Saturday, May 28, 2016

KP EBE - Can we talk about the fact that this is a comedy? (Theme Post)

Table of Contents:

Ok, so, since the last time I did a Kim Possible Episode by Episode post I fell down and simultaneously sprained my ankle and gave myself a concussion, spent a month avoiding extended screen time (as would be required to do more Kim Possible decon), came back with a notebook full of stuff, including random tangents, that I still haven't managed to get onto Stealing Commas, graduated from university, and most recently watched Captain America: Civil War and realized that there is so much to talk about that I'm going to need an entire series of posts to deal with it.

So, it's been a while.  And right now the temperature is at, "OH MY FUCKING GOD!  It's not even summer yet.  What the hell is this!?  Is this Hell?"  (Note that if I had a semicolon-exclamation point I would totally have used it to couple the first two sentences.)

Oh, also, primary computer is in for repairs.  Again.  Because it was never really fully fixed after the last time (but I was so happy to have it back I didn't make a fuss) and then it got much, much worse.

So, it's been a while and I'm not going to do a decon of the next section of Attack of the Killer BeBes right now.  There is, however, something that's been kicking around in my mind.


Something that I haven't talked about before is how big of a deal Kim Possible was.  I'm not talking about the impressive ratings or the cross cultural appeal or the fanatically loyal fanbase.  No, I mean how big of a deal it was for (The) Disney Channel.

The Disney Channel started in 1983.  Disney Television Animation Started in 1984 and their first animated TV series hit the airwaves the next year.  You'd think that there'd be some kind of connection there but the fact of the matter is that The Disney Channel didn't have an animated original series until 2001 (by which point it had been rebranded as just Disney Channel without the "The") and that wasn't made by Disney Television Animation.  In fact it wasn't even for Disney.  It was created for Nickelodeon (owned by Disney arch-rival Viacom) but Nick passed on it and Disney Channel picked it up.

Kim Possible, which hit the airwaves the following year (2002), was the second Disney Channel animated original series but the first Disney Channel animated original series produced in-house by Disney Television Animation.

It was, thus, in many ways their flagship animated series.  Kim Possible was what Disney made by itself for itself and marked the dawn of fully-Disney Disney Channel animated original series.

Disney asked for an animated original series sometime around the changing from 19XX to 2000.  The pitch series bible for Kim Possible was done in the year 2000 (which is the first firm date we have) and while changes were made between then and the actual production of the show, the core of the idea remained unchanged.

Kim Possible was thus the flagship animated show on the flagship Disney TV channel and can be therefore construed as the message, insofar as a there is one, that Disney TV was pushing.

That matters.  I don't want to understate the importance of it, but I don't want to overstate it either.  So here's a caveat:

It's not what Disney as a whole was pushing because Disney Channels Worldwide (what Disney Channel is the flagship of) is a subsidiary of Disney–ABC Television Group, which is a subsidiary of Disney Media Networks, which is a division of The Walt Disney Company,  So it's a part of a part of a part of the whole.

Kim Possible was not a major thing for the vast and eldritch entity that is the Disney as a whole.  Not even close.  It was a major deal for Disney animated TV.

It is, in in broad overview, a show where a girl does awesome things and the audience laughs.


How Kim Possible came about is usually told in an extremely context-less fashion.

Generally something like this:
In an elevator one creator said something like, "Kim Possible: She can do anything," and the other responded with, "Her sidekick is Ron Stoppable: he can't do anything."  The entire show was quickly figured out from that basis, down to the point that it would end with Kim and Ron getting together as a romantic couple. 
The fact that the creators are both fathers of daughters played a huge role in the development because they wanted a role model for their daughters.
This leads to various questions like, "Do they usually say character names and descriptions out of the blue in elevators?  At what point, and why, did they decide it would be a comedy?  Why did they decide that?  What kind of a role model did they want for their daughters?  What made them decide Kim and Ron should be cartoon protagonists instead of, say, video game characters?"

I can't answer all of these questions, but I found an interview that had a lot of the answers I wanted in it, and it gives us some context.

