wily" or "We won; yay". There's no sense of political turmoil. Yes, it was "pretty much WYSIWYG".
The star episode of this season was "The Most Dangerous Game Master", hands down. The crappiest episode was "Happy Birthday, Megaman". Now, I'm going to grade each episode according to how good or bad I feel that they are:
Kevin in Videoland (B)
Mr. and Mrs. Mother Brain (C)
How's Bayou (B)
Mega Trouble for Megaland (B)
Nightmare on Mother Brain's Street (C)
Three Men and a Dragon (C)
Simon the Ape-Man (C)
Wishful Thinking (D)
The Most Dangerous Game Master (A)
Metroid Sweet Metroid (B)
In Search of the King (D)
Happy Birthday, Megaman (F)
So, my overall grade for Season 1 is a C. That means that it was average - not great, not horrible.
Jeffrey Scott told me that the show