If you wondered how the show could possibly follow-up “The Battle Royale,” with something more entertaining and endearing beyond “Wander goofily tries to facilitate the marriage between his two foes as Hater courts Dominator”–if you worried about that, like I have–then “The Matchmaker” and “The New Toy” should put that to rest. And while I doubt the show could continue going down this road–I mean, it could do it, but it’s not quite as freeballing as The Amazing World of Gumball (a comparison I’m going to get into more in the Stray Observations)–these two episodes suggest a spectacular way to handle what amounts to a lame-duck premise: by basically being meta as hell. Wander Over Yonder is a silly cartoon, and it’s always been okay throwing self-aware gags at itself (like when it re-did the intro with a more pleasant Hater back in “The Fremergency Fronfract,”). But these two might be the most directly self-aware episodes of the run so far. Wander loves to experiment with the format, and here they present two perfect examples of why.
“The Matchmaker” is a deliciously misleading title beginning with a deliciously misleading introduction. Wander and Sylvia are trying to escape a trash compactor, a scene that’s universally recognizable, but once Wander finds Hater’s failed letter to Dominator, the episode becomes something else entirely. What that is… well, that’s the grand joke. Sure, at it’s core, it’s about Wander delivering that letter, but Sylvia’s attempts to distract Wander with a myriad of other concerns are perfectly “valid” ideas and concepts for episodes in and of themselves–and sure enough, when these potential episode ideas arrive in the story, the goofy “title” of those potential stories pop up!
Wander Over Yonder messing with itself is one thing, but it’s in the details where the episode really shines. The assortment of titles/premises that pop up are hilarious, essentially competing with “The Matchmaker” as a premise. It’s a clever visual, used to bolster Sylvia’s increasing attempts to stop Wander’s genuinely bad idea, and the titles grow more and more ridiculous and desperate right along Sylvia as well. At one point, Sylvia starts rehashing ideas that the show already did in the first season, and at her most frantic, she snatches the letter, and the two just run through a gauntlet of absurd, surreal concepts (completely with title prompts, of course), and it’s a fascinating, excellent experience. There’s a bit of a sudden shift towards the end–Sylvia sudden turn in accepting Wander’s idealism seems to come from nowhere, but letting the title re-emphasize their core friendship by adding an “s” to the end of “Matchmaker” is wonderfully handled. Also, it’s good to know that Wander may be crazy, but he isn’t stupid, as he simply just wanted to drop the letting into the mail. Which might be anti-climactic, but, y’all, this face though:
“The New Toy” isn’t as meta as “The Matchmaker,” but it’s sufficiently self-aware enough for the inciting incident, which works perfectly for the episode. Peepers’ plan to take out Dominator with a freeze ray is interrupted by Hater’s own dumb idea. That idea, apparently, is the HATERV (pronounce “hate-R-V” and not “hate-urv”), introduced via a live-action commercial advertising the machine like a legitimate children’s toy. It’s a completely unexpected but hilarious moment; the HATERV looks like an actual toy and the commercial is a spot-on imitation of the real thing (complete with legal end tag voiceover). The clever thing to note here is that it’s not quite a leap into the real world. It’s still technically a “in-world” demonstration of the machine (note that we don’t see any specific signs of “humans”); for whatever reason, Hater wanted to showcase his vehicle like a commercial, and for whatever reason the show wanted to portray it with live-action. Because that’s the kind of show it is now.
While “The New Toy” never reaches that kind of brilliance again, it does maintain a high-level of quality, mostly by sustaining the hilarity with how terrible the HATERV is (or rather, how terrible Hater is with the HATERV). The emphasis is on the conflict between Hater and Peepers over how best to assault Dominator: Peepers just wants to take her out but Hater wants to impress her (well, he wants to both destroy her AND win her attention–a little bit of both, in his own words–which is an interesting perspective that the show could explore a bit more). That ridiculous tension keeps the episode moving, along with the typical great animation, as well as the G.I. Joe-inspired music cues ironically juxtaposed with all the HATERV failures. It was great to see Peepers and Hater finally “come together” with their final assault, combining the HATERV with the freeze ray, which is why the ending is a slight disappointment. Dominator is still undefined as a character who’s approaching Mary Sue levels now, and, in the end, Hater’s pursuit of her is still a lame-duck of a plotline.
While the run of episodes between “The Greater Hater” and “The Battle Royale” were a lot of fun, “The Matchmaker” and “The New Toy” suggest things are going to go extra surreal and ridiculous, perhaps to mitigate the problematic “pining after a girl” storyline. Thematically speaking, both episodes focused on “terrible ideas” and the various ways Sylvia and Peepers attempt to navigate around how strongly Wander and Hater cling to those ideas. And while that would be on par for the course for this show, Wander Over Yonder uses its audacious and experimental approach to its animation to elevate that theme to hilarious, special places. I think we’re in good hands.
- Something the So-and-so pops up again, whose clumsiness is so winning, even if the scene was extraneous. Wander’s comment about usually spending eleven minutes helping him is a classic cartoon joke, and the loose structure of the episode helps sells it.
- Wander Over Yonder is a wacky cartoon, and it definitely has the right to be experimental, audacious, meta, and weird, but at least to me it’s best left doing those kinds of episodes on occasion. That kind of layer isn’t as ingrained into the show’s DNA as The Amazing World of Gumball, where “breaking” the show is as important to the characters and the world as the plot itself. That being said, it’s always welcome to see both shows use the structure of the show–and animation in general–to push and define its world, its characters, and its themes in significant ways.
- I’m still a bit concerned about how the show seems to be on Wander’s side with his over-the-top attempts to bring Hater and Dominator together, at the expense of, you know, the destruction of the universe. It’s difficult to say at this point, as there’s a heck of a lot of episodes left, but if the show is as bold as I think it is, there may be a very devastating fall in Wander’s future.