Martha Speaks is an animated educational series on PBS Kids adapted from a series of books of the same name by author Susan Meddaugh. Martha is an ordinary dog but, well, let's just let the show opening theme explain the premise:
Martha was an average dog. She went
"Bark" And- "Woof" And- "Grrrrrr"
But when she ate some alphabet soup,
then what happened was bizarre.
Narrator: On the way to Martha's stomach, the letters lost their way. They traveled to her brain and now-
She's got a lot to say. Now she speaks.
Martha: How now brown cow?
Martha speaks. Yeah, she speaks and speaks and speaks and speaks and speaks...
An educational show disguised as a kids cartoon (not that the network affiliation is fooling anyone), it's probably one of the better kids shows currently on TV, as it doesn't treat the viewers like idiots and actually has quite complex plots for a kids show.
This show provides examples of
Absurdly Spacious Sewer: In "Verb Dog, When Action Calls!", Martha and Dr. R. try to hide in one of these, but it doesn't work for long.
Accidental Misnaming: In "Martha's Life of Crime," Kazuo calls a mean woman who comes into the animal shelter looking to adopt Martha "Mrs. Crumblebum." Her name is actually Mrs. Bumblecrumb. Later, a man that she's trying to fence a stolen baseball to calls her "Stumblebum." Finally, the police officer that arrests her calls her "Fumblethumb" and she laments that she wishes someone would get it right.
Adaptation Expansion / Adaptation Displacement: A couple of the early stories from the show are almost note-for-note like the original books on which they are based. Additionally, even though this show is still relatively new, it has probably already displaced the original books by Meddaugh in terms of attention received.
Blondes are Evil: Averted in one point, in "Martha's Steamed!", while looking for the owner of the dog that was left in the car on a hot day, a bulky blond guy heads to the store where Helen and Martha are waiting. Martha says he looks like the type of guy who would make his dog suffer. Martha glares at him as he walks up to her, then he calls her "poor poochie" for being outside on a hot day.
Broken Aesop: At the end of "Martha's Steamed!", Helen asks Martha if she learned something from all. Martha believes it's you couldn't jump to conclusions and a very hot dog can get very thirsty. Helen says the lesson was you shouldn't go eat food everywhere you see because it will lead to trouble. Martha, of course, misses the point and tries to reach for something in a trash can, only to fall in.
Martha: Trouble? Eating is no trouble at all. (falls into the trash can) Uh, help!
Another episode introduces the character of Bob (an Angry Guard Dog with the habit of chasing after and/or barking at everything in sight). Bob attacks Martha and Helen throughout the episode while Bob's owner calls him a "bad dog". Then, at the end of the episode, Bob's owner starts calling him a "good dog" and Bob suddenly starts acting nice. Now, this could've been a good lesson about how calling someone names can make them angry and take out their anger on others. Just one tiny little problem. Bob was never shown being nice throughout the entire episode. Not once.
Cats Are Mean: Nelson is something of an Evil Genius who plots ways to get Martha in trouble, leaving her to defend her innocence. Martha is invariably vindicated by the end of the episode.
Hilariously lampshaded in one episode where T.D. comes up with a ludicrously complicated and unlikely scheme to explain how Nelson got into a house and dumped a birthday cake off the table to frame Martha. At the end of the episode, Nelson is seen with an item identical to one from T.D.'s story.
Also subverted for an Aesop in one episode were Martha expects a kitten to be mean, but ultimately finds out it's nice and befriends it, even being heartbroken when it leaves (then overjoyed to find out she can visit it whenever she wants).
Chekhov's Gun: In "Dogs in Space," T.D. attempts to explore space using a jetpack for his report, but the jetpack takes off without him due to T.D. forgetting to strap on. At the end of the episode, a jetpack crashes nearby the school, allowing T.D. to get a higher grade on his assignment.
In "Martha Gets Spooked", Mrs. Parker mentioned the "pickle incident" (from the episode "Martha's Pickle").
In "Ice Scream", the picture book "Blue Mangoes" is missing its last page. In "Milo's Reading Buddy" T.D. comes across a copy of the book and proceeds to recap the plot of "Ice Scream" to Milo. In "Martha the Weather Dog", Truman finds the missing page under his bed.
