I actually wrote sort of a report on the differences in characterization between Seasons 1 and 2 as part of my preparation for a story I'm writing, so pardon me for responding to a casual post with a book, but I find this subject interesting.
The characterization in Season 1 was not totally consistent. Every episode was by a different writer, and although Len Janson did a decent job maintaining coherence between the scripts I think they highlighted different aspects of the characters, sometimes to a contradictory degree. To a casual viewer it all sort of combines into one picture of the characters (what picture exactly I think depends a lot on your personal bias), but if you watch it in analysis mode the cracks begin to show. Season 2 was much more consistent since it had only 2 writers (not counting the shorts that Len did himself), though you can still pick out some differences between Ben and Pat, especially when it comes to Sonic+Sally scenes. The dialogue was less cartoony and more expressive of character. There are really only a few pages of lines from Season 1 that tell you anything interesting about a given character, but Season 2 is full of scenes where every other line is helping define the speaker's personality.
I agree that reducing what little depth Antonie had to pure comic relief didn't work out, but I think he was the only character that took a step down in Season 2. Bunny and Rotor stayed pretty much the same (we just saw less of them) and Tails got at least a little development. The changes to Sonic were a considerable improvement. Season 1 Sonic is a vain, egomaniacal narcissist. If he were just more of a psychopath he'd probably get along with Robotnik really well. The only way he escapes being totally unlikable is that he's a competent hero, true to his friends, and he's actually portrayed as being as cool as he claims to be (in his friends' estimation anyway). There are some really egregious examples:
Sally: Past cool, huh?
Sonic: Way past.
Sonic: Well, maybe not way past, but past.
Sonic: Yeah, I'm way past. You're just past.
Sally: Uh huh. Right. We're really lucky you thought of these seeds.
Sonic: Hey, when you're cool you're cool! And I'm cool.
Sonic: Thank you! Thank you! Come on guys, how ‘bout a round of applause? Even a square of
Sally: I'll tell you who doesn't have a clue.
Sally: Look in the mirror.
Sonic: All I see is hedgehog perfection.
Sonic: Come on, Sal. With my looks and your brains we're unstoppable.
Sally: You're partly right.
Sonic: Which part?
Sonic: The incredible good looks part, right?
Sal: You're dreaming again.
Sonic: (Takes out mirror) That is not a dream. That is one hedgehog hunk.
Sal: Sonic, will you get serious?!
Sonic: Yo, I am serious!
Sonic: Adios, SWATbutts! Am I cool, or am I cool?
Sally: That was absolutely crazy, Sonic!
Sonic: Yeah, it was, wasn't it?
Sally: You are impossible!
Sonic: Thank you, thank you.
SALLY: I have an idea. Nicole, boot up the Breath of Mobius diagram.
NICOLE: Accessing, Sally...
SALLY: The Breath of Mobius runs along this side of the ruins. Now the winds blow at a speed of 175 miles per hour...
SONIC: Yeah! That wind is a major blower. Glad I thought of it.
Happily, they toned this down for Season 2. He's less of a caricature, less of a cartoon stereotype. He's still arrogant (and still has good reason to be because he's pretty much able to handle anything but megamuck), but it's much less obnoxious when he boasts.
Sonic: Faster than moi? In Robuttniks’ dreams. Check this...
Sally: (interrupts) Sonic, not now. We need to get back to Knothole.
SALLY: Good job Sonic!
SONIC: I know, I know.
SALLY: And so modest!
SALLY: Very good, Sonic.
SONIC: That's all I get, is a "very good"?
SALLY: Well how about "stupendous!"
SONIC: I can live with that.
Season 2 Sonic can act full of himself in a playful
way too, like in this scene where he's trying to cheer up Sally. It gives you the sense that he realizes how obnoxious he sounds when he's lauding how cool he is, and that maybe he doesn't really take himself that seriously:
SALLY: I don't say this often Sonic, but you're right.
SONIC: Hey, I'm always right.
SALLY: Not always.
SONIC: Yeah, always.
SALLY: No way.
SONIC: Yeah, way; ask Nicole.
NICOLE: He's cool, Sal; way past.
I like to think he's being playful anyway. I guess he could just be acting like himself and that happens to cheer her up, but we do have this scene in an earlier episode:
SALLY: But we came close.
SONIC: Sal, this ain't horse shoes!
SALLY: Sonic, we’ll keep trying until we do beat him. Right?
SONIC: Right (smiling, adoring expression) ...as usual.
He still takes credit for other peoples ideas though, even in a Ben episode:
NICOLE: Chill, Sonic. You're headed for the ol' Void anyway.
SONIC: Glad I thought of that. Whoa...
He still thinks he's super cool, but he's got no problem with praising others, especially Tails; he has no need to be the center of attention. His ego doesn't prevent him from admitting to his mistakes, either. When his impatience cost them the Deroboticizer and Chuck's chance to be with them, he was actually really down on himself.
In the first season, Sonic and Sally's relationship was way more balanced. Sally was the brains while Sonic was the brawn, but they were both equally full-of-themselves.
Calling them brain+brawn isn't wrong, but I think a better way to describe them is strategy and tactics, two critical components of military leadership. Sonic is repeatedly shown to be a sharp and resourceful tactician. Just about every bot that he dispatches is taken down by clever use of his surroundings or some shrewd battle plan he invents so quickly it seems to come instinctively. But he prefers to live in the moment and rarely plans ahead. Sally is sort of the opposite. She's good with strategy (comes up with all the mission plans as far as we know) but not so good at thinking on her feet. In the heat of battle she asks Sonic to come up with the plan in Ultra Sonic (using the foam to escape) and Sonic's Nightmare (stopping the blimp and getting them out of the cage). She's even been shown to make bad tactical decisions sometimes, like getting captured in Sonic and Sally, and choosing the wrong way to go in the opening to Warp Sonic twice. And then there's this
gem from Blast to the Past 2:
SONIC: How do we kill that thing?
SALLY: I’m working on it...I’ve got it!
(Tells Sonic to run up a tree and launch them hundreds of feet into the air)
SONIC: Sal, we’re gonna get squashed when we hit that thing. What’s the landing plan?
SALLY: I don’t have one. Think of something!
This one is ironic because she'd chided him earlier that day for jumping off a cliff without a landing plan. She also turned to him for ideas when her plan failed in Cry of the Wolf, and in Harmonic Sonic she even resorted to asking the group in general to come up with a plan when she found out about Robotnik's spy satellite (that episode was pretty poorly written, though). They're two halves of a whole; Sonic's ad libbing makes Sally's plans feasible, but without her foresight and organizational skills he would be lost. Convincing Nicole to release the time-lock in Drood Henge was a beautiful example of their different, complementary ways of thinking. It was the kind of thing that was so simple and direct that Sally would never have thought of it. This aspect of their relationship stays pretty much the same between Seasons 1 and 2.
There were times where one was in the right while the other was proven wrong, but they still worked together despite the conflict. But when the 2nd season came along, that interesting dynamic between them became very one-sided. Sonic became a complete foil while Sally was always right on everything, and it got boring as a result.
I think there's literally one time where Sonic goes toe-to-toe with Sally and holds his own intellectually, and it's one scene in Secret Scrolls:
SONIC: Plan won't fly, Sal.
SALLY: Yes, it will.
SONIC: No way.
SALLY: It will!
SALLY: Stop that and give me one good reason.
SONIC: Because you'll be a sitting duck for the Stealth Bombers.
SALLY: We can fly at night.
SONIC: Robotnik's radar will pick you up in a Sonic second.
SALLY: We can fly low, under the radar.
SONIC: I don't like it. I'm not going. And I don't think you should go either.
SALLY: Well, what?
SONIC: Aren't you going to thank me?
SALLY: For what?
SONIC: For saving ya.
SALLY: Sonic, we were in the plane. If we had gone off the cliff, we would be flying.
SONIC: Hmm. Good point. But where would ya land?
SALLY: Oh. Good point. Thank you, Sonic.
Season 1 was pretty inconsistent with Sonic's supposedly dim intellect. Sally clearly doesn't think much of it, but I can only think of one occasion where he really acts stupid as opposed to just irresponsible or immature:
NICOLE: Running...submicroprocessor chip 16 has a fatal error.
SONIC: Is that bad?
