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Danger & Eggs review: It’s really good, but mostly not for the reasons it gets hyped for. August 10, 2018

Posted by Erin Ptah in Erin Watches.
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So I finally had a chance to watch Danger & Eggs, the Amazon Prime animated kids’ show. Only one season so far, 13 episodes, most of them consisting of two distinct 12-minute segments.

It’s a lot of cute fun.

You know how Phineas and Ferb is partly about mundane suburban family stuff, but the kids’ adventures keep pushing the bounds of fantasy and sci-fi, and meanwhile there’s a world of secret-agent animals fighting mad scientists that they keep intersecting with?

That’s the energy Danger & Eggs has. It centers around a city park where people walk their dogs, rent the clamshell for concerts, hold ren faires…and don’t bat an eye at the underground full of leftover experiments from a failed mad-science organization.

Our heroes are D.D. Danger, human girl whose father was a famous stuntman, and Phil, giant talking egg whose mother is a house-sized mutant chicken. D.D. is wild, energetic, and adventurous; Phil is nervous, quiet, and safety-conscious. They are Best Friends. The comedy writes itself.

And it’s never mean comedy, either. They appreciate each other’s differences! There’s an episode where they wander into a labyrinth controlled by a slightly-deranged AI, get separated, and the AI creates an “ideal” simulation of each of them to entice the other into staying forever. But its strategy backfires — holo!D.D. is quiet and listless, holo!Phil is reckless and hyperactive, and the real kids discover that this isn’t appealing at all, that their friendship works because of how they balance each other out.

So that’s the good part.

The bad part is, before I started watching, all I knew about the show was “it’s full of LGBTQ characters! It has such good gay and trans representation! The whole last episode takes place at a Pride parade!”

Which meant I got pretty let down as the stuff I was expecting…didn’t happen.

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To go into some detail…

I was waiting for m/m and f/f couples. And I mean, I had my eyes peeled. When one episode showed a pair of not-overly-feminine ladies sitting together on a park bench having a cozy domestic chat, I perked up like a dog who just heard the word “walk.” Was this it? Were these the lesbians??

But no, the show just makes them a narrative parallel to D.D. and Phil. They are Best Friends.

I kept listening for one of the male characters to say “my boyfriend” or one of the women to talk about “my wife” or one of the kids to mention “my two dads.” An offscreen reference to any of those would’ve been great. An on-screen role in the plot would’ve been even better. And instead…nothing.

Every article about the show, presumably all working off the same press release, refers to the show having “a lesbian folk duo” and “gay dads.” I swear I don’t remember either pair. If I knew what episodes they were in I’d watch again and re-evaluate how obvious it is, but I can’t find episode summaries that mention them, either.

You can see same-sex couples holding hands in the crowd scenes in the Pride episode. (More on that later.) Possibly in other episodes — I didn’t study every figure in every background.

If I’d gone in with no expectations, this would’ve been great and refreshing! It only turned disappointing because I’d been primed to look for them in the foreground.

To be clear, it’s not a show full of m/f content either. The focus is on the kids, and they’re deliberately written as “not getting crushes on anyone yet.” The only romance I noticed being explicitly identified was the one between D.D.’s parents. (A dad and a…I was waiting, waiting, would it turn out to be…nope, a mom.)

But “not shoving heterosexuality in your face,” nice and refreshing though it may be, isn’t the same as the “open discussion of LGBT+ issues” that was promised.

And if you told me the producers had a Worldbuilding Master Reference that listed either “gay” or “bi” in every single character’s profile, I could believe it!

But that’s not the same as putting it in the show.

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The trans representation is noticeably better, or at least more obvious. There are two definitely-trans kids in the cast.

…I had mis-osmosed the details and spent a while thinking D.D. herself was trans, waiting for the episode where that character detail is revealed. And, yeah, this is partly on me. It’s not like anyone falsely claimed D.D. as trans rep.

But it’s also partly because I remembered “major trans girl character!” — and she’s the only major girl character. Both the actual trans kids are one-offs.

