We all know that sometimes a good TV series ends up being on far longer than it needs to be. The final season of “Roseanne” probably shouldn’t have happened and there’s some debate if “The Simpsons” is still relevant after all these years, but then you have those special shows that go on too long for an entirely different reason. Believe it or not, there are shows that are ruined for the very simple reason that they became successful in the first place. These are the shows that were entertaining enough that they became popular, but then in a strange twist actually got worse for the very reason that the popularity forced the creators to either change, tweak, or stall the show so that it could continue being made. I’m going to be looking at these shows and analyzing why their success was probably bad for them, speaking creatively. For this new series my first choice was an easy pick: Pokémon.
Having recently rewatched various episodes of the show it’s easy to understand why the show became popular. It was a fun concept, the characters (both humans and Pokémon) were largely funny and interesting, and it was just a fun time to be had. It wasn’t anything too deep, but if you want a good example of escapist entertainment for kids then this was your show. When I read about the making of the show it was obvious that this was no accident: The show and movie was planned long in advance. This was a series that was going to be journey. It was being made largely to sell a video game, but it would be longer than the typical 26 episode anime series. This series would run closer to 70 episodes with a movie that was planned to wrap up the entire thing. All of this, I should stress, was planned long in advance.
When the series started, things went smoothly for the most part. Kids did like the show, it was helping sell games, and the story was on track the way things had been planned. The show introduced us to Ash Ketchum, who was nothing more than a kid with a dream to become the greatest Pokémon Master of all time. He begins his journey with his starter Pokémon Pikachu. It wasn’t much of a beginning, but honestly, it worked well enough. Shortly afterwards viewers would be introduced to his friends Brock, a Pokémon Breeder in training, and Misty, a girl who was following him after Pikachu fried her bike in an attempt to kill terrorist birds (told you this show was fun).
As the show went on viewers discovered more Pokémon, Ash had to collect a certain number of Gym Badges in order to enter and compete in what was known as the Pokémon League, the big tournament that would determine if you were Pokémon Master material (for those who don’t speak geek, just think of it like the World Series). Now then, I should probably pause and point out a few things. First of all, there were originally 151 Pokémon in the series. The final two Pokémon were Mew and MewTwo, with MewTwo being a clone of Mew and created by humans. The anime producers placed these two Pokémon last because they were going to be “Legendary Pokémon,” and would thus be two of the most powerful in the lineup (and before I get e-mails, yes, I’m aware of the Three Legendary Birds).
The most powerful Pokémon would be most dangerous in the hands of evil humans though. This is where the series antagonists, Team Rocket, came in. They were tasked with capturing powerful Pokémon for world domination. The team members we saw the most in the show were Jesse, James (get it), and Meowth, one of the only Pokémon that could speak English. Early on they were threatening to various degrees, but their sinsisterness was upped quite a bit when the series introduced their leader Giovanni around the 18th episode. In the video game he was the leader of Team Rocket as well as the final gym leader you faced before entering the Pokémon League. The TV producers had big plans for his TV appearance and wanted to keep secret many of their surprises, so they introduced him with his face hidden in the shadows.
We also got small glimpses into how powerful he was, as he appeared to own legitimate businesses (like a Pokémon theme park…the irony) to cover up the fact he was the leader of an evil organization. This may not have been “The Sopranos,” but it was pretty clear this was all leading up to something big. Then you have the fact that the film was going to wrap up the series, which would have taken place after the Pokémon League, so chances are Ash would have been a Pokémon Master at this point. Then, something happened that ruined the whole thing. In a strange twist, the worst thing that happened was plans to bring the show over to America had begun. Soon the show premiered in America. It took about a month but the show caught on. Not only did it catch on, it caught on in a BIG way! While it was successful in Japan, the explosive popularity in America gave the series a kind of success I doubt the producers could have dreamed possible.
It opened it up for the show to premier in other countries and become huge successes over there. Now the series wasn’t just a success, it was a global phenomenon! Kids wanted to buy more toys, games, and trading cards…dear Lord, don’t get me started on the trading cards. When the producers had created the show they were running a TV series. Now they were running an enterprise. And when you have an enterprise, the next step is have it grow. That meant that the original run of the TV series was extended indefinetly. The movie, which was originally going to be the grand finale, was now going to be movie one while a movie two was put into preproduction. Since the show would now be extended, there needed to be more toys to sell, so a new region with over one hundred new Pokémon were created, putting an end to the idea of MewTwo being the most powerful Pokémon.
