Between all of the coverage I’ve been doing for the Tribeca Film Festival, I needed a break from the sea shanties, cannibalism, and organ trafficking. So in between screenings, I would find a nice little hobbit hole and queue up some episodes from American Gods and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power to pass the time. Both shows reached the conclusion of their second season at around the same time, so I thought it would be a nice change of pace. Plus, anything to keep my mind off of Game of Thrones spoilers.
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power was one of the better shows produced by Netflix last year, offering a fresh and inventive take on a franchise that was decidedly 80’s. It offered up compelling versions of classic characters with a large world ripe for exploration. Unfortunately it didn’t really gain all that much traction when the first season released last November outside of maybe a week or so of good publicity before being swallowed up by the glut of content that is Netflix. I heard some people talk about it online, and it did win a GLAAD award for what it’s worth, but that was about it. I guess it did well enough for a second season to be released. However, with a shortened run of seven episodes instead of the first’s thirteen, it was hard for me to get much out of this season outside of reminding me that the show existed and it can be even better than it is now.
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (Season 2)
Showrunner: Noelle Stevenson
Release Date: April 26, 2019 (Netflix)
It’s been some time after Adora (Aimee Carrero) fully accepted her role as She-Ra and now she’s undergoing training to better control her She-Ra powers. While she’s training, the rest of the Princess Alliance are trying to gain back some territory from the Evil Horde, who have been more aggressive with taking as much land in possible since the Battle of Bright Moon at the end of last season. Adora’s ex-best friend Catra (AJ Michalka) has now been promoted to Force Captain and takes direct orders from the head of the Horde, Hordak (Keston John), as they begin to develop some new weapon to defeat the princesses once and for all.
If the first season was dedicated to bringing the various princesses together, the second season at first appears to be about the Princess Alliance bonding and fully learning to trust each other. At least that’s the general impression given from the modestly successful first episode, “The Frozen Forest.” However, it quickly becomes apparent that there really isn’t a general focus for the second season. Each of the seven episodes tends to do its own thing, not offering much in terms of connective tissue to a larger plot.
Each of the seven episodes work well on their own and have a different focus and feel, but they don’t do much to advance the overall plot or enhance pre-established relationships. It’s nice to see Glimmer (Karen Fukuhara) go from being a self-conscious teenager to a respected authority figure in the Alliance, but the rest of the characters barely progress. Adora and Catra, who were the highlights of the first season with their frequent hostile encounters that gave way to remorse that life took them both on separate paths, barely have any screen time together. They do get some minor development on their own, but outside of Catra learning that being a Force Captain in the Horde is tougher than it looks, it’s nothing noteworthy or even worth talking about.
Even if the characters seem to lack a purpose, they’re still well written characters that I find almost impossible to hate. Scorpia (Lauren Ash) is a delight, and the fact that she’s featured prominently in most of the episodes is a strong plus. She’s a brute that’s as dumb as rocks, but gosh darn it she tries! Really, the second season is more set on just telling interesting stories and not being too worried about pushing the overall plot forward.
“Roll the Dice” is an episode where the Princesses plan an attack on a Horde fortress, but they do so in a D&D inspired sequence where they role play every possible outcome that could happen, including a scenario where everyone looks and sounds like the original 80’s counterparts. “Light Spinner” is a fascinating look back at one of the main antagonists from the first season revealing that she turned evil not because of a hatred towards her people, but from a strong desire to protect them at any cost. Both of these episodes were outstanding, beating out the majority of the first season’s episodes based on pure entertainment. I had fun watching them, even if the series’ plot took a backseat for an episode or two.
Personally, the focus on telling better individual episodes instead of trying to create a storyline that lasts a season works in the second season’s favor. Realistically, it would have been impossible to try and cram an new storyline into seven episodes, so the season instead chooses to have fun, easy going episodes while leaving plenty of room for potential plot threads to be picked up and developed in later seasons.
The show still features some great character designs, though the animation is lacking like before. I don’t know what it is with most of Netflix’s animated series, but they just seem so flat to me. Sequences that should wow me, like the magic on display in “Light Spinner,” instead leaving me feeling nothing. An animated show can have the best plot in the world, but if the animation is lacking it’s almost worthless. There are plenty of great animated series airing right now, like Star vs. The Forces of Evil and Tales of Arcadia, that boast wonderful animation, but She-Ra isn’t one of them.
It’s frustrating because the potential is there for this to be a fantastic series. I love most of the characters, the world, and a handful of season two’s episodes, but the series just isn’t reaching its full potential. I want to love this show, I really do, but for every step the show takes, it decides to idle around and move forward only when it feels like it. Maybe the show needs more time in the oven, or possibly a bigger budget, but with the tantalizing plot threads being teased, I hope that Netflix and Stevenson can deliver on what should be a fantastic third season. As it stands, the second season is good enough. It has fun moments to it that only serves to draw me more into these character’s relationships (Catradora for life), but needs to step out of its comfort zone and deliver on the potential that’s there.