So the first is Milo, who first meets Phil and D.D. in episode 5b. At the end of the episode Milo has to leave town, and in between, all three kids form a band. As you do.

Milo is nonbinary, and uses they/them pronouns!

…or rather, everyone else uses they/them pronouns when referring to Milo. The creators have confirmed that it’s correct, but Milo never says within the episode that it’s what they want. They definitely don’t say “I’m nonbinary,” or even a target-audience-vocabulary equivalent like “I’m not a boy or a girl.”

And there’s no in-story reason to avoid explaining it! They’re a new friend, not someone whose identity D.D. and company would already know.

This…is a weird approach for a kids’ show, right?

In other cases, when an episode shares a Valuable Life Lesson, it gets verbalized. Characters come to the spoken realization that it’s important not to stereotype Phil for being an egg, or that just because D.D. is roleplaying a princess doesn’t mean she can’t save herself.

On special occasions, the lesson gets turned into a musical number. This is the show that did a whole song about the definition of “confirmation bias.”

In today’s episode, they show an enby kid getting treated with respect, but nobody ever puts that into words. If you don’t pick up on the pronouns, which I’m sure a lot of young viewers wouldn’t, then you won’t even realize it’s happening.

And even for kids who do catch the pronouns, the show doesn’t make any mention of why Milo uses them, much less why it’s correct and valuable and worth respecting. If a viewer doesn’t already know that nonbinary people exist, I can’t imagine this episode would clear anything up.

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Which brings us to Zadie! The aforementioned trans girl, who appears in the Pride episode. She’s not at the center of the plot the way Milo was, but she gets a few good scenes, and her identity is referred to several times.

She even sings a song about it!

…which makes it really striking that, again, her transness is consistently described in ways that only make sense if you already get it.

Her introduction onstage just says she’s now living “as her authentic self.” Her song (what we hear of it, anyway) is all broadly-applicable lines like “I’m the same old me.” Later she gets this declaration: “Girls like me stand up to injustice!”

Gay adult me can mentally translate that to “trans girls stand up to injustice,” but for a kid who doesn’t have the word “trans,” the show isn’t making any effort to fill them in.

And for a child who knows about trans people because they, too, have a newly-out trans classmate…this episode would’ve been a great place for the lesson “your friend is normal, and it’s okay and correct to treat her like a girl.” But it doesn’t work if the viewer can’t tell that Zadie is doing the same thing as the trans kid they know. And I’m not sure they can.

It might be more obvious to a kid/tween who is trans? I’d love to hear any [anec]data about the reactions of real trans up-to-11-year-olds, and whether they picked on “hey, she’s supposed to be like you.” (Certainly an attentive parent could notice and explain it, and then they could be heartwarmed by it together.)

…and, uh, to be clear, for older trans teens/adults who got it immediately and felt represented and were thrilled: that’s great, and I am not here to discount it.

It’s just that our age group is not the target audience. Which is why I keep going on and on about whether the representation is clear enough to work for 6-to-11-year-olds.

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I want to spend some time on that Pride episode as a whole, too.

First, the good:

They explicitly call it Pride! They have rainbows everywhere. Several of the more-specific flags make appearances. There’s definitely same-sex handholding in the background. Characters say things like “this is a celebration of love.” Someone does a wacky performance art piece that name-checks Marsha P. Johnson!

So…does anyone want to take bets on what the episode doesn’t say?

If you guessed “gay”, “lesbian”, “bi”, “trans”, and “any variation of LGBT+”, congratulations, you just got Bingo.

If you wrote “any explicit discussion of any character being non-straight and/or non-cis,” well, Vanna, show them what they’ve won.

And if you wrote “who exactly is Marsha P. Johnson?”, you are the new Jeopardy champion.

When this episode gets described as “dealing with LGBT+ themes,” it seems to be mostly referring to “chosen family.” Which, yes, is a common and important topic for LGBT+ people. Zadie uses the phrase, and explains to Phil what it means.

But it doesn’t come up for Phil because of any character being queer, and/or trans, and/or rejected by their bio-family. It comes up because he sees lots of other people at Pride having fun with their families — their big, loving, supportive families! — and feels lonely that he doesn’t have any relatives except his mom.