The thing about all this was that none of this was planned out the way the first series had been. That series was created to tell a story. The new episodes were created to extend the universe for the sake of the product, and the story totally got shafted in the process. I’m not entirely sure what the movie was going to look like, but it’s pretty obvious that if it was originally going to be the end, it got rewritten so that it was just a big adventure. Now that there was nothing to lead up to anymore, Team Rocket wasn’t going to be much of a threat anymore. Jesse and James became more comic relief than villains, and Giovanni was no longer the all-powerful head of the organization who lurked in the shadows, but who now walked around in plain sight and whose actions had little to do with our heroes.
Because winning the Pokémon League would bring Ash’s journey to an end, the sensible thing to do was to have him lose the championship so he could keep traveling and catching more Pokémon. Which…if we’re being honest, having him lose was actually a big twist. It’s just a shame it would be the last real twist we got. Pikachu, meanwhile, became a hugely popular character, and became the official mascot for the series. The problem was Pikachu could be a little bit of a jerk in the right situation. Or, in other words, he had a PERSONALITY!!! When you’re the mascot of a huge company though you can’t have anti-social behavior (just ask Mickey Mouse), so Pikachu was toned down to always be friendly, cheerful, and cute.
Oh, that’s right, I want to talk romance. One of the reasons Pokémon was fun to watch was because the characters seemed to actually have lives. Remember how I mentioned there was a girl named Misty traveling with Ash earlier in this article? Well, it was made pretty obvious early on that she had feelings for him. As the show went on there were hints that he liked her back. While romance was hardly the focus of the show, it was clear that it was there at least, and the producers put it there for a reason. A very early preview for the first movie showed a very interesting image. There was an older woman who looked like Misty walking with a purple haired girl carrying a Pikachu. That image never appeared in the movie, but many fans speculated that this was Misty as an adult with her daughter. Since the daughter was carrying Pikachu was can only assume it was Ash’s daughter.
We didn’t see Ash as an adult, but they were probably saving that for the movie itself. Once the show (and, by extension, Ash’s journey) got the greenlight to continue, one of the first things to go was the romance. Ash couldn’t be tied down to a relationship and traveling with a romantic partner would raise too many eyebrows, so it was removed (with Misty herself being removed from the show altogether when the questions got too intense). Finally, let’s discuss Ash himself. I won’t pretend that he was ever the greatest protagonist for a show, but goodness he was a lot more fun seventeen years ago than he is now! He was a CHARACTER! He was goofy. He wasn’t polished. He could have crushes on girls (or at least acknowledge when they had a crush on him). He could get angry. He could mess up. He could do…well, just things in general. Try watching any random episode after the third season of this show.
Notice something? Yeah: He’s boring. Like, really, truly boring now. Now Ash is just a nice, determined kid. His traveling companions have way more personality and show much more emotional range, but even they seemed shackled by a franchise that sells so much merchandise it does what it can to not rock the boat. In fact, it’s sort of strange how the series seems intent on keeping Ash year after year while continuously swapping out his traveling companions. It’s pretty obvious this is a show that needs to keep adding Pokémon and regions if they are going to continue to make games and trading cards, yet it also seems fearful to let go of its main star, as if he was honestly the main draw. Course, they also keep Team Rocket around when they haven’t been a real threat for years, so maybe it just a case of old habits dying hard?
Alright, let’s wrap this up. I’ve been speaking MUCH more about this than even I intended to! As you can see, I’ve clearly demonstrated that the show used to be much better than it is now, and the main reason it stopped being enjoyable was because it got too successful. Carefully planned out storylines were scrapped, characters were forced to be bland and non-confrontational, constant rebooting of characters were nessicary, more Pokémon than anyone could possibly be expected to remember have to be added on a yearly basis, villains had to be reduced to comic relief, and the show couldn’t be Japanese anymore because now more than one nation was watching it. Wait, did I forget to discuss the Japaneseness of the early episodes? Eh, read this page. That should illustrate the point.
The bottom line is Pokémon was, contrary to popular belief, a good show at one point in time. Once it became popular changes were made for the worse. The more successful it became the more bland it was forced to be. It may not be the only one out there, but Pokémon is a great example of a show that was ruined once it became successful.
Kevin runs the website The Movie Wizard.com and it’s corresponding YouTube series! Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube!