Reload from a New Checkpoint
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off: Season 1
Few movies manage to successfully bomb with ease. You get movies every year that bomb, for sure, but those tend to remain bombs. The flash, they fade, and few remember them afterwards except maybe as a joke or a meme (think Morbius). Rarer are the films that fail to find their audience upon release but then become massively successful after their theatrical run. Sure, there are cult classics, films that get a bit of a loving audience that can carry the film for a while after. But to become so huge that everyone thinks you were a success even when you failed, that's a rarefied group. We're talking the likes of Blade Runner and The Thing.
Well, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. That movie, based on the Scott Pilgrim comics series written and drawn by Bryan Lee O'Malley, was released in 2010 and was ignored by the general public. A real shame since its one of the more visually creative, distinct, and hilarious movies released that year. Maybe it was the advertising, or the diversions from the comic that the film took, but for whatever reason audiences just didn't care about the film. Released on a budget of upwards of $85 Mil (not counting marketing), it only managed to make back $49.3 Mil in theaters. It's one of the big disappointments in director Edgar Wright's career, since the film was clearly a labor of love on his part.
But the film did find its audience... just after the fact. Through DVD and Blu-Ray sales. Through plays on streaming and cable. It eventually had a 10th anniversary re-release in theaters, and that then came to 4k UHD as well. People love the film now, such that a sequel of some kind could actually be bandied about, something no fan of the film expected after its failed first release. But what we've gotten now isn't so much a sequel, or a reboot, or anything of the sort. Except it's all those things as well and it's so weird that fans of the comics, the movie, and everything in between will have to set their expectations aside as this is a whole new thing we're dealing with in the Scott Pilgrim 'verse. And it's great.
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off sets itself up to be a retelling of the original story. It features Scott (voiced by Michael Cera, who played Scott in the movie) meeting Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, of course) as she takes a ride through the subspace highway in his mind. Waking, Scott thinks he's met the girl of his dreams... literally, but then comes to find that Ramona is actually real when they meet again at a party. At that point, Scott realizes he wasn't to date Ramona and he has to find a way to court the girl he's always wanted.
There's just a couple of problems with this plan. First, Scott (who is 22) has to break up with his fake high school girlfriend, Knives Chao (a returning Ellen Wong) who, well, he really shouldn't have been dating anyway. And then he has to deal with Ramona's exes. Seven of them to be specific -- returning actors Satya Bhabha as Matthew Patel, Chris Evans as Lucas Lee, Brandon Routh as Todd Ingram, Mae Whitman as Roxie Richter, along with new actor Julian Cihi taking over as the Katayanagi twins -- who have joined with Gideon Graves (Jason Schwartzman) to form the League of Evil Exes. Scott has to battle them if he wants the girl... except something is going to throw even this plan off before it even gets going.
For fans of the comic and the film, the start of Scott Pilgrim Take Off does feel familiar. It hits the same beats, mimics a few of the jokes from the movie, and it even remakes the sets we've seen before to perfection. This series takes its cues from what we've seen and know all to say, "hey, this is just what you remember, but longer." It's like it promises to be the movie but with all the missing content from the comics. I'm sure that was the dream for many long time fans.
But it's a trick. At the end of the first episode the series takes a hard swerve and suddenly we're in uncharted territory. Without spoiling anything, let's just say that the series goes in a direction any fan would never have expected and sets up a whole new story that not only provides much needed shading and detail to all the characters involved, but it also gives us a new narrative that gives all fans something new to enjoy. It's a trick that works because it's done with grace and an assured hand.
The thing is that this swerve only really feels like a shock if you've seen any of the previous versions of the story before. If you've read the comics, or watched the movie, or maybe played the video game, then this big first episode twist is going to feel so sudden and shocking that it will make you sit on the edge of your seat. But if you haven't seen the film, or read the comic, or whatever, I doubt it would have the same shock factor to it. Someone that hasn't seen anything from the franchise before will probably just think this is how the story goes, that this is Scott Pilgrim, except no. It's not.
It's a very meta twist, especially as the story plays out in this new format. That's why I have to call this less just a reboot than a sequel. It feels like a sequel, in a way, once you get into it. It's the series commenting on the film, which kind of commented on the comic in the process. It's a story that actively plays with itself, recursing over it's own concept just to fully explore every avenue of its own tale. Hell, by the time the series gets to "Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life: The Musical", you know the creators are taking the piss out of themselves just enough.
There are two reasons why I don't consider this a problem. First of all, it's not hard to go out and find a version of Scott Pilgrim to view. Even if you don't want to read through six volumes of the comic (which I admit I still need to do) the movie is available on many streaming services (including the host of the series, NetflixOriginally started as a disc-by-mail service, Netflix has grown to be one of the largest media companies in the world (and one of the most valued internet companies as well). With a constant slate of new internet streaming-based programming that updates all the time, Netflix has redefined what it means to watch TV and films (as well as how to do it).). If you're at all interested in watching the series (because there's something light and fun and cool about the animation style that draws you in) then you should absolutely watch the movie first. It'll not only get you caught up but let you in on the joke of the series as well.
But I also think it works because the series, on its own, is so good. It answers many of the small problems the movie had (which we'll get into in a spoiler discussion so you can go devour the series before coming back here after). It finds ways to say, "yes, we heard you on all these fronts," and then it goes down the list and gives us everything we could have wanted. That's why I say it has an assured hand to it. It's pretty clear that series creators Bryan Lee O'Malley and BenDavid Grabinski had very specific ideas they wanted to put out there, lingering thoughts they wanted to address, and they did. Hell, they've said that even though this first season ends with a note of things that could come, they have no ideas set aside for a sequel run. They put it all on the table packing these eight episodes with all the good content they could come up with. It's great.
And I appreciate that (most) all of the cast came back for the series. That not only helps this feel like a reboot-sequel but it also gives us versions of the characters that feel like family. Winstead is great as Ramona here, who gets way more to do than she did in the film. She's joined by fantastic returning performances from Evans, Bhabha, Whitman, Wong, and Schwartzman. That's to say nothing about the actors I didn't even get a chance to mention above, like Alison Pill's Kimberly "Kim" Pine, Anna Kendrick's Stacey Pilgrim, Kieran Culkin's Wallace Wells and more.
If there's a weak link in the set it's, weirdly, Michael Cera's Scott Pilgrim. For whatever reason it doesn't feel like Cera is as connected to his character here as the rest of the cast is with their roles. He sounds, well, a little bored in the role this time around. I get the vibe that there were also scheduling conflicts he had to deal with as alternate versions of Scott aren't handled by Cera even though those same alter versions for Ramona and Wallace are taken care of by Winstead and Culkin. Whatever happened here, this is one thing I hope improves if there is another season of this show down the road. Let's get Cera back up and feeling it because we need a Scott we can believe in.
And if I'm being honest, the major alternate version of Scott, played by Will Forte, annoys the crap out of me. I have to admit that I'm not a huge Forte fan in general, but I just feel like he's a bad fit for the character, on every level. He plays the character with this weird, heightened energy, like they asked him to play a manic version of Scott and Forte just wasn't able to pull it back at all. He's playing for the cheap seats with his performance and it sticks out like a sore thumb in comparison to everyone else in the show. It just doesn't work.
Still, I would consider these minor quibbles in the grand scheme (and when you watch it you'll understand why). Overall this is a fantastic version of the story that goes and does its own thing with absolute aplomb. This is a version of Scott Pilgrim I didn't realize I needed. Now that I have it I want it to stick around forever.