The big climactic conflict isn’t about anything LGBT-related either. It’s about…all the leftover mutated animals living in the underground. (Remember those? They’re still a thing.)

There’s at least one article that says the showrunner “wasn’t about to bury the message [of the Pride episode] in some watered-down allegory.” That’s true in the sense that it takes place at a real Pride, not an allegorical Pride.

But this conflict isn’t against real homophobia, or real transphobia. It’s against mutant-animal-phobia. Which is explicitly framed as an allegory! When Zadie says “Girls like me stand up to injustice,” she’s connecting trans oppression with the injustice of mutant eviction!

(She’s joined by the Mayor, a black woman who points out that “some of my ancestors weren’t allowed to live where they wanted either.” So (a) it’s an allegory for racism too, and (b) they do the same pointed sidestepping where she doesn’t say anything as specific as “…because of racism.” I don’t have any broader analysis of how the show dealt with race stuff — it isn’t what I was watching for — this is just a moment that really jumped out.)

Anyway, the good guys win. (Sorry about the spoiler, there.)

The mutant animals are returned to their homes. The forces of love and community and tolerance emerge triumphant.

And in the upheaval…it turns out…that Phil…has a brother.

That’s right, Phil’s arc about feeling like he doesn’t have enough biological family isn’t resolved by him discovering and embracing his chosen family. It’s resolved by discovering more previously-unknown bio-family!

…I swear I’m not mad about this part, it’s just baffling. You’d think someone in the editing room would’ve stepped back and said “uh, folks, is it me or are we tripping over our own moral here?”

And it sure does undermine that connection to the issues of people whose actual problem is “we have plenty of bio-family, we just aren’t supported by them, for a reason that dare not speak its name.”

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So, hey, the stuff I said at the start of this post still holds:

Danger & Eggs is funny, charming, entertaining, creative, and full of lovable characters. If you do a free Amazon Prime trial, it’s totally worth watching.

And if I had gone in with zero preconceptions, the LGBT+ bits would’ve been delightful surprises.

“When they say Pride, do they really mean…? Yes! They’ve got the flags and everything!”

“Oh, wow, that’s definitely a trans girl. Some Amazon executive probably told them they couldn’t use the word ‘trans’, but they did a really good job of making it clear anyway.”

But promo interviews and articles don’t describe the series as “even though the script-vetters on Amazon wouldn’t let us say a lot of stuff directly, we put in as much LGBT+ content as we could get past them.”

They describe it as “full of LGBT+ people” and “the queerest show on television.”

Which…it’s not! Any series with explicitly gay/bi/trans main characters is queerer. If we limit the field to children’s cartoons, it still comes in far behind Steven Universe. You know, the show whose first-season closing musical number was “us two major female characters are a couple, in a stable relationship, and it’s great.”

I’d put it on the level of Adventures with Tip & Oh, which has recurring alien characters who are cis-but-nonbinary, and that episode where Oh warns against “misgendering” the not-a-she Boov he goes on a date with. A show where queer stuff isn’t a major theme, but comes up in non-subtexty ways a few times that are genuinely nice.

(Fun fact: search terms that have led people to this blog include “what is krunkles gender on home” and “is sharzod trans” and “home lgbt boov.” Apparently it comes up just enough to confuse people.)

And, to be totally fair, Danger & Eggs still only has one season.

I can see it having the potential to claim the LGBT+ content cartoon throne. Upgrade the trans girl to a main character in s2 and have her talk about trans-specific issues…give any of the recurring human characters a recurring same-sex partner (personally, I’m rooting for the Mayor to have a wife)…and it could handily rocket past Tip & Oh. A few more seasons on that trajectory and it could even overtake SU.

(My wild hope is “future season reveals D.D. actually was a trans girl all along.” She’s a great, well-developed, delightful character, and would make an amazing First Trans Lead In A Chldren’s Show.)

But the show’s not there yet. And people are doing it a disservice to pretend that it is.

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