In "Martha's No Dummy", Helen mentions the time when Otis and Pablum made a fake talent show to steal Martha in "Martha's Got Talent".
In "Martha Bakes", Mrs. Parker mentions the events from "Martha Gets Spooked".
In "The Cheating Chum Caper", Helen mentions the singing telegram who's really a crook. Carolina also mentioned the "steak tree" T.D. tried to grow.
In "Too Many Marthas", one of the members of the fundraising committee mentions Martha's radio show in "Martha Gives Advice".
Corrupt Corporate Executive: Not exactly, but: Granny Flo, the owner of the soup company that makes Martha's alphabet soup decides to cut costs by removing half the letters from her soup, which leaves Martha only able to speak words using those letters. They convince Granny Flo to put the letters back in and Martha gets better.
Death Glare: Martha gives one to Billy Collins, thinking he's an impostor.
Disqualification-Induced Victory: In the episode "Wagstaff Races", the neighborhood kids enter a green go-kart race. T.D. and Alice's wind-powered go-kart places just behind Ronald and Reginald, whose go-kart appears to be powered by a swimming goldfish, and who have been sabotaging the other racers' go-karts. This isn't what disqualifies them, though. What does disqualify them is that their car is revealed to be a disguised gas-powered lawnmower when they crash into a lamp post after arguing over who gets to drive the victory lap. T.D. and Alice win the trophy as a result.
Everyone Has Standards: Ronald acquires a robot dog named Dynamo and although she initially dismisses Dynamo as nothing, Martha soon becomes envious and wants to get rid of Dynamo. But when she overhears Ronald's intent to get rid of Dynamo when he's bored with it, Martha is horrified, arguing that he shouldn't abandon his pet.
Even Evil Has Standards: Nelson, who had formed an Enemy Mine union with Martha to get rid of Dynamo, is also disturbed by Ronald's willingness to get rid of Dynamo.
Everythings Better With Llamas: In "Here's Martha!", Martha asks her talk show audience if they loved llamas to assure a llama who heard camels were better than llamas. The audience responds enthusiastically.
In "What's Bothering Bob", Truman has a handheld talking dictionary that gives definitions to words that people say aloud. One of the characters says "Bob has gone nuts!" and the device proceeds to give various definitions of the word nut. The first is "a seed borne within a fruit", the second was "a metal piece with a threaded hole", the third was "an expression used to display sadness (Aw Nuts!). It attempts to give a fourth definition, but the kids tell Truman to turn it off. He can't turn it off, because it's stuck, but he does place his hand over the speaker preventing the audience from hearing what was stated.
In the story in which Martha is saying the opposite of what she means, Martha and Helen find Truman and T.D. at a pie shop, smelling pies. One of them states that "it costs money to eat, but inhaling is nearly as good, and it's free."
In that same episode, she said Nelson "Drop down from heaven". Care to guess what she really was trying to say?
"Hades" was mentioned in one episode. The episode was about Greek mythology, so there is context, but it's still a little shocking.
In one episode, Helen is going to see a movie that has "curse" on the title. Martha is worried Helen would get in trouble seeing a movie with "bad words" in it.
In "Martha Blah Blah", Martha, who was losing her ability to speak due to less letters in the alphabet soup, tries to say "Hello Grandma Lucille. How's it going?". It came out as "o G u o go g", and everyone gasped.
The Ghost: TD's sister is mentioned in "Truman's Brother". He forgot because she's in college.
T.D.: I can't remember every little detail.
Gratuitous Spanish: Carolina uses some Spanish words and phrases here. Helen's mom does this as well, but much less frequently.
Ingesting Knowledge: The show's premise. Aside from ordinary Alphabet Soup, Martha has also eaten Spanish Alphabet Soup to speak Spanish. She also once ate a paper of Spy Speak definitions, which caused her to talk in code.
Martha also (inadvertently) speaks Polish in one episode, thanks to Otis Weaselgraft sneaking Polish Alphabet Soup into her bowl.
Ironic Echo: In "Martha's Thanksgiving, Part 1", Carolina tells Helen about how she doesn't want to be partners with a girl. Later, in a flashback, Carolina says the exact same line. In "Part 2", she complains about this again.
