Hater is the show’s strongest character. Wander, Sylvia, and Peepers are awesome in their own right, but Hater is a tiny step above them, if only because of his goofy dichotomy between being viciously evil and being a childish, insecure moron. It allows for a host of interpretations and storylines where those two sides of him butt up against each other, maximizing the comedic and dramatic potential of the character. Hater is evil, both in the villainous, intergalatic-takeover way, and in the bullying jerk kind of way. It’s funniest when the stakes are low, recoginzable, and personable, like in “The Hole… Lotta Nuthin’,” but when it’s placed against a more demanding, higher stake plot (particularly a plot that the show doesn’t really seem to care about), it falls flat. “The Show Stopper” is the first truly disappointing episode of the show so far.
Which is impressive. There are some episodes that I have issues with (“The Void,” “The Funk,” “The Enemies”) but there’s enough “there” to make those episodes stand out and enjoyably worthwhile nonetheless. “The Show Stopper,” on the other hand, kind of feels like the writers scrambling to take an idea that’s been up on their dry-erase board for years now and make something of it. God bless them, they try, but it doesn’t work for a lot of reasons which I’ll get into, especially when paired up with “The Hole… Lotta Nuthin’,” which is not only hilarious, but the most visually outlandish episode so far.
“The Hole… Lotta Nuthin’” looks to Ren & Stimpy and John K. levels of animated exaggerations to propel this episode. There’s a plot, sure–Wander sticks his finger into a black hole to save the universe, then has to wait while Sylvia finds something else to plug it up–but make no mistake, this is the animators’ showcase. Selling all the various comic bits require pushing its squash-and-stretch animations and facial expressions as far as they can possibly go, and they just nail it. Wander Over Yonder has always overdone their animation for comic (and dramatic) effect, but this episode stretches them to disturbing, almost grotesque levels, and they’re just great.
Character-wise, this episode is necessary because it’s a reminder that Hater is not a nice guy deep down inside, but a pure evil force who, for some reason, channels it through nonsensical, petty, selfish behavior. It’s hilarious to watch Hater utterly torture Wander’s trapped state, but it is also meant to be deeply uncomfortable. There’s absolutely no sense that Hater is slowly building to a benevolent revelation or any type of change of heart. Hater tries to break Wander (if you watch closely, it’s actually a slow, methodical process, adding to his evilness), but inadvertently triggers Wander’s innate goodness, which of course drives him crazier. This leaves him to accidentally plug his finger into the black hole, and for Wander to return the favor. I wish I could make a gif how the camera closes in on Hater as Wander mentions how he’ll stay with him as long as necessary, with those quick close-up shots of his “losing it” face. Oh, it ends with a spoof of the end of The Empire Strikes Back, with Hater getting an robotic arm after amputating it to get away from Wander. I’ll leave you in the comments to explain why a skeleton guy would need a robot arm (SPOILER: it’s cartoon logic, don’t do this).
As for “The Show Stopper,” there’s really no one, specific reason why this episode mostly fails. It’s essentially a grab-bag of various Wander Over Yonder past bits that never congeal into anything. And that probably wouldn’t be that big of a deal if the whole plot didn’t lead to, ultimately, a failed showcase for Dominator, which was doomed from the start and therefore completely pointless. Worse, other than the constantly destroyed and disposed-of drummers, there wasn’t much about the episode that was actually funny. I hate to say it, but… it kind of bordered on Family Guy levels of humor–excessive levels of repetition with only minimal differences between the bits (a gag that can be funny, but just wasn’t really here).
What’s odd about the episode is that there are a number of specific threads that seem to start up, only to fizzle out. It starts off as if it’s going to be a broad, fake-rock-band parody, but that doesn’t pan out. It then seems like it’ll be a goofy, multi-genre musical once Hater starts rapping, but nothing comes of that. Then it seems like it’ll be a team-up between Sylvia and Peepers (“The Show Stopper(s)!”) but that’s a narrative thread that feels undercooked. (They do a few things together to try and stop Wander and Hater’s singing, but it doesn’t say anything about their brief truce.) All the while Hater and Wander rock out to their hard-to-decipher song, so I couldn’t even enjoy the lyrics. It all comes to a bizarre climax where Wander climbs inside a fatigued Hater and controls him like a puppet, which then… means nothing when Dominator laughs at their effort and blows them all up. It sounds delightfully bonkers, but it isn’t because all of those bits are placed in their own section (you can practically see the beginning/end points), and while it all looks great, it doesn’t have the kind of visual panache to make it stand out, especially up against “A Hole… Lotta Nuthin’.” “The Show Stopper” is superfluously weird, which, in the Wander universe, is almost tantamount to a failure.
- They never even rescue the captured bunnies in “The Show Stopper,” which feels like the biggest issue the show forgot.
- “Who can’t believe how amazingly stupid this is…!” Even the show acknowledges how dumb this episode is. (Arguably, even the very title of the episode does that.) But, like Family Guy, acknowledging how dumb a thing is doesn’t make it suddenly funny.
- I can see it being frustrating to some that Wander never really “gets” how truly awful Hater is in “A Hole… Lotta Nuthin’.” I think it’s important to remember that Wander isn’t really capable of hate or even acknowledging the idea of someone being genuinely evil. It’s something he can’t even conceive. I have no idea if the show will ever address this.
- That being said, the show is positing that Wander, at some point, will be able to reach Hater, but I’m curious if the show is setting him up for a big fall in that regard.
- Hater is evil, but he has a code, primarily based on how he relates to others. It’s that code that he constantly screws up, but it has nothing to do with morals.
- This is out the purview of the review, but the recent Gumball episode “The Wicked” was also hilariously brutal and uncomfortable. Both shows don’t deny that they are truly evil people in the world, but never suggests giving up or falling prey to vengeance or justification. When Darwin yells for the latter, we watch Mrs. Robinson indeed get her karmic payback… to disturbing levels. It’s not as satisfying as the kids think.