Before I get to that, though, Schooly and McCorkle are people who do animated series, so that's the answer to why cartoon protagonists.  Onto the interview:

The creators are Bob Schooley and Mark McCorkle.  the interview was with McCorkle, so the words are his.  If it becomes necessary to quote the interviewer I'll put that in bold
We got the request that the people at Disney Channel were looking for a show that showed ordinary kids in extraordinary circumstances. Bob and I were on our way back from lunch and I just turned to him and said: “Kim Possible: she can do anything.” And then Bob said: “Ron Stoppable, he can’t.” And then we came up with almost the entire show.
So important things to take from this in no particular order:
  • They knew that Disney was looking for a show and the random elevator outburst was a result of them trying to come up with such a show.
  • What Disney was looking for was "ordinary kids in extraordinary circumstances"; no suggestion of comedy there.  In fact, most things that fit that description are probably straight drama.
  • They did indeed start with the names and omni-abilities/lack of ability.
The names suggest a show that doesn't take itself too seriously, though they don't demand it be comedy. Ron's character description makes him seem to be the the plucky comic relief (plucky because he'd give up otherwise, comic relief because he still doesn't succeed) but again doesn't suggest the entire show would be comedy.  (In fact, comic relief characters tend to appear in otherwise serious works, hence the "relief" part of "comic relief".)


I'm going to take a moment out here to preemptively shoot down any claims that animated series implies comedy in itself.

Before Disney Television Animation made Kim Possible for Disney Channel they made many and varied other TV series and while many of them could serve as examples the one I want to call to your attention right now is Gargoyles.

Gargoyles was definitely not a comedy (except possibly in the "everything that isn't a tragedy" sense of the word) and featured a strong female lead.  The main human character was Elisa Maza, an NYPD officer.

The show was kind of low on female characters, and Elisa herself was an ordinary human in a world of superhuman beings, gods, conspiracies, and David Trope-Namer Xanthos, but the show still demonstrated that you could have a badass person of color female lead in a serious animated series with plenty of action.

Elisa Maza was allowed to be a female action hero without us having to laugh.  Eliza Maza was allowed to be the daughter of a native father and an African American of Nigerian decent without being pushed out of the spotlight in favor of some white girl.

So five years after Eliza Maza we get Kim Possible.  Kim is unconstrained by the laws of physics and so can kick butt single handed in a way Eliza never could, but when Kim's doing it we're supposed to be laughing. (Plus she's an upper middle class white girl.)

I want us to think about that.

Disney Channel having their flagship animated series be about a female action hero who, while midriff baring, isn't sexualized seems like a pretty good thing, and is,  but it's still comedy.


One more thing before we get the creator's answer to my question of, "Why comedy?"

Beyond the "We came up with the entire show in two sentences in an elevator" narrative the other big thing that gets brought up about the creation of Kim Possible is that both Schooley and McCorkle are fathers of daughters.  They made the show with their daughters in mind.

Here's McCorkle on that aspect of things:
And also because we’re both fathers with daughters and when we were growing up we had heroes – James Bond or Captain Kirk or the like. We had these guys who were larger-than life characters, and when you were playing, you were pretending you were them. 
So we thought, why shouldn’t our daughters have the same thing, a character that they can pretend to be?
So Disney Channel was looking for a show with ordinary kids in extraordinary circumstances, McCorkle and Schooley decided that the leads would be a hyper-competent girl (what happened to ordinary?) and an incompetent boy, and they want the show to provide a female character for their daughters that will be like James Bond and Captain Kirk were for them.

We still haven't gotten to the question of, "Why comedy?" because, even considering The Trouble with Tribbles and some of the more absurdest moments of Bond, Captain Kirk and James Bond are not comedic heroes.

So what happened?

Same interview:
What role does humour play in this series?
It’s primarily a comedy series and it’s definitely parodying a lot of the conventions of the James Bond movies and things like that.
Ok... so your whole, "Our daughters should have a hero like James Bond was to us," thing made you make something that was primarily comedy and a parody of James Bond.

Because having a female Bond parody will totally be as good as having a female Bond.

