Last week, we dissected Bobert's character flaws, an issue that is relatively easy to address given how generally agreeable we all are in terms of his issues. This week, though, we have Miss Simian, a character that is purposely designed as irritating. It's not a matter of her attributes being accidental, but my issues stem from a matter of the sheer intensity of it. That's not to say that her personality is pushed "too far," necessarily, but she tends to cross the line between being a necessary and unnecessary evil on a few too many accounts.
The Actual Start of the Article
I want to first clarify that I don't think Miss Simian is a bad character all the way through. I understand her purpose in the show as a constant foil to Gumball and his classmates. She only furthers the long-standing tradition of the archetypal student-teacher relation. The big issue is that she has no defined personality aside from being unabashedly sadistic.
I can at least partially blame that on the rather vanilla characterization of Gumball. Other shows where the main character and a teacher are at odds with themselves usually have something more conceptually off-the-wall as to shape their personality. Mrs. Puff, for instance, is a counter to Spongebob's radiating optimism by being a tired, pitifully disapproving figure who would rather have a day off than put up with her perpetually less-than-stellar student. Mr. Crocker (from The Fairly Oddparents - that show's still going?), on the other hand, is unhinged and insane, with that facet of his personality being directly tied to our protagonist, Timmy, and his possession of fairies.
In TAWOG, Gumball doesn't have any broad personality traits that can shape Miss Simian into having any specific nuance aside from being a grating character, and that lack of definition often leaves her appearances feeling quite lacking.
I've mentioned it before, but the only times I've truly found her to be a compelling character are when she's paired with Principal Brown or when she's thrust into such an insane position that it forces some interesting narrative out. In terms of the latter, the greatest examples I can think of are "The Joy" and "The Grades."
The former episode works by virtue of not having Miss Simian do any of the heavy-lifting despite the semblance that she is. The whole gist of the episode is the zombification of the entire school, and as such, she serves merely as the unfortunate victim trying to avoid it instead of the driving force. While the character doesn't change particularly much because of that, there's enough going on around her that the episode works regardless of her. Graciously, though, every instance where she shines through actually works - her mimicry of the zombified students prompting a confused attempt to respond to Sussie was an ace little moment, as was her inability to sing out the melody of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" in her dying moments.
While "The Joy" works largely out of the atmosphere it creates, "The Grades" actually finds proper integration of the character, though at the requirement of some much-needed character reform. What makes the episode work is the fact that it shows Miss Simian actually has some heart behind her seemingly cruel inhibitions, and while it mainly comes out of her career being at stake, the fact that she's willing to get on Team Gumball, combined with the two actually working on the same level (instead of one dominating the other in the episode's proceedings) leads to some nice development in both characters. It's the same frenetic qualities of the character, though here, they are being reapplied in a way that's beneficial and not an impediment to progression. For once, she's not the transgressor, and because of that, the episode works beautifully.Also important to "The Grades," though, was the interplay between Miss Simian and Principal Brown. Perhaps it's out of a natural predisposition to cling onto that lovely British deadpan, but Brown's a perfect character in his own right; combining that with Miss Simian as almost a polar opposite (one's dignified but quietly pathetic while the other's Miss Simian) allows for some great comedic tension between the two. For the lack of a better term, and I do apologize, it's not like they're busting their balls either. They're a strange romantic pairing, and while the romancing has been considerably subdued as a gag since earlier seasons, that's still a factor into how the two characters work off of one another.
In fact, much of the character's humor comes from her interplay with the students and how they respond to it. She's not an instinctively funny character most of the time, instead relying on other characters to deliver the second half of the punchlines that her dialogue sets up. It's an important role to play, certainly, but it's not a particularly exciting one if the goal is to make a character memorable.
In the end, the most quintessential feature is just how downright grating she is, a trait that reigns supreme more often than not. The issue is that, however many angles the show takes in showing the extent of her (an aspect that Bobert was lacking), her performance just doesn't have a nice ebb and flow to it. There's nothing surprising about her and her mannerisms, and because of that, there's nothing surprising about anything she does. It's important to have a character that is consistent, sure, but they also have to have an interesting hook, something that Miss Simian so pitifully lacks. Instead, every appearance where she serves a smaller purpose suffers from an overwhelming sense of "same old," and her larger appearances, unless showing her to be dynamic (which I have to at least accredit her for being capable of), never seem to get over that stigma either.
There's not easy fix aside from trial-and-error: the character works at maximum efficiency by virtue of the hilarity of the scenario she's put in, relying on that aspect to mingle with her personality traits. If that falls through, then at best, the episode will be easy to stomach but generally drab ( e.g. "The Apology") and at worst, the episode would be unbearable, though thankfully that hasn't been an issue yet. Your move, show.
Also, just to put it out there, I got some constructive criticism a while back regarding my contestable defense way back in the article on "The Hero," so I'm going to work on making my arguments more adamant. Please, if you notice any hindrance in what I'm writing, call me out on it. I don't care if people think you're victimizing me or anything like that because it genuinely helps; I can't improve what I'm doing if people don't object to what I'm doing poorly. The complaint I got was that I acknowledged the article was bad without technically conceding, which is an issue that I already had with the article, though the fact that it was brought to my attention that I wasn't simply being overly-critical about myself (as I am naturally wont to be) is a bit eye-opening, though in a good way.
At the very least, we'll just have to see how the next collab's gonna go. It's already kind of underway, so... let's just see how it works out in the end, I guess!