SALLY: *exasperated growl*
I feel like the writers may have been hesitant to make Sonic look incompetent since it was a licensed cartoon, possibly because of Sega pressure. Season 2 does a much better job of justifying Sally's constant criticism. Ben seems to have liked that shtick. I'd agree that they took it a little too far. My final impression is that the guideline everyone agreed on was that Sonic is street smart but not book smart. He's not interested in learning about “boring” things like computers and science and words with more than 3 syllables, but he's quick to understand the important parts when he really wants to. What Sally is usually chiding him about isn't really that he's dumb; it's that he's impatient and arrogant and relies entirely on his improv skills rather than thinking ahead, resulting in reckless behavior. She's not being derogatory, she's nagging him (usually
- “you can't learn” is pretty insulting). It irritates her, it worries her, but deep down she probably finds it charming or at least cute. The way this all gets expressed from one episode to another varies a bit. I feel like it could've been more consistent, but given that they were doing an episode a week I don't count it as a mark on anyone's abilities.
The only character that improved in any way was Snively. He changed from an unremarkable, yes-man minion to a compelling, secondary villain. His sinister, snarky attitude made him more interesting than his incompetent uncle, and I'm glad this characterization was kept intact for the remainder of his appearances.
Season 1 Snively was a spineless lackey, a sniveling coward in the face of any serious danger, just as sadistic as Robotnik, but not as smart (also, he has a British accent for some reason). Season 2 Snively is pretty much the same, except he's found the nerve to grumble against Robotnik under his breath from his first scene. Doomsday highlighted the fact that he doesn't suffer from Robotnik's ego and wouldn't make such arrogant mistakes, but he's also clearly not as cunning or competent as him. Here are a few good examples:
ROBOTNIK: Have you noticed there are caves along the top of the canyon wall, but
none at ground level?
SNIVELY: Oh. Yes, Sir.
ROBOTNIK: What does that tell you?
SNIVELY: That the wolves... *gulps* used to be very tall?
ROBOTNIK: It means...they're camouflaging the lower entrances. Find them!
SNIVELY: We've found something, Sir.
ROBOTNIK: Ahhhhh. I was right.
SNIVELY: Shall I destroy it, Sir?
ROBOTNIK: No, Snively! That's why you're the lackey.
SNIVELY: I don't understand, Sir.
ROBOTNIK: I know. You see, the bug will malfunction and the spy will come to replace
it. And when he does...*clenches his fist and growls*
Snively: Activating probe, Sir. What exactly are we looking for, Sir?
Robotnik: What we ALWAYS look for, Snively… heheheh… WEAKNESS!
ROBOTNIK: What is it, Snively?
SNIVELY: The hedgehog, Sir. Units are in pursuit.
ROBOTNIK: What about the convoy?
SNIVELY: Transmitting, Sir.
ROBOTNIK: Snively, where are the other guards?
SNIVELY: Pursuing the hedgehog, Sir.
ROBOTNIK: You fool! It's a diversion! Recall the guards and stop that convoy!
That said, Snively probably got more character development than anyone in the series. Throughout the second season we see him gradually become more and more resentful of his lot in life, an arc that reaches a cadence in Cry of the Wolf when he finally just lets it out ("I hate my life" "I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU BOTH!") and comes to fruition as he usurps Robotnik's position at the end of Doomsday. At the same time, we see a bit into the insecurity that really drives him throughout the season. He thinks
he wants to be as sadistic as his uncle, but he probably just needs a friend, someone to show him a little love. He thinks he wants to be in charge, but really, he just wants to sit in the big chair, get some respect for once ("Snively the Great"), feel good about himself, and be pampered (“And be sure to replace the paper towels with those soft ones I like!”). There's a random scene that opens with him sitting in Robotnik's chair just pushing the button to spin it back and forth over and over, humming to himself with a satisfied look on his face. That 3 second scene pretty much sums up what kind of a dictator he would make.Sonic+Sally's Relationship
This was probably the most dramatic character change between seasons. In Season 1, Sonic and Sally's relationship is characterized by their constant jabs at each other. Both of them are type-A personalities and they're constantly vying for superiority (see earlier scenes from Secret Scrolls), trying to outwit one another in dialogue with 3 Stooges style banter. They drive each other crazy, but deep down there's some romantic tension that neither will ever admit to. It's the odd couple/opposites attract trope with a schoolyard flavor typical of late 80s shows. This was totally Len's invention; the other writers practically copy+pasted some of his jokes from the pilot (or he inserted them himself in his role as story editor), and he continued it himself in his own episodes.
