Episodes on the Internet: A Barbie Story: Evil Dentist
May 31, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Well honey, I’m off to work now. Bye.
I’m off…I’m off to work. I’M OFF TO WORK.
Besides how Barbies just look, there is much to be found…uncanny in this rough-cut gem of a Youtube video (actual video attached at the end, readers; patience). From the onset, the two voice talents-slash-writers-slash-producers—slash little children who are girls—behind A Barbie Life Story: Evil Dentist (2011) demonstrate a head-scratching deftness in their ability to juggle several sophisticated storytelling tactics: rapidly escalating inter-relational dramas, elements of the classically horrific (foreshadowing, physical and psychological torture, vampires), and napkin-dab portions of the politely dry, comically solid Arrested Development dialogue (“I’m putting you in the bad girl part of the car”)—all delivered with the red-hot urgency of a 24 episode.
“We already paid the dentist, honey, WE CAN’T BACK DOWN NOW” is the show’s swarthy and, frankly, successful stab at 24‘s shrill, plot-spurring battlecry: “THERE’S NO TIME TO EXPLAIN!” It’s a heightened state of urgency and agitation that is these characters’ world.
…whose exit is lamentably both permanent and far too early, says he’s off to work and already: he is at the end of his rope. Merlan is his own unreliable narrator, though, and there’s no assurance he does in fact “go off to work.”
After he gets chucked off-set.
Rita, the unerringly rational-as-she-is-abusive mother-figure, waits for the evocative strains of a Lenny Kravitz intro song to subside before informing her daughter, Madeline, they are going to the dentist. Poised to put her foot down, her arms are in the air, and, already, she is screaming, adamant, “Aren’t you READY YET?”
Madaline, grappling with the news and a helplessness to steer her own orthodontic destiny, mimics her mother’s stance and nasally decries the injustice that she has no say in the matter.
The oft-volatile relationship between mother and daughter is suspended in blunt, “butt”-centric insults and their dialogue—generously peppered with flustered UHNGH!s and “Whatever! MOM“—manifests as exercises in evasion and ego-thwarting non-sequiturs.
Rita: Honey, you have to get your cavity filled today.
Madaline: Mommy, you’re so dumb.
And for instance:
Madaline: Mommy, ew, I can see your butt-crack.
Rita: It doesn’t matter, honey; we’re going to the dentist.
Though I think we can all agree that the logic in that retort is simply unfuckwithable, the narrators find it necessary to then eerily turn Rita’s face (“face”) to the camera…
…and whisper: “Going there.”
Our first in-story crumb of foreshadowing, alluding to something unsavory ahead.
It isn’t foreshadowing, however, that colors the ambient feel of Evil Dentist. Frayed nerves and impatience boil over in the narrative and are prominent motivators in practically every dynamic: from the dialogue to even the way the powers that be would rather repeatedly crash the pink convertible into walls—to shouts of WHOAA!—than simply drive the characters from point A to point B.
Even with Rita using her entire body to roughly jam Madaline under the dash of the passenger-side front seat…
…and with several titillating exchanges of insults (aforementioned “I can see your butt-crack”; “Your feet smell like butt”; etc.) simple transportation for transportation’s sake was deemed, at some point, too uneventful?
This harrowing car ride come series of collisions nonetheless results in Rita and Madeline arriving at their destination, wherein Rita just leaves her and appears to simply come loose from the plot at hand like a lost button, stepping gracefully aside like the initial, catalyst-story at the beginning of any Simpsons episode. And the setting gives way to something more sinister—a film noir-era promise the title makes good on.
As Madeline takes a seat by one of the “Patients”…
…it is illuminated to her: “Legend has it, the dentist is evil.”
It would behoove Madaline to listen to Patient in Cowboy Hat…
…but instead she deflects this knowledge with a churlish “What’s she going to do to me, GET TOOTHPASTE IN MY HAIR?” followed by an inappropriately loud, disproportionate amount of laughter. In that moment, we know better and are positioned with both concern and the nail-biting weight of having been privileged—or cursed—with more information than the protagonist.