Do explain, dusty old interview transcript that cannot hear my prompting.
We found that boys tend to really like action shows, just action, but girls want to see characters and a little more relationships. And the one thing we found what unites boys and girls is, everybody likes to laugh, so we felt that if we could do a show that had some adventure, some relationships and humour throughout, then we would appeal to a wider audience and more kids would like it. And so far we’re good!
I question how much of that is just an issue of what's out there.  If girls want a show with girls/women (not just a token girl/woman) featured prominently in it then it's probably going to be about relationships.  If boys want a show with boys/men, they're probably going to land on action.

If one controls for the difference in offerings, then I have a feeling that the results of any survey are going to be: The data is so fucked up that we can't pull any coherent results from it.  Please --for the love of God-- make more relationship shows heavily featuring males and action shows heavily featuring females so that we can have non-fucked up data on which to base our conclusions.  Because sometimes the underlying data is so skewed that you can't control for confounding variables without making more data-points yourself.  (Which is what experiments are all about.)

But back to the reasoning, not the uncited findings upon which said reasoning is based.  It seems to go something like this:

We want to make a female action hero for our daughters, but that'll only attract boys and not girls, so we'll have to add in relationships, but that might turn off boys just as girls might be turned off by the action, and so we're going to make comedy the keystone on which everything is based.

Does the reasoning in the previous poly-compound sentence make sense to you?  Because it seems fucked all the hell up to me.

Kim Possible and Ron Stoppable could have done anything.  That's kind of the point.  Kim can do anything.  She didn't need to put that omni-ability to use saving the world from Bond-like villains.

The reason that she goes up against Bond-like villains is that McCorkle and Schooley wanted their daughters to have a Bond-like character whom they could pretend to be without pretending they'd switched genders.  But rather than just make the show provide the kind of female character they thought was lacking in media, they then went back to the same reasoning that has prevented such characters from being made in the past (girls don't like action) and tried to slip it through the gendered preconceptions by covering it in comedy.

There is a very serious problem here.  They wanted to give girls an action hero but were afraid they'd turn girls off if they gave them an action hero and as a result they decided to make it a comedy because everyone, even girls watching an action hero show, likes to laugh.


They wanted an action-hero-girl for their daughters, but thought that the only way to do an action-hero-girl was in comedy.  They didn't think action-hero-girl would work if it was played straight.


So we've gone through the how and the why and a large tangent into, "Hey, there was an acton-hero-woman, if on a less superhuman scale, made by the same company years earlier," and reached the thing we started with: Kim Possible is a comedy.

Kim may dodge energy rays and kick butt, but she's doing it in the context of:

Drakken: Did you get it?
Shego: I got it.  Don't know why you'd want it,~ but I got it.
Drakken: My plan will reveal itself in due course, Shego.
Drakken: *to himself* Who wants to build a robot tick. I do! I do!
Shego: Uh,... Doctor Drakken, you know you said that out loud, don't you?
Drakken: Blast!

And while I didn't quote it in the decon of that episode, the plot was to get back at the people who laughed at him in gym class.

Or she's fighting inside a building that is not cheese covered but actually made of cheese.  Or:

Monkey Fist: So, now you know my secret.
*Monkey Fists posture and expression change*
Monkey Fist: Which you will take to your graves.
Ron: How can you be sure?  I mean a lot can happen in the next sixty or seventy years.
*Monkey Fist approaches Ron and grunts*
Ron: Oh.  Gotcha.

Or she's trying to stop someone who is going to shut down the internet using the barcode on an expired can of Vienna sausages unless everyone on earth gives him one dollar.

Or whatever the plot of the week is, because it's never going to be all that serious.  And if her villains are laughable then what does it say about her that she has to give her all to beat them?

Yeah, Kim can kick ass and take names, some of the time, but this is all in a comedy.

And I really wish people would realize that when ancient audiences were laughing at the Lysistrata they were a bunch of misogynistic jerks who were laughing at the idea that women could do something intelligent and meaningful as much as they were laughing about the making fun of foreign accents and the actors running around with giant erect phalluses strapped onto them.

Comedy can be subversive, but it can also just be laughable.

If the only way that we can get a show about a female action hero is to have it be comedy, that says something about us.  It says something about the culture, the creators, the consumers, and so much more.

Since I'm in touch with the fan fiction community I'd like to point out that in most of the fan fic ... it's not comedy.  In the fan fiction Kim is an action hero full stop.  A world saver, no subverting details.  Kim is serious business, not someone whose escapades we laugh at.