Sonic: Jealous? Ha!
Sally: And what is that supposed to mean?
Sonic: Ha is short for 'you have no clue'
Sally: Ahuh! I have no clue?
Sonic: I hear a parrot.
Sally: I'll tell you who doesn't have a clue.
Sally: Look in the mirror.
Sonic: All I see is hedgehog perfection.
Sally: Oh brother.
Sonic: Just kiddin, Sal. Kiss wasn't THAT great. (remember, she kisses everyone; it's part of a princess's job description)
Sally: Oh, really?
Sally: I suppose you can do better?
Sonic: Is grass green? Is water wet?
(Kiss. Sally's taken aback as he draws her in, suggesting Sonic doesn't usually handle her this way. This is about ego, not hormones.)
Sally: Not bad.
Sonic: Not bad? Not bad?!
Sally: Yes. As in, just ok.
Sonic: Sal, Sal, Sal. I know it was a serious kiss.
Sonic: You’re kidding, right?
Sally: I’m kidding, wrong!
Sonic: Right, or wrong?
Sally: You’re wrong, I’m right, as usual.
Sonic: Excuse me while I chunk my breakfast.
SONIC: It's magic time!
SALLY: *exasperated sigh* Boys...
SONIC: Sal, hold up. Don't do this! Sal, it's me your best friend, your best bud, (sexy voice) your main squeeze.
SALLY(under submission): Shut your mouth, hedgehog!
In Warp Sonic she even explicitly says “I am not your girl,” and feels free to flirt with Griff, though it's probably at least partially just to make Sonic jealous – she often acts coy. Sonic thought she was his girl, but this may have been an assumption (she's the princess and he's the hero and the hero is supposed to get the girl, right?). Really, it was only in Ben+Pat's episode that we had any real suggestion of romance and even then Sonic acted uncomfortable and somewhat taken aback by Sallybot's fawning. Sonic shows in the pilot, and again in Warp Sonic, that he's not into mushy romantic stuff, so that may have been what they were going for here.
Sonic: Hang tight, Sal. Clear juicin’ ahead. You ok?
Sally-bot: Fine. (seductive voice) Coming back to rescue me was very brave, Sonic.
Sonic: (stepping away) Hey, no biggie. It’s in a hero’s job description.
(And then they go back to the usual give-and-take where they're trying to best one another.)
Sonic: Hold it Tails! I’m not sure that’s the real Sal!
Sally: Oh, really? Then I guess I’ll have to prove it. *kiss* Well?
Sonic: She’s a fake! C’mon Tails, we gotta juice!
Sally: I’ll show you fake, Sonic Hedgehog!
The closest anyone else gets is the scene at the end of Hooked on Sonics where Sally prompts Sonic to sneak away from Antoine's speech with her, holding hands and smiling mischievously.
Season 2 retained some of this dynamic, but sweetened it considerably. They hug a lot and in between the action and the comedic bickering they have tender moments.
Sonic: Uh Sal, I’m sorry about…
Sally: I know (embraces Sonic), but right now we need a hero, and you’re it.
Season 2 had more emotion in every respect, though it never delved into drama because it was an action cartoon aimed at elementary school kids (and they didn't have a lot of time as it was). I think it's clear that Ben was big on the emotional scenes, the “emotional quotient” as he put it, especially the ones concerning Sonic+Sally, not just from his interviews but also from his work. His drafts and his episodes tend to showcase the romantic side of their relationship, whereas Pat likes to play up the Season 1 style animosity between them, though it feels less like they're competing with each other and more like Sonic annoys Sally and Sally nags Sonic. I'm not sure if you'd call it arguing like an old married couple or acting like prepubescent kids, but I think it's an easy trope to grasp.
The dialogue in some of those Season 1 scenes was pretty entertaining so I can understand why some people favor it, but I think that trading it for a more substantial undercurrent of affection was the right move from a story perspective. It's really a matter of taste, though.