Saturday, August 19, 2023

Us Weirdos Have To Stick Together

For the final day of Blaugust's Creator Appreciation Week, I want to talk about two things: firstly, a TV show I've just finished watching and secondly, the website where I watched it. The show is The Owl House and the website is The Owl Club.

Regular readers may remember I wrote about The Owl House back in July, when I went into some detail about how I was watching it. It was streaming on Disney+ but I didn't want to subscribe at that time. I wanted to buy it on DVD but it wasn't available. 

In the end, I found the first two seasons at the Internet Archive and that's where I watched Season One. I expressed some surprise that offering TV shows, while they were still available on streaming services, would be part of their remit or even legal. It turns out it may be neither. 

Only yesterday I read a piece about the music industry, as represented by megacorps Sony, UMG and Capitol, suing the Archive over copyright, something the big publishing houses have already done. I suspect there's only going to be one winner in that fight.

The iniquity of copyright is a whole, other post so let's set it aside for now. I only mention it because almost immediately after I finished Season One of The Owl House, both it and Season Two were removed from the Internet Archive with the following explanation:

This item is no longer available.

Items may be taken down for various reasons, including by decision of the uploader or due to a violation of our Terms of Use.

I thought that was going to be it for my time with Luz and her friends, at least until I was ready to subscribe to Disney+. something that will eventually happen, I'm sure. Happily, that turned out not to be the case.

I can't now recall just how I came across The Owl Club. I might have been googling to see if the show was available somewhere else or it might just have appered in a link when I was reading about it. However it happened, it was a lucky break.

I'm not exactly clear on just what The Owl Club is, let alone who operates it, other than it seems to exist purely to make the show available to fans, particularly Spanish-speaking fans. There's a Patreon and a page on the website explaining other ways to contribute to keep the project going, which includes telling everyone about it, using the hashtag #SaveTheOwlClub and showing the Owl Club watermark in images taken from the site.

I'm taking it on trust that this is a genuine, fan project, created and run by people who just love the show. It's certainly very professionally made and presented. Watching Seasons Two and Three there went a lot more smoothly than watching Season One at the Archive. Just like watching a regular streaming service.

How long it will stay up is another matter. I imagine one day either the cost of keeping the club going will become too much or, ironically, success in raising funds by raising the profile will draw the attention of lawyers. Until that unhappy day, let's celebrate The Owl Club and the people who made it happen.

So much for the platform. What about the show?

Oh, it's wonderful. It's everything people say it is. 

  • " of Disney’s best animated series in recent years, if not ever" - Gizmodo 
  • "The Owl House is going to be one of those shows people talk about for years to come." - Starburst

If you decide to give it a try - and you should - then be aware it takes a while to get going. The first season, particularly the first half, doesn't feel like much more than a pretty good fantasy show for tweens and young teens. 

It takes a good while for the central narrative to establish itself, with each episode feeling quite individuated. It also very much revolves around the concerns and conceits of high school students, albeit demonic ones. 

Those last two paragraphs, you'll notice, could do stand in work as a description of the first season of Buffy. It's an appropriate comparison. Just as Buffy grew from a monster-of-the-week comedy-drama into a complex, disturbing, challenging exploration of grief, growth and redemption, so the Owl House quickly develops its own, unique chiaroscuro of ecstasy and despair. 

Of the three seasons, I found the second the most intense and involving but the third, structured as three 45-50 minute specials and written in the knowledge the show would not be renewed, is probably the most satisfying. To begin at the end, as with Titans, it's amazing just how much difference it makes to the cancellation of a show when the writers have time to prepare for it.

Still, to cut off a show with such potential in its absolute prime has to be counted a tragedy. To cite Buffy again, by the end of Season Three that show was just begining to hit its stride. So was The Owl House. 

Buffy, of course, didn't end when the show did. The story continued in a long run of really excellent comics. I hope some similar future exists for The Owl House. It may. Characters and concepts as strong as these rarely disappear forever.

The show's strength doesn't reside only in the well-realised and consistent characterisation or the frequently-cited and exceptionally welcome social messaging. A big part of the show's impact comes from the unusually detailed and sustained world-building. 