That seems to be what people take out of the show, and that's good, but that's not what's in the show because the show is comedy.

In the show Kim doesn't face peril that makes us worry, she faces absurd that makes us laugh.  She doesn't face scary villains, she faces laughable goofs.

The show itself seems to be saying, "A female action hero?  That's funny."

And I think we really need to bear that in mind.

Which is not to say that I dislike the humor.  In fact, some of it is very much in my style leading to that time a joke from the original was mistaken for my own.

Or consider this:

Kim: Wade, can you hack into the Global Justice spy satellites?
Wade: In my sleep.
Kim: Then take a nap and scan for Drakken.

That's so very much me that I've been making variations on that joke since I was a small child.  The one I remember most, which is kind of far afield, was bowling.  I'd brag that I could make this difficult split in my sleep.  When I failed I'd say, "Unfortunately, I'm awake."  Not exactly the height of humor, but I was a kid and it's the sort of joke I made.

Then Kim Possible does it years later.

So, to an extent, I'm in tune with the humor of the show and that's part of what I like about it.  But.  But, but, but... we have to remember that the humor wasn't something that was taking place in the larger context of an action series, the humor was the core.  This was a comedy, and Kim saving the world was something that was funny.

It didn't have to be.  It was.

I wanted to take some time to make note of that and then drive the point home with excessive force.

Girl saves the world.  We laugh.

If this were just one in a universe of "Girl saves the world" shows, many of which played it straight, then there would be no problem.  But it was made because people recognized a lack of such shows and in that context ... we laugh.

For all that we can talk about the show being empowering (and there were and are plenty of girls who felt empowered) it's a comedy.  Yes, we get our female hero, but we're not supposed to take her seriously, and when she saves the day we're supposed to laugh instead of cheer.


  1. Solid stuff - thank you.

    Television people are rarely trying to change the world. They're trying to make a show that the existing audience will like, so that it's popular and keeps getting made, and they keep getting paid. But television changes the world whether it's meant to or not; so it ends up pushing the world towards how they modelled their audiences.

    Or to over-simplify it another way: if most people in TV think female action heroes won't play, no female action hero shows get made, and everyone assumes that female action heroes are impossible. It's self-perpetuating but built on sand, just like the idea that a naked breast is always sexy: if we all went topless as a regular thing, nobody would feel that way any more than we feel that a naked face is always sexy.

  2. I haven't seen much of Kimpossible. I know that it's a comedy at base. But, is the fact that Kim Possible, as a teenage girl, is the kickass superspy the joke?

    Senior Senior Senior and Senior Senior Junior, there was a joke there... and the blue guy that usually employed Shego, he was played for laughs often. But, was Kim Possible being so capable, itself, ever the joke?

    I think that makes a difference.

    1. Generally, no. Which does make a huge difference and is a good thing.

      So, for the most part, it's a question of context. Kim is the super competent hero, but she exists in the context of a comedy.


      There's a reason that this is something that I didn't start off with. It doesn't jump out as, "Girl can be a hero, point and laugh," but it was something that sort of built up over time, "Yeah, Kim's an awesome hero, but maybe I need to talk about how this is a show that's supposed to make us laugh."

      Because the rules are different. She can be a hero, and that can be played straight, but it's in a show where a lot of stuff can be played straight that normally couldn't. The bad guys trying to freeze an island with a supersized version of a corn dog flash freezer is able to be played straight too. (Individual elements, of course, are very much comedic, but the culmination of the plot is serious.) It's not deadly serious because no one ever dies*, but only one step down.

      So I think that, even though Kim being a hero is almost never the joke, the fact that it's in the context of a comedy still changes things.

      But, yeah, you're right that it does make a difference. Huge.


      * Except in the series finales. When it was ending the first time they killed someone, when it was ending the second time they killed two someones. In neither case were the killed people human. I wish that all of fans could understand that saying it doesn't count because the killed people weren't human is not ok. People need to be treated as people. Regardless of appearance or origin.

      Not to say that Team Possible was in the wrong. Both times occurred in the heat of battle when there really didn't seem to be another way.