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Frank Beddor
Jared Hoffman
May 3, 2024

“Percy Jackson” and “Shogun”: Disney and Hulu Have Gone Down the Rabbit Hole

If you have been outside in Los Angeles within the past couple of months you may have noticed billboards advertising that Hulu is on Disney Plus. The ads are quite simple and smart, they consist of a Disney quote that in some way is related to a character from a show on Hulu along with a picture of said character. Some of them are quite good like this one. Where the full title of the show helps complete the quote. Like this ad using a song from The Jungle Book and The Bear (Fun fact: The Jungle Book character who delivers that line/lyric is actually a bear).

Disney Plus and Hulu billboard featuring Jeremy Allen White as Carmy Berzatto from the Hulu comedy-drama series "The Bear".

Some of them are okay. This Lilo and StitchFamily Guy ad isn’t the best but it gets the point across:

Disney Plus and Hulu billboard featuring Peter Griffin from the Fox animated comedy series "Family Guy".

And some of them feel like they really ran out of ideas. I mean Darth Vader’s quote from Star Wars and American Dad relate enough, I guess, but it feels like a rough draft that somehow ended up getting approved. I imagine some Disney exec being like, “We need a Star Wars quote on the ad to remind people we own everything. I don’t care if it actually is a good ad.”

Disney Plus and Hulu billboard featuring Stan Smith and Klaus Heisler from the TBS animated comedy series "American Dad".

But there was one that inspired this whole blog, involving the cast of Only Murders in the Building, and, you guessed it, an Alice in Wonderland quote:

Disney Plus and Hulu billboard featuring Martin Short, Selena Gomez, and Steve Martin from the Hulu mystery comedy-drama series "Only Murders in the Building".

So, what am I getting at here? Why did I feel the need to write a whole blog about ads? Well, I didn’t. But I’ll be honest, I’m struggling with coming up with a segue to my main point here…so…something something, down the rabbit hole of the television renaissance. Yeah, that works.

Television has been pretty awesome recently. I mean, these four billboards are all shows I watch or have watched in the past. Family Guy is a staple of adult animation. It is a member of the holy trinity, which as we all know is: The Simpsons, South Park, and Family Guy. Seth McFarlane’s other hit show American Dad is, in my opinion, his best show to date. I almost named my cat after Roger the costume-wearing alien who lives in their attic but my girlfriend was worried since Roger is not a good “person”, my cat would be bad. We settled on naming him Archer, after the world’s greatest secret agent Archer, from the FX series Archer. She agreed on the name since she had never watched the show.

Still image from the FXX animated comedy series "Archer", featuring Sterling Archer holding his finger up and drinking from a liquor bottle.

Of the live-action shows featured in the ads, as an ex-line cook with a panic disorder, The Bear really does nail the mayhem of a kitchen and the insane people destroying their bodies to make the delicious food we all love. I genuinely love this show. My only critique is, every now and then, it becomes a montage of Chicago intercut with food porn. Only Murders in the Building is a fantastic spin on a whodunit starring two comedy gods, Steve Martin and Martin Short.

While I could make the argument that all these shows have aspects of Alice sprinkled throughout them, I’ve got something better for you. Not just one Disney Plus/Hulu show, but two, truly do parallel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The first is Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the show based on the extremely popular young adult fiction series of the same name. The second show is a bit out of left field, but trust me, it’s got Alice in its DNA. Before you read what it is, I want to give you a second to guess. That is, of course, if this blog’s title does not give away what the surprise is. Okay, you got one? Good. You’re wrong, it’s Shogun. While you ponder on this, I’m going to talk about Percy Jackson.

Still image of Walker Scobell as Percy Jackson holding a sword, from the Disney Plus fantasy series "Percy Jackson and the Olympians", based on the book series of the same name by Rick Riordan.

The fantasy series follows twelve-year-old Percy Jackson, who has always struggled to fit in and learns the reason for his inability to integrate into twelve-year-old society is that while his mother is a normal human, his father is the Greek god Poseidon. Alright, so what does that have to do with Alice? Well, Percy, like Alice is thrown into a new world, one with unfamiliar and sometimes absurd rules that he must learn. Along with this, there are fantastical creatures and trials he must overcome. Gods are trying to kill him, but since Greek gods are more like a giant royal family on top of a mountain, one could make the argument that it’s like Alice’s trial with the Red Queen screaming, “Off with her head!” At the show’s beginning, Percy follows Pegasus to the roof of his school, which is not dissimilar to Alice following the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole.

Alright, now let’s get after Shogun. First off, let me just say, this show is amazing. It is truly peak television. It’s a fictional story based on historical events that happened in 1600s Japan. The show was developed in 2015 but came out just this year. While I could make a point about studios not jumping on this sooner and wasting their time, I will instead mention that if this is the direction we are headed regarding television, we’re in pretty good shape.

Still image of Cosmo Jarvis as Anjin/John Blackthorne, from the Hulu historical drama miniseries "Shogun".

Shogun follows John Blackthorne, an English pilot (navigator) of a ship who ends up stranded in Japan. In this new world, John ends up being a bargaining chip/key for success between the five political rivals who are sharing power until the underage emperor reaches sixteen. Besides being about an English person, at first glance, this show does not share a lot with Alice. But when you truly dive in, there are many parallels. The most obvious is a person ending up in a new world with completely different rules and practices. John does not speak Japanese, leading to many times when he is confused as to why something is happening. In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice has to accept that something is happening because it is simply the way it is done in Wonderland. Due to John being taken prisoner and used as a bargaining chip, there are many moments where he has no choice but to do what his captors/hosts instruct him to do. For many portions of the show, he is just along for the ride. Forced to experience the good and the bad of a new culture he truly knows nothing about, like Alice who, every now and then, just must do as she is told. When she questions what is happening or tries to do things as she has been taught, there are consequences, such as with the Red Queen.

Another thing that is not a parallel per-say but I do want to point out is that Alice has to worry about the threat of decapitation from the Red Queen. Many of the people in early 17th century Japan also had to worry about losing their heads. I think in the first episode of Shogun alone, three people are decapitated. One of which being from seppuku. The biggest difference in character between John and Alice is that John wants to get home to England almost immediately, whereas Alice wants to go home at the end. I guess that’s not the biggest difference between the two characters. We could start with the basic difference of John being a grown man whereas Alice is a young girl… Look, all I’m trying to say here is that Lewis Carroll’s writing has influenced modern storytelling so much that it’s almost imperceivable anymore. I don’t think the original writers of Shogun even realized there are remnants of Alice sprinkled throughout their series. Same with Rick Riordan when he wrote the Percy Jackson series. Alice is just modern storytelling. It was the first to start these tropes and I don’t think we will ever see them go away because, as you can see, the tropes seem to be a winning formula.

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Jared Hoffman graduated from the American Film Institute with a degree in screenwriting. A Los Angeles native, his brand of comedy is satire stemming from the many different personalities and egos he has encountered throughout his life. As a lover of all things comedy, Jared is always working out new material and trying to make those around him laugh. His therapist claims this is a coping mechanism, but what does she know?

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