Inspector Javert: The security guard in "Martha Runs the Store" who is an unfortunate mix of this and Lawful Stupid, especially in how he continually accuses two boys for stuff they didn't do. Somewhat justified in that it's shown he's still learning how to be a security guard from DVD courses, but is still pretty inept.
Jerk Ass: Mr. Sterns (to a lesser extent) and Eulah Demson (extremely).
Lampshade Hanging: In "Martha's Pickles", Truman points out how often the hero of the movie defines words.
In "Que Pasa, Martha?", T.D. thought of an idea to help Alice by giving Martha Mexican soup to speak Spanish, then Alice would record Martha when she repeats what Alice said. Alice asked why didn't T.D. use it himself, he never realized that.
Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: and Ripped from the Headlines: One whole episode revolves around every dog in Martha's town wanting to be Obama's family dog. While the president portrayed is black and uses Obama's speech patterns, Obama's name is never used.
The episode when they compete in a talent show to meet Ryan Oceancrest and appear on International Icon.
Meganekko: Alice Boxwood, Mrs. Boxwood, and Mrs. Clusky.
Helen as her favorite book character Curious Crystal, complete with Girlish Pigtails.
Merchandise-Driven: Averted. Aside from the books, there's only two Martha plush designs (a beanie, and a regular plush), and none of them talk.
Parodied in one episode's "My Fluffy Puppy" Imagine Spot where Carolina argues all successful kid's show are like this.
Mind Control: When The Perfect Pup obedience school comes to town and starts training dogs to behave perfectly, Martha gets suspicious that it's working too well. She discovers that the school using collars with mind-control devices installed to make the dogs obey every order their owner gives them.
The More You Know: Appropriately for an educational show, before and after each episode members of the cast (including the Narrator) talk about the vocabulary words that will be or had been used in the episode.
In season two, the show started displaying key words on-screen as those words were being defined. It was a bit distracting, but probably not a bad idea, as it helps visual learners and allows viewers to not only learn the definition of the word, but see how it looks in print. As of season four, however, the on-screen word display was discontinued without explanation.
Nightmare Fuel: In an in-universe example, Baby Jake got scared when Martha was wearing a doggy cone to prevent her from scratching her ear... Until his older sister's friend told him a story about Martha as a space dog that went to a fake moon and battled Dr. 2 arms and his cleaning robot The actual show averts this for the most part. Well, minus the giant clown head attempt in the aforementioned episode.
Out-of-Character Moment: TD in "Dinosaurs in Trouble!". He became unhappy after finding out Truman and Milo wanting to exclude him from their project. It made Jake cry seeing an unhappy TD.
Parental Bonus: There are more than a few subtle jokes that only the grown-ups will get.
Planet of Steves: In "Dogs From Space," Martha dreams of a planet occupied nothing but Marthas.
Plot-Relevant Age-Up: Skits, who is first shown as a puppy but then suddenly becomes a full grown dog upon Martha's command.
Pounds Are Animal Prisons: Averted in "Ain't Nuthin' But a Pound Dog" in that it actually provides a fairly realistic portrayal of an animal shelter— it's not an easy life, but it's not "a smelly, damp concrete prison with no food or water" either.
Recurring Extra: A married couple that wears fishing hats, cargo shorts, and sandals.
Ripped from the Headlines: A story in which Helen and Martha discover a dog locked in a car on a hot day. Unfortunately very much Truth in Television, although there are many dogs like this who sadly perish before anyone can find them. The episode featured a non-malicious variant, however. The dog in question was trying to sneak a treat and got locked in the car only because the owner of the car didn't know he was there.
The Rival: Carolina's best friend Tiffany Blatsky.
Rule of Cool: T.D.'s last-ditch reason for allowing aliens to be included in a western-themed movie. It works.
Running Gag: Martha has many dream jobs. She first dream about them ever since he first heard of them.
You can't forget Martha's "Hey Joe, whaddya know?" to which the person responds, "My name's not Joe." Nobody in the Martha Speaks universe has the name of Joe.