Apart from the first episode of Season Three, which takes place in the human realm (Or Earth, as we call it.) every episode is set primarily in The Boiling Isles. Built on the bones of a Titan, the Boiling Isles are home to an indescribable mix of weird and wonderful creatures, from Tinella (Basically a nose on legs.) to Barcus (Fonzie as a dog.)

The level of detail is mindbending. Every scene is literally playing blink-and-you-missed-it. It's the kind of show where you want to go back and watch it in freeze-frame, an absolute visual delight.

The writing is sharp, funny and poignant and the voice acting is up to bringing out every nuance. What's more, you hear the characters change and grow, not just as they age but also as they assimilate and process experiences both typical of any teenager and exclusive to a fantasy world.

In short, there's pretty much nothing about The Owl House I don't love except the fact that it's over. As with all great TV shows, it's a collaborative enterprise, so picking out individuals for particular praise doesn't always feel appropriate. Still, it's clear from everything I've read about the show that it wouldn't exist in its precise form were it not for the inspiration and influence of creator and showrunner, Dana Terrace.

According to an interview she gave to Vanity Fair, Dana was determined not to compromise her vision for The Owl House, even though it was deemed inappropriate by her bosses and could have cost her her job:

“I was sat down in a conference room and told that I could not, by any means, have any kind of gay storyline among the main characters. I let myself get mad, to absolutely blow up, and storm out of the room. Life is short and I don’t have time for cowardice, I was ready to move on to greener pastures if need be. The stubbornness paid off and a week or two later I was given the all-clear. Luckily, the executives I directly work with have given me nothing but support.”

The unfortunate corollary seems to have been that by making a show that broke with the conventions of the genre within which she was working to such a marked degree, Dana attracted an audience outside the remit of the channel on which it was being shown. Supposedly the main reason for the cancellation was that too many adults tuned in to watch it.

At least by watching it on Internet Archive and The Owl Club I can say I wasn't one of them so my conscience is clear! If you want to watch it, though, the damage has already been done, so go ahead and watch it on Disney+ or Apple TV or even YouTube, since for some reason the whole of Season Three is available for free on Disney's YouTube channel as a two-and-a-half hour movie.

I'm holding out for the DVD box set. I want a copy to keep.


  1. I had a feeling this show was something more once I saw the first episode at Hexside. It was notable to me that Willow worries about getting in trouble with the principal, and while she does, he's also delighted by her magical ability and moves her into a track more suited to her skills, because contrary to how it may seem to a young kid, teachers actually care about their well-being. Also, I thought it was interesting that while Amity's introduction was as a bit of a bully, she was right to call out Luz's deception - basically it showed me that this show wasn't going to be a bunch of clichés but that the characters had a lot of depth.

    Unlike you however, I found season three a bit disappointing... not in any way bad, but for example, seeing the montage of the kids getting used to the human realm in the first episode, I couldn't help but feel a bit wistful for how almost every scene in that probably could've been a fun episode of its own...

    1. After I finished the post I watched a "What Happened Next" video on YouTube, most of which was culled from a livestream Dana Terrace did right after the show ended. She said they found out the show wasn't getting a third season when they were in the middle of the second (I think it was split into S2 A + B with a break in the middle). At that time they had plots prepared to go all through the second and third season so they had to rewrite the second half of Season 2 and come up with a whole, new way to do Season 3 in a fraction of the length.

      She didn't go into detail but it's pretty obvious they would have gone much slower if they'd been able. Under the circumstances, I think the compromises they made worked better than anyone could have hoped. She also mentioned that since Disney own the IP she can't do anything more with The Owl House unless they're interested, which I think is a lot different to Buffy, where there were al kinds of spin-offs that had nothing to do with whichever network originally commissioned it. Disney has a history of revisiting the IPs it owns repeatedly, though, so I would think there will be something new in time. Whether it'll live up to the first iteration is another question.

  2. "Supposedly the main reason for the cancellation was that too many adults tuned in to watch it."

    OK I need to hear more about this because it makes no sense to me. Too many of the people actually paying for Disney+ were watching, so they cancelled it?


Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide