We'll be doing something a little different, today. Instead of talking about whatever little things I noticed or favorite/least favorite scenes (let's face it, this episode's been analyzed to death already, and it only aired two days ago), I'm just going to talk about how I felt about it, and what, if anything, there is to take away from it going forward. My thoughts, below the break.
Like a lot of people, I wasn't sure what to hope for going in. I mean, finding out more about the background ponies sounds pretty neat... but all indications were that this was going to be a BIG IMPORTANT EPISODE (#100, dontcha know), and the show-writers' track record with BIEs is, to put it charitably, mixed.
On viewing? I enjoyed it. I was entertained. I laughed a bunch, enjoyed some of the references, didn't cringe the whole way through... the show got a positive reaction from me.
But I think it's important to add that it wasn't the kind of positive reaction I usually derive from the show. For me, the best episodes of FiM provide a wholesome, day-brightening sort of refreshment which helps reaffirm an essential optimism about the world. Slice of Life, by contrast, offered up a cynical, smugly self-aware dose of winking humor, one in which my entertainment felt deadening rather than affirming. Watching this episode was not unlike watching [insert your favorite drama-filled reality TV show]; you enjoy it, but even if it's not, strictly speaking, a guilty pleasure, there's an unavoidable sense of cheapening which clings to you as a viewer--as a willing, viewing participant in the proceedings.
The obvious question, then, is why. Why does this feel so, for lack of a better word, dirty? I think the answer lies in what the show's writers are telling us with this episode. And what I heard, loud and clear, was "We don't care about this show."
Not in a malicious way, nor even as a "take that" to those who take the show more seriously. But I think the very clear message was "we, the writers, feel perfectly comfortable putting our time into in-jokes, writing fandom-jostling entendres, and coming up with referential humor not in addition to, but at the expense of the quality or even coherence of the story we're nominally supposed to be telling." Because let's face it, the "story" in this episode was nonsensical. The donkeys are panicking because nothing is ready for their wedding today, enlist backup-Twi to help... and then she disappears and everything resolves without her. Steven shows up (loved it!), sets up a clear divide between the marriage and the wedding... and that dichotomy is never touched on again, even tangentially. A changeling shows up at the party, and even just one line of throwaway dialogue could have explained his presence... but no doubt that wouldn't have been as funny as the silent visual gag, so nothing doing.
That changeling felt like a metaphor for the whole episode. Sure, we can all come up with reasons why there's one changeling child(?) at the wedding--the feature box has had three come through already. But it only makes sense if you build some headcanon around it; based solely on the show to date, it's incomprehensible, and requires the audience to construct an explanation (/excuse) for its presence. That's where "we don't care about this show" comes into things; this episode feels to me like an unambiguous statement by the show-writers that making things make sense is not their job--it's a function of the fandom.
There are a lot of shows like that, of course. Everyone's bringing up The Simpsons, who also once did a "background character episode," and who've thrived for decades on taking themselves as seriously as any given joke demanded. That hasn't been FiM's MO to date, though; this is a show that's been big on worldbuilding and consistent lore (as consistent as multiple scriptwriters and constant turnover can make it, anyway), and about creating Equestria as a full-blown secondary reality. Slice of Life sure feels like a repudiation of that kind of storytelling, and a move toward a more Simpsons-esque freeform vehicle for comedy.
I really hope that's not the case, because the uncynical, expansive tone of FiM is what sets it apart from other shows for me. There are lots of shows on TV that can get me to laugh--but there aren't a lot that can put a smile on my face for an entire day. FiM can, but this episode didn't.