It is foreshadowing that doesn’t concern itself with subtlety—and why should it, really?—as the stereotypical waiting room scene begets scenes much more confusing and disconcerting in nature. While bearing some albeit sans-viscera resemblance to gore-porn flicks like HOSTEL (2005), what plays out once Madeline is fixed in the awkward and unaccommodating Barbie dentist seat…
…is so distinctly complex in psychological trauma that the cliché introduction is almost necessary to usher in the uncomfortably nebulous gray-area of…truly…odd…terror-and-hilarity. Something like a cross between a wincing Larry David at the dentist scene, and also The Human Centipede (2009)? Because all comedic impact aside, a small, shamed part of your soul in fact does shudder; twinge rot-black; beg a small prayer.
Primed for paranoia, Madaline issues several dire questions to the dental assistant:
“What are you gonna do to me—WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO TO ME?”
“What kind of toothpaste do you use IS IT GOING TO TURN ME INTO A VAMPIRE?”
With genuine kindness, the assistant expertly assuages all Madaline’s concerns by proceeding to brush her teeth.
It is worth noting this brief, sympathetic adult-figure is distinguished from the Evil Dentist by a description offered up by the waiting room girls, when Madeline asked, in conflated italics, “What does she even look like?”
“Well, all that we know is she’s evil.” — Patient #1
“Oh and…her hair’s in a really weird ‘do so you can barely even see her face.” — Patient with Cowboy Hat
So that when the dentist appears…
…there is little doubt that this is in fact our boss battle and the preemptive description and strong visual cue lend real muscle to the ensuing “Gasp!” moment we experience.
Gasp you should; the frustration that courses through the show (“show”) spews forth with volcanic effusion when hostility towards Madeline reaches its arbitrarily assigned critical mass as several items are dropped…
…and Madeline finds herself on the receiving end of humiliation (Dentist: “You dropped that with your voice NOW PICK IT UP”), skin-crawling pet-names (Madeline: “DON’T CALL ME ‘BABYCAKES’!”), what appears to be unorthodox X-ray methods…
…and a thorough, I guess, body-slamming, from the Evil Dentist.
Upon referencing Human Centipede and HOSTEL, I didn’t mean so much in the graphic nature as the essence and coloration of the particular psychological havoc, which is wreaked upon our wailing Madeline for a grueling ten-ish seconds or more. Enduring this, she is given a clean bill of dental health—except for one cavity “TO BE DRILLED.” This is the breaking point and Madaline turns on her captor via more body-slamming, screaming, “You’re a psychopath!”
We’re not shown how the Evil Dentist overturns the situation, but she evidently does and Madaline is forced back into the chair for a drilling “TWICE AS PAINFUL AS IT WOULD HAVE BEEN.”
Reduced to sobs, Madaline returns to the waiting room, posing a weary, tearful question to no one:
“When’s mommy picking me up; I feel like butt.”
It’s okay if you need a hug right now.
Even though I played with my share and more of Barbies, I never played out anything like that. My Barbie was always abandoned in the middle of the forest as a child and basically was a cute and indefinite hermit who made her own cheese and rode around on her giant raccoon, Normal.…I did not have a bad childhood so I do not understand all the themes of survivalism/seclusion/abandonment. And cheese-making? This is a longer digression than I intended.
Similar to horror flick The Descent (2005) the ending in Evil Dentist is one that expertly employs climax and anti-climax in near-symphonic conjunction to drive home the notion that the horror for Madaline is that of an enduring horror, and not one sequestered by a traumatic experience. Nor one that can be neatly parenthesized by the classic/cliché horror-plot at the center of this episode. (In believing so, they have made a fool of us, all.) Instead, it prevails in the domestic, in the every-day, and Madaline’s escape from the Evil Dentist is not an actual escape: only a false husk-of-a-promise for alleviation. Madaline simply has a long, horrible life of being repeatedly head-slammed by her parents (we can assume this goes for Merlan) ahead of her, regardless. She left the cave–but she will never leave the cave.
“You were talking in your evil mom voice.”
“I just get that way when I’m upset, honey.”
Clocking in at roughly 11 minutes, it’s a safe assumption Evil Dentist was either designed with the explicit intent to be aired on Cartoon Network as a pilot episode for a series with long enough legs to stand about as long as anything happens to in the off-beat comedic empire…or that it is merely very capable of achieving as much. The only real advice I would give these children is: flesh out that Merlan character; there is real potential there.