In one episode, a talking dog says this to William Shakespeare (played by TD), and he responds "My name's not Joe. It's Will." In an episode about Greek myth, Echo the nymph (Martha) says "Hey Juno, whaddya know?", and Hera (Helen) angrily responds "My name's not Juno!"
People being surprised to see Martha talk. Also, those who know her personally are confused by other people who think they're joking around.
Sadly Mythtaken: The episode "Myth Me?" removes the endings of the myths, even in the case of Prometheus, which had a happy ending.
Secret Identity: When Martha gets to be host of a call-in radio advice show, she starts giving some strange advice to the callers. She becomes extraordinarily popular and everyone finds themselves extremely happy by following her advice, until at her first live appearance, everyone finds out she's a dog and everyone promptly loses interest in her and her advice. [There is probably a better trope for this]
Weather lady: And this just in, Wagstaff City schools are— (a shot of Wagstaff City) Kids:YAAAAAAAAYYY!!!!
Smelly Skunk: In the Pleasant/Unpleasant segment of the show, Martha is explaining things that are Pleasant and Unpleasant, getting sprayed by a skunk is one of the unpleasant things. Being Martha, she goes onto describe getting a bath after being sprayed by a skunk as even more unpleasant. Helen agrees.
Speaks Fluent Animal: Martha is also able to talk to other animals (except for monkeys). Some of the other animals are able to speak certain animal languages.
Spoof Aesop: As already described, in "Martha's Steamed," there was a dog who got locked in a car by accident because it was trying to sneak a snack, but the owner of the car was accused of doing it on purpose. At the end of the story, Helen asks Martha if she learned anything and Martha says that it's to not jump to conclusions. Helen, however, suggests that the Aesop of the story is to not go digging everywhere for food, which Martha promptly ignores and starts eating out of a garbage bin.
Superhero Episode: In a Continuity Nod to "Martha's Show", the episode of "Return of the Bookbots" revolves around one of the show ideas discussed before. "Verb Dog, When Action Calls" is another superhero episode.
Tongue Twister: Martha shows she's good at saying these in "Martha's Got Talent".
Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Despite the fact that Martha is the only known talking dog in her world, in general, nobody seems freaked by it. The most common reaction to her talking is no reaction, though sometimes people may be mildly surprised, then simply decide to just go with it. In "Ain't Nuthin' But a Pound Dog," Kazuo of the animal shelter thinks that he's having a joke played on him when Martha's dad calls up asking if a talking dog has been taken into the animal shelter, but when he actually does finally hear Martha talk, he just takes it in stride. Oh, and you would think that if there were a talking dog in town, everyone would know about it, but apparently not.
Lampshaded in an episode where Martha goes to see a famous television dog visiting the town.
Random Child: "WOW! A TALKING DOG!"
Martha (not wanting to take the attention off the famous dog): "Yeah. But, this one's ON TV!!"
Another Random Child: "Yeah, she's got a point"
Everyone looks back at the famous dog.
However, the two recurring villains in the show, Otis Weaselgraft and Pablum, constantly make plans to kidnap her to make money off of her, so at least its an interesting sight to someone.
The episode where she became a host of a radio advice show, she makes her first public appearance. This would explain why not a lot of people were freaked out in later episodes, since the people already known about it from this episode.
Also in the first episode, a few people in Helen's neighborhood noticed Martha talked for the first time.
Played straight in some episode where some characters who never met Martha think they're joking about a "talking dog". Helen and others are confused by it, because they're so used to Martha talking they forget a talking dog is an unusual thing.
What Measure Is a Non-Canine?: Averted with Dynamo, the robot dog adopted by Ronald in one episode. Despite feeling envious and wanting to get rid of him, Martha argues that since Ronald adopted him as a pet, he should give him the same treatment and follow the same responsibilities as one should with a flesh and blood animal.
We Want Our Jerk Back: Subverted. There's a character on the show who is basically a grouchy old lady and treats everyone around her meanly. In one story, her doctor tells her she needs to adopt a positive outlook for her health, so she starts being ultra-nice to everyone, playing with the kids and Martha and everything. Nobody goes so far as to suggest that they'd prefer she'd go back to the old way, though